By Kristin Hosie
It’s not every day you meet the man or woman of your dreams, and the same goes for clients. If you are a third-party planner, clients come from all walks of life, all areas of business and a variety of industries. It becomes our job to assess their needs and wants, manage their expectations, and walk the line of professional versus personal for each and every client.
Much like a personal relationship, a client-planner relationship is built on trust. The concept of loyalty in this industry is short lived, unless there is trust. It’s not often something you can earn quickly, and instead is built over time, over countless phone calls and emails after hours. Only after a track record of successful events, sharing of personal stories and taking the relationship beyond strictly professional does a solid bond begin to develop. Of course, we all do our best to know about our client’s lives as this builds rapport, gives you a conversation starter or a reason to touch base when their favourite band is in town. It’s the clients that care enough to know your children’s names and ages, your birthday, your interests… those are the ones that stick around.
The honest truth is, most don’t. Most are too busy with their own job’s demands to take the time. Most just want the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Most need you to make them look good to their managers or bosses. It often comes down to dollars, not relationships.
Luck plus reputation
It’s the exception you want on your client list. Finding them, however, takes as much luck as it does professionalism. I believe whole-heartedly that your track record of success with current clients propelled by word-of-mouth reputation is the very best way to attract these clients. This is intangible, hence the mention of luck, but it remains the very best channel for reaching these top tier clients – the ones you want to keep.
There are keys to building these strong relationships, and much like the correlation to personal relationships, they require the same work as a marriage or partnership.
- Share. Talk about your weekend, your kids, your sports teams. The only way to draw out things you have in common is to unveil details of your own life with your clients. Share the excitement of your son’s first day of kindergarten, and maybe, hopefully, they’ll share something personal about themselves as well.
- Be available. There are a lot of studies out there now about the detriment of being ‘online’ at all times. The reality is that it’s become expected. Whether we like it or not our clients are overworked and stretched thin for time, just like we are. If they don’t get to your email about venue suggestions until 10:00 p.m., they’ll really appreciate your reply at 10:15 p.m.
- Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. It can’t be expressed enough how important it is to keep the lines open. This is the best way to manage client expectations and ensure all the details are covered. Develop a critical path for each event you do and stick to it. Hold your client accountable for their responsibilities as well. If they can’t provide the company logo for the menus by “X” deadline, well, that pushes back production. By keeping the conversation going, your client knows you’re available to them, and that should give them peace of mind that their project is on track.
- Maintain ‘top-of-mind’ status. Your connections should be meaningful and offer some tangible benefit. If you know your client’s birthday is on April 12, you should be booking a coffee or lunch meeting in the weeks prior so that they can have a moment out of the office to celebrate on or around their birthday. Merely reaching out with an email every three months to the day gets habitual, boring, and blends you right in with your competitors.
- Be the best at what you do. This one seems obvious, but it won’t matter if you’ve got the most interesting kids on the planet, or an insider’s tip on when their favourite band is coming to town, if you aren’t any good at your job. The rest only works if you really are professional and provide excellent event planning services.
Only once you’ve proven your skills will it matter that you remember their birthday. But I can guarantee, if you pull off their annual conference on budget, on time, and with minimal hiccups and you remember the things that matter most to them, you are well on your way to building the exact kind of client/planner relationship we all aspire to.
About the author
Kristin Hosie is Senior Account Manager for Ruby Sky Event Planning and has extensive international conference and event management experience as well as an enviable track record of leadership and success with her events. Kristin’s additional skills include event registration software, mobile apps, social media and Ruby Sky’s annual marketing campaign. For more information, visit www.rubyskyeventplanning.ca.