Rebuilding Client Relationships Stronger Than Ever
In-person events are back. But in a simultaneously “post-pandemic” and work-from-home era, how can meeting planners build strong relationships with clients?
While people may not be ready to return to the office every day, many are anxious for the return of in-person events and conferences. Even so, the lasting impact of COVID-19 means that we are still in unpredictable times, especially when it comes to hosting large gatherings. That’s where strong personal relationships between meeting planners and their clients come in.
What is Relationship Selling?
Indeed defines relationship selling as “a technique that prioritizes building a connection with customers and buyers to close sales.” Every sales professional has likely heard the term before. But what exactly does this mean at a moment when businesses are only beginning to return to face-to-face interaction? For sales professionals, it means working even harder to form substantial relationships with our current and future clients. In February of 2021, Yellowfin predicted that “every organization will be investing a lot more in selling and your cost of sales will dramatically increase over the next 18 months.” At University of Delaware Conference Services, we believe now is the time to rebuild client relationships that were interrupted during the pandemic and nurture repeat business.
Re-Imagining Classic Marketing Techniques
Handwritten thank you notes, business lunches, cold call outings – these marketing tactics may sound old-fashioned, but they are invaluable for creating relationships with clients. “Retro-selling,” as our Director of Conference Services Polly Weir likes to call it, is all about adapting classic sales techniques to the modern world.
With the security and restrictions in modern office buildings, Weir says a traditional cold call outing – going into an office building, taking the elevator to the top floor, and working your way down – isn’t realistic. But setting up in the lobby or outside (during warm weather) can be just as much of a hit. Get in touch with office building managers in the area for permission to put a table in the lobby or out front, bring coffee or ice cream or branded tchotchkes, and of course information to give out about your business. After a few hours of chatting and gathering business cards, head back to the office with a host of potential new clients.
Thank you notes
Nothing shows appreciation quite like a handwritten thank you note. Whether a physical card or a personalized email, thank you notes open the door to further communication with clients. Cathy Matthews, our Sales and Summer Housing Manager, suggests reaching out and giving one piece of information about your services at a time to keep the communication chain going.
“Our prospective clients, our [current] clients, everybody likes to feel as though they’re valued.” – Cathy Matthews
Lunch and Learns
We invite current and prospective clients onto campus for Lunch and Learns, where we host a luncheon to put faces to names and show people how they can host events with us. We talk about what we do here at Conference Services and give our clients a chance to meet the whole team. Matthews says knowing who will be taking care of them and their event creates an important connection. Inviting people in for an informational lunch is a great way to bring client relationships from surface level to personal.
Comfort, Trust, and Reconnection
After multiple years of remote interaction, comfort and trust are key to strong client relationships in the event and conference space. When it comes to communication “it is important to be proactive, because it demonstrates dedication in the relationship and in the client’s interests,” EY advises. “This proactivity is closely related to transparency: being transparent on any change that could impact your client or your quality is also a must-have to build trust between each other.” Client anxieties, particularly about the threat COVID-19 could pose to their event, call for heightened trust.
Sometimes, UD may not be the best place for our client’s event, whether it be due to size restrictions or something else. Recognizing that and suggesting other possible venues may sound like giving away business, but actually it demonstrates transparency and a dedication to the client’s needs. While it may not be a fit this time around, a client will remember your helpful honesty and might reconnect with you when they have a better-matched event.
“Listening is a superpower.” – Polly Weir
“We also want to emphasize meeting clients where they’re comfortable,” says Matthews. For example, while we would love to bring potential clients in for a tour of our event spaces, not everyone is comfortable with that, or may be working remotely and unable to come in. But using Zoom and a tablet or smartphone, we can give them a live virtual tour of the space. Instead of shying away from technology because it’s not as good as in-person interaction, get creative with tech to enhance relationships in a way that works for everyone.
Word of Mouth
The importance of word of mouth cannot be overstated. “We can spend all the money in the world on marketing,” says Weir, “yet word of mouth always comes out being number one in terms of the most successful technique to use.” On the contact form on our website, we ask: “How did you hear about us?” Respondents choose word of mouth a large percentage of the time, and frequently provide the name of the person who recommended us to them. Simply adding in this quick question helps focus marketing methods, and also assists in building a relationship with the new customer; we now have a connection in common.
Relationship building and word of mouth go hand in hand. “The more relationship building we do, the more word of mouth we gather – it’s like putting it in the bank,” says Weir.
Our Best Advice
We’ll leave you with two pieces of conference services wisdom from Weir: “be earnest in your communications” and “listening is a superpower.” Listening earnestly to the client’s needs is the top priority for cultivating strong relationships. Repeat clients and loyal customers are the backbone of a successful business. 90% of UD Conference Services clients return after their first event with us. A return rate like that would not be possible without an emphasis on building robust client relationships.