How to Appropriately Behave at Client Events
As much as you need to be on your "A" game every day at the office, client events are time for your "A+" game. Not only will your client be taking note, but your boss will also be watching to see how well you represent your company—and whether you could someday handle clients solo. The following tips will help you navigate client events, whether they're business meetings, golf outings, or galas.
Plan Your Outfit Carefully
This isn't the time to worry about making the best-dressed list (unless your boss is a real-life Miranda Priestly). In general, if no one remembers the specifics of your attire, all the better—that means it was entirely appropriate. You don't want to be remembered for a too-tight jacket, a low-cut blouse, a slit skirt, towering heels, etc. Ask your colleagues for dress-code advice, and if it's a social occasion such as a charity event, check social media to see if photos exist from previous years so you can get an idea of typical dress.
Be Prepared for Business Questions …
You want to be ready to answer questions with confidence and without fumbling through notes, so spend some time reviewing your business relationship with the client and your meeting materials. If you're stumped by a question, then say something like, "I don't have that information on hand, but I'll get back with you as soon as I return to the office." Then make sure you follow up as promised.
… and for Small Talk
You must be able to shoot the breeze with your client. If you haven't met with the client before, review his or her LinkedIn profile and do a quick Google search to generate ideas for appropriate conversation starters. Maybe the client went to your hometown university, or maybe he or she is involved with a local nonprofit. These are all safe ways to generate conversations that are friendly but not overly personal.
Give Your Client Your Undivided Attention
In theory, your clients understand they're one of many, but in practice none of them want to feel that way. They all want to feel like they're a priority, and the best way to give them that feeling is to give them your undivided attention during your interactions. That means you need to stay off your phone except in cases of absolute family emergencies. Keep your phone out of sight so you aren't tempted to text your buddy, answer a quick email, or take a call.
You can use body language to reinforce the attention you're giving your client as well. Mirror their body language, maintain good eye contact, and focus on listening.
Tread Carefully with Alcohol
Alcohol presents a real danger zone with client events. In some cases, it's not appropriate to drink at all, even if your client is; in others, having a beer can almost feel mandatory. What makes this tricky is that it's not always safe to follow your boss's lead given the complicated relationships many people have with alcohol. He or she might overindulge.
First and foremost, know that it's always OK not to drink, whatever the reason. It's your business. You can always fall back on club soda with a twist of lime.
If you do choose to drink, remember: this isn't happy hour with friends. Sip, don't guzzle. Pace yourself with a glass of wine over the course of an evening. You always want to stay in control of your words and actions.
Follow Up to Say Thanks
Whatever the occasion, thank your client for his or her time or invitation, and follow up within 24 hours on any outstanding questions.
Remember: The main goal for any client interaction is to always leave a positive, professional impression. Any client relationship is a partnership, and in order to be successful, any partnership must be built on trust. Your client needs to know you'll act with good judgment to do the job you've been hired to do. It's easy to start building that trust by showing good judgment in the boardroom, at a steakhouse and on the golf course.