Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Client Relationships in Today’s Business Climate

As I network with other business owners in our field, I find we are all in the same position. Our long term clients are no longer able to fund meetings or events. They are told that if they do any meetings they will be planned ”in-house”. Whether the client is corporate, government, or association, the answer seems to be the same. In this economic climate, no one is spending money on meetings.

I talked with a representative from CISCO who told me their solution was to do their annual meeting using video conferencing. She said it saved them thousands of dollars. When I asked about what kind of feedback they got from those attending the video conference, she said they “did not like it” and that the typical response was that they missed the networking component of getting together. It was too impersonal. There is a message to all of us in this as we keep hearing that video conferencing is the wave of the future.

So what does this change in the elimination of meetings and conferences mean to us? It means that instead of relying on our old tried and true method of marketing (referral from a satisfied client or attendee), we need to dig in and learn how to market our services. That means we need to be the ones networking, getting involved, and following up with potential leads. In the past a lead usually meant a potential new client, now we talk about soft leads, warm leads, and hot leads. It is also teaching us patience. We need to develop relationships with potential new clients and keep our name in front of them as often as possible.

Another thing that we are doing is ensuring that we have all the certifications we need to keep us viable and visible. Things like being federally certified as a Small Business, a Women Owned Business, and as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (because we are women, if you can imagine that!). We are registered with the State and the Federal Government, signed up as vendors with the major corporations that need to have set-asides for small business, women owned, etc., and we are marketing to those companies that require those set-asides.

Most importantly, we are not forgetting our loyal clients – those relationships are as critical as ever! They can’t use our services today, but the economy will change and will they will once again require our services and support. We don’t want them to forget us. It is always about RELATIONSHIPS!

Linda Begbie • Executive Director and Meeting Planner at RDL enterprises.