I attend a lot of conferences, corporate functions and host many events. I am well known for being a connector. My number one goal is to add value to my netfriends (I prefer that to network because network implies I am working). When I host an event, I have no hidden agenda. I do not try to sell anything. I am there to meet new people and make introductions to my netfriends. I have hosted several of those dinners with David Ackert of Ackert Advisory. He has become a good friend and we share some of our strategies below.

Like any business developer, I appreciate the value of wining and dining. Whenever I’m attending an industry conference, I often host a dinner for a few dozen clients and prospects. It’s a great way to get to know people socially and explore business synergies in a low-pressure environment. But like any business endeavor, it’s important to understand the likely returns before you start investing. Along those lines, here are five strategies that will optimize the value of your next client dinner:

  1. Co-host with noncompeting referral sources. Not only does this strategy make sense from an economical perspective, it helps populate the dinner table with more prospects. Ask your co-host to bring their clients so you can cross-pollinate your networks. Just make sure your co-hosts have the same mindset & business development approach so that you reflect well on each other.
  2. Seat prospects next to clients. Your clients are better advocates for your services than any brochure, newsletter, or webpage will ever be. Position them next to prospects so they can talk about their experience of your services. Down the line, when the prospect is considering engaging your services, you can reintroduce them as a reference.
  3. Introduce icebreakers into the conversation. If your guests are not acquainted with one another, assign a fun question or two they can take turns answering during the dinner. Examples include: “what was your first paying job?” or “what’s on your bucket list?” Questions like these can facilitate good conversations and connections.
  4. Don’t expect immediate results. Just because your guests joined you for a nice meal doesn’t mean they will engage your services. But over time, as you assess your book of business, you will find that many of your clients were sourced (or reinforced) at the dinner table. Seek to build rapport and goodwill over the long term rather than fixate on tit-for-tat scorekeeping.

I’ll leave you with one final thought: make sure your venue is a reflection of your brand. More than likely, that means an upscale gourmet restaurant with a robust wine list. Give them a high-quality experience that heralds the many others you will provide when they engage you.

By David Ackert & Chad Rothschild