Entertaining your clients can be both fun and productive. It can be used as a tool to strengthen relationships, and at the very least increase your familiarity with the customer’s key people. Used incorrectly, it can reveal things, right or wrong, about you and or your company in regard to your class, morals, and standing that will be indelibly etched in your customer’s and co-employee’s memory.
Be Smart and Practical
In the universe of entertainment options your choices should be safe and time proven. Fine dining, spectator-sporting events, golf and other sporting events are time proven. Relaxing activities such as spas, manicure/pedicures, makeovers, and other activities are making a strong showing as well.
There is, of course, some areas best left out. Engaging the customer at gentlemen’s clubs, also known as ‘strip clubs’, is totally off limits! It lacks class, and is far from harmless. There is no activity, which is in poorer taste than this, whether you are supporting (paying for) the activity or you have the gall to have your company pay for it. For the most part it is in violation of most expense policies (see Black Sales Journal 4/4/11 Business Entertainment – Some Do’s and Don’ts).
Stand for Something!
Black professionals beware: Company expense policies should be observed, and the letter of the law in an expense policy is important, but more important is understanding the intent. The intent should be followed without fail. In establishing and retaining credibility sales professionals don’t need to run afoul of what is, or what should be, socially acceptable.
Gone are the days when sales professionals and executives can entertain at gentlemen’s clubs without scrutiny. Everyone should be held accountable for relationship building that is socially acceptable and open to both genders, all ethnic groups, and all sexual orientations.
Even if your customer asks to participate in one of these activities, you should show an unwavering stance and say that it is not something that you want to do. I think that you should have the confidence to say, “No, but I have something else that we can do that will be great.” That effort to redirect will probably be accepted, but even if rejected, I think you will have shown your character.
Stand up for yourself in this. A mentor of mine told me once, “If you don’t stand for something, you don’t stand for s—!” Think about it. What do you stand for?
The Real Costs!
When men get together and consider the gentlemen’s club option, just think how offensive and exclusionary that is, or can be, to female customers, or co-employees. It is discriminatory, and totally unfair! You lose your integrity, your credibility, and respect. Hmmm! I am not sure you have much left that is considered universally of value.
The same is true for female sales professionals. Taking clients to an ‘all men’ review is equally poor in taste. Protect your image as well.
I am not sure which would be worse, to leave your female counterparts or customers behind, or to be as ridiculous as to ask them to attend. Show your character and avoid mindless activities. Keep everyone engaged an involved. Treasure everyone’s feelings in the process.
A Personal Example
I was once a regional sales manager in the Michigan/Ohio market. This market is dominated by the auto industry, but also focused in southeastern Michigan, basically Detroit. I enjoyed the 6 year stint there, but was continually asked to go either to 8 Mile, an area replete with gentleman’s clubs, or to Windsor, Canada, another area brimming with strip clubs and other attractions.
An executive vice-president of my organization visited our office with one of his direct reports, a senior vice president, in tow. After the requisite meeting they ask me to take them to Windsor. I will be honest, I felt some pressure as this was two steps up from my manager, an important company officer, and very influential.
I said to them, “I will not be going there, but you can use my vehicle to go if you are sure that is what you want to do.” It was met with the quick reply, “Come on, we are going to talk business with you! You need to be there for us to talk about this stuff.” The Senior VP then said, “Don’t give me this s— that you don’t go to strip clubs….” I retorted, “You don’t want to hear it, but I don’t go to strip clubs.”
They smirked, but found someone else to take them. I always wondered whether it would affect my career, but it did not do any long-term damage, although it was known in the short term that I was not one of the ‘boys”. Remember, you have to stand for something!
Find comfort in standing tall in situations like this. Don’t do anything because the ‘crowd’ thinks you should. Whether you are male or female, Black or white, gay or straight, be you and eventually you will be appreciated for your stance. If you partake of these activities currently, you should consider your image and take this opportunity to change. See the light!
Your comments are welcome. You can reach me at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.com.