Spring is here and company execs and their clients will be filling seats and suites during March Madness and in Major League Baseball games everywhere. Corporations spend billions of dollars each year on client entertainment because "it works" says Tony Knopp, Co-Founder & CEO of InviteManager, which helps many of the world's largest brands manage their sports ticket programs and measure the ROI. According to Tony, taking prospects and clients to special events can be one of the most powerful ways to deepen and advance relationships. And when the event is a shared experience at a once-in-a-lifetime event, the potential return can be limitless.

But, of course, getting a ticket for your client is only the beginning. The key is to be sure the entire client experience is a sensational one. Below is a list of my tips to help make the experience a memorable one.

1) Plan in advance.

Exciting events, whether a film premiere or the opening of a hot, new restaurant fill up quickly. Cultivate connections with concierges, reservationists, maître d's, and publicists. If you can develop long-term relationships with such "insiders," not only will they alert you to worthwhile social soirees or fabulous dining opportunities, they may also be able to help if you ever have a last minute need to "wow" someone.

2) Know whom you're hosting.

It's not always possible to know the detailed preferences of the client you're hosting. You may have only recently met or been primarily communicating through a second party. Use some playful, thoughtful questions as a precursor to the visit, or night out, to begin bonding and better understand what might serve as the ideal treat.

Ask what they like to do to unwind. Do they have a favorite kind of music? Do they adore chocolate? Share your own likes and dislikes to create rapport. For example, you might say, "I love people-watching, hiking on the local beach, and eating seafood." Whether they respond by sharing their allergy to shellfish or their passion for the outdoors, it will be useful information to have. As they share, also listen for pain points. Do they express annoyance at the lack of great vegetarian restaurants, or longing for some quiet time to re-charge at a spa? As always in business, if you can relieve a strain or discomfort, your client will be that much more grateful.

3) Show off your city.

Being in and exploring a new city is an intensely pleasurable and novel experience. Use the unique strengths of the city you're hosting your client in to provide a memorable experience. Are there restaurants that natives love but don't show up in tourist maps? Does your city have an extraordinary hockey or baseball team? If the client is from the same city, you can still use this tip by suggesting a more exclusive peek into a new or well-loved feature, like a private tour through a new museum or a special menu at a classic restaurant.

4) Make it a family affair.

My final tip is to extend your invitation to the big game or fun concert to the client's family members or significant other. Whether you're hosting important entrepreneurs or corporate executives, chances are they feel like they don't get to spend enough time with their loved ones, and vice versa. Not only does the event become that much more personal for the client, it allows you to get to know them better too.

Additionally, when you can create a memorable experience for their loved one, the goodwill generated will further enhance the experience. Is there someone their teenager would love to meet backstage? Is there a family amusement center that would give them time together to relax and have fun? Is there a team athlete their child admires with whom you could arrange a handshake or autograph?

Entertaining clients is an art form and can actually translate to a higher ROI and long-term client retention. Tony Knopp tells us, "This is called the 'new event economy' because when you attend a big game and have a successful shared client experience, it can positively impact your bottom line." In the new event economy, shared laughs, moments of exhilaration and wonder, and the camaraderie of social functions all represent a very desirable form of currency with the potential of leading to invaluable business wins.

Shama Hyder is Founder & CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, a best-selling author and an internationally renowned keynote speaker. Her most recent book is Momentum (May 2016).

Published on: Mar 16, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.