When it comes to business development I am constantly working with our partners to help them develop stronger relationships with centers of influence, prospects and, of course, current clients. When I ask what the next “touch point” with one of these contacts is, a common response is “we are getting together for lunch.” Lunch is great, don’t get me wrong, but purely scheduling a lunch with someone isn’t enough. People are busy and sometimes their lunch hour may be their only free time all day. As a matter of fact, some people suggest never asking an important person to lunchand instead invite them for a quick coffee first thing in the morning, or drink after work. So, if someone is indeed willing to give up their lunch hour to spend it with you, you better make sure it is worth their while. Here are some tips to set up, host and follow-up from a successful lunch meeting. Notice that the lunch itself is not the only component and the initiation and follow up are critical as well.
1- Have a purpose. This seems simple, but I think it is often times abused. Make sure there is a reason to ask someone to meet with you. If it is a current client “touching base” is fine, but make sure to bring additional value to the conversation. Maybe an article you read that would be relevant to them or a new idea that they can implement. Always make sure you have a goal for the meeting.
2- Keep the invite concise. In a recent Radicati Group study, it was found that in 2014 people will send and receive an average of 191 emails per day. That is a lot of messages. In order to be respectful of a person’s time, keep your email brief and to the point. I suggest three sentances tops. First, a casual greeting and introduction if you have not yet met this person. Second, the reason you would like to get lunch and third, suggest a few times and dates. Here is an example:
Hi Bob- Got your email from Sandy Smith, she told me about your current project at ABC Corp. and I’d love to learn more. Would you be willing to grab lunch and discuss how I might be able to help you move this project forward? How about 9/14 or 9/15 at noon at a restaurant convenient to you? Look forward to hearing from you soon.
3- Confirm. If the meeting is accepted, send a confirmation the day of the lunch. This shows courtesy to your guest and also helps remind them in case it was not top of mind. Something as short as this will work:
Hey Bob- Just wanted to confirm we are still on for lunch today at noon at Ruth’s Chris. Looking forward to speaking with you soon.
4- Have an agenda. No, I don’t mean you need to have a physical agenda in front of you, but have a specific idea of what you would like to discuss at the lunch. Once you get there and share a greeting and some small talk, it is very helpful to tell your guest up front what topics you would like to discuss and reiterate why you asked them to lunch. It helps you stay on task and shows the person you are with that you have thought this through, are prepared, and respect their time. You can always add more topics, but setting out the major goals for the lunch up front helps create a framework for the discussion. For example:
Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to grab lunch with me today, I really appreciate it. Like I said, I would love to learn more about your background and ABC Corp. Then, I can tell you a little bit about what I do and how I might be able to help you with your current project.
5- Show genuine interest and listen more than you speak. Normally, when you ask someone to lunch you have your own objectives and motives for the meeting. However, make sure you put their interests first. Ask questions and listen more than you speak. This isn’t a sales pitch.
6- Pay. If you are the one who initiated to lunch, regardless of age or gender you pick up the bill. Simple as that.
7- Say “Thank you.” After the meeting, make sure to tell the person thanks again in person for having lunch with you. Once you get back to the office, send an email thank you and recap any “to-do’s” or discussion points that require follow up from either party. If it was your first time meeting a person or if you are looking to cultivate a new important relationship, a handwritten thank you is always a nice touch as well.
8- Follow Up. Do whatever you said you would do after the lunch meeting. One of the quickest ways to lose credibility is to say you are going to do something and not follow through. Make sure to complete the tasks you said you would do and email your guest to close the loop.
If you follow these steps from initiation to follow-up, your business lunches will be a better use of your time, and more importantly more valuable to your contacts. Remember, a lunch meeting is just one tool in your overall strategy to build and cultivate meaningful business relationships.
Email me at email@example.com or comment below to let me know your best strategies for scoring an important lunch meeting and then making the most of it.