Going to lunch with a potential client without preparation and followup is a waste of your marketing dollars. Would you approach a matter without research and preparation? Are you committing “marketing malpractice?” By the way, is your etiquette losing you work and you don’t even know it?
Understanding who you are going to meet, their business, and their potential legal needs are things that you must investigate way before lunch. Your contacts are judging your work habits (conscientiously or not conscientiously) through what might seem to you to be a more casual encounter.
If a busy person has agreed to give up a chunk of his or her time to meet you, you better have done some research. Personally, I have little patience for professional services providers who are not prepared and make me feel like a cold call. To differentiate yourself know with whom you are conversing. Some scholars say there is a direct correlation between preparation and success.
How to prepare
Go online. Visit the person’s biography, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts and then check out the organization they own or work for. Go to the “about” tab on their web site as it usually details the organization’s vision, mission, and values. Read the homepage. Then sit back and just look at the homepage and try to figure out what kind of personality it reflects.
To create a relationship, good communicators try to “match styles” with their counterparts to bond more quickly with them.
What are their issues? What might they need help with? Specifically, look at a recent annual report, if you can find one, as the opening statements usually highlight forward-thinking goals. This will give you some talking points and ideas on how you can help them or the company. You could always ask them in advance.
Write down your objectives for the lunch, talking points, and prepare some probing questions. A good way to break the ice might be to open with your elevator pitch, which, if done right, sparks interest and propels you into an engaging conversation. (See my March 2015 article [https://www.canadianlawyermag.com/5500/Trick-Question-What-do-you-do.html]
Also think about what you would like to happen after lunch. What do you want the other party to remember about you and the firm, and what question can you ask at lunch-end that will progress you towards your goal of getting the business?
Your ultimate goal is to take your potential client on a lifetime journey, so this lunch is the beginning of a mutually rewarding relationship. You are not selling anything; you are identifying needs for solving and preventing conflicts that they will want to invest in.
Your preparation for the lunch will make conversation natural and will jump-start their journey with you and your firm. Don’t talk business until after you’ve ordered, but do start with a relevant contextual topic that will then lead naturally into the business talk later. Make sure that you let your guest do most of the talking.
Espressos? Time to ask for the business
Now that you understand your potential client, made relevant probes, and the espressos are on the table, how do you progress the conversation and the relationship. This is the time when most people let the opportunity slip away.
There are ways to approach this difficult next step in a relevant, non-threatening, client-needs-based, appropriate, and law society-compliant fashion. (See my April 2015 column)
If you Google “top ways to ask for the business,” you will find almost a billion links. Choose and practise some of them with your goal of getting a retainer or just getting in front of them again to progress to that retainer. Your goal is to create the opportunity for “next contact”.
Followup is another opportunity that people let slip away. If your guest asked you any questions that you promised to respond to, you must do so as quickly as possible. And, you need to make the arrangements for the next conversation.
PS: How’s your lunch etiquette?
So many people are unable to hold cutlery properly, eat spaghetti, and turn their phones off! You may be losing potential business by virtue of etiquette ignorance. YouTube is your free coach. You can look up how to use your cutlery (the Continental hybrid is preferred these days), how to eat spaghetti like an authentic Italian, and when to drink and not to drink. And, turn your phone off and put it away. Consider a lesson with an etiquette coach.
About choosing the venue: You should let your guest choose the location, but offer him or her a list of choices. Remember to be there early so you can choose a table that is in a quiet location. Try going on off-peak hours. Or be really avant-garde and bring a nice lunch to their office!
Good luck and bon appétit!