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Out to Lunch?

Expense budgets, healthy diets and increasing workloads have all taken a bite out of the good, old-fashioned business client lunch of yesteryear. Just one episode of Mad Men will remind you of how it used to be – expansive in every way. Long, drawn out lunches with plenty of time to get acquainted and build a relationship. Business could wait. The business lunch was for bonding.

Today’s business lunch is different. There will be some small talk, and a smart seller will be prepared to talk about the client’s interests. But the small talk is generally over by the time the order has been placed. A smooth segue into business is expected. Not getting down to business before the meal is served means that the most important topics will be handled when your client’s attention is divided.

The modern business lunch is also subject to a time limit. The 3-martini lunch that lasted for 2-3 hours is a thing of the past. The client has to get back to the office and you’ve got other appointments stacked up, too. Both of you have cell phones that are beckoning. The wait staff is circling, too, eager to whisk you away and free up the table for the next tipping customer. Speed, convenience, and efficiency encroach on these modern-day lunches.

And then there are the dietary considerations and preferences... Vegetarian? Vegan? Gluten-free? Low cal? Organic? Locally sourced? It’s always best to let the client select the place to meet. You can make it a multiple choice question if your choices are limited.

With all these constraints, how can you make the most of the modern business lunch? And just what is its purpose anymore?

A business lunch is the perfect solution when you are working with a client who is distracted and unable to spend quality time with you in her or her own office. Getting a neutral setting and a time block during which you won’t be constantly interrupted (aside from the wait staff’s check-ins) may be your best shot with a client like this. You may find, in fact, that meeting for coffee is always preferable to meeting in this client’s office.

A business lunch may also be a smart choice when you’re going to introduce someone new into the relationship. If it’s time for the client to meet your sales manager, for example, or if there will be a transition in who’s handling the account, then an informal setting and an opportunity for more casual conversation will be welcomed.

Occasionally, a business lunch is also a nice way to simply say, “I appreciate your business.” But the impact of a business lunch isn’t the same as it used to be. People eat out much more frequently than they used to for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even the novelty of upscale dining isn’t what it used to be – chances are that the client has already been there, done that. So don’t expect the lunch alone to convey your appreciation.

Business lunches are not well-suited to intense negotiations or heated exchanges. Sellers are sometimes inclined to think that “wine-ing and dining” the client will take the sting out of a price increase or a service lapse. It doesn’t. Buyers are savvier and more empowered than ever before. Lunches no longer engender loyalty when there is a seed of dissatisfaction.

When you have a weighty or complicated matter to discuss, you may wish to consider having lunch brought into the office rather than going out. If you have a lot of content to share, a lot of talking to do, or a lot of agenda items to cover, you don’t want to compete with the noise and traffic in a restaurant.

Think twice before choosing a business lunch in public if you’ll be discussing confidential or sensitive subjects. You never know who knows who. So why take a risk in public?

When you set up your business lunch, be sure you convey your purpose ahead of time. No one wants to be ambushed at lunch (and many clients are suspicious of sellers’ motives, so don’t be surprised when they turn down your vague invitation). If lunch has a preset agenda, it’s far more enjoyable. The tension is released when the topics are clear and on the table.

To make the most of a business lunch, keep it short and simple and to the point. Put the client in control of the location and honor his or her dietary preferences. Relax at the beginning, present your agenda item after the order has been taken, and return to a more informal conversation before the offer of coffee and dessert.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallWhen you’re ready to tackle your toughest selling challenges, tune in to CONNECT! Online Radio for Selling Professionalsor consider our CONNECT2Sell Training programs. Be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Sell Blog for weekly tips and techniques on increasing your sales by connecting with your buyers.

Topics: business, Maintaining Your Relationships, Open, Respecting Others, time-management, CONNECT2SELL Blog, The Sales Process, winning customers

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