Is it Ever Really Just Lunch?

If you aren’t preparing for every interaction with a client or prospect, you may be wasting your time and theirs.  Here’s some food for thought on lunches and other planned client interactions. 

Lawyers who “do lunch” do so because it seems like part of a healthy marketing strategy.  And it is.  But just showing up is not good enough.   That’s because:

  • “Work time” away from billing should be an investment in something, not just passive time.
  • Any interaction with a client or prospect can be an opportunity, but we must see it as such and prepare accordingly.

Meaningful interaction in a social environment between a client/prospect and lawyer is rare.  Often, when lawyers are going to meet with a client or prospect in a social setting, their goal is to show up.  It is rare that the lawyer will have thought about a goal for the meeting, have prepared something to say, have some great questions ready and is able to this into a business opportunity. Lawyers who learn to do this well stand out as organized, thoughtful, caring and pro-active.

If you’re going to spend the time at lunch (or at a conference or taking a client to a hockey game) anyway, why not learn to do it more effectively?  Here’s how.

  1. Have a goal for the meeting. Yes, one goal might be to check off the box on your marketing plan that says you need to get in front of this person every 90 days.  Or that you need to meet a particular person and thanks to an introduction, you’re going to lunch with them.  But beyond that, what do you want the meeting to accomplish?  Do you want work/more work from them?  What kind?  Why should they send it to you/what’s your value proposition?  Do you simply want to know more about their organization so you can build a plan to pursue work from them?  If so, what kind of information do you need?  Do you want referrals from this person?  If so, why should they forward your name over your competitor’s?  Is this a client protection manoeuvre?  What client audit questions did you have in mind?
  2. Do your homework. You’ll notice that many of the goals above require information about the client/prospect.  Don’t assume you that you automatically know what they need, or what they would find of value.  You need to dig to determine these things.  You can also just ask them at the meeting: but be sure to ask questions you couldn’t have easily found on their website or through the internet.  Do your home work first.  Get a billing history from the firm. Check your client database to see who else knows them (or knows someone else from the same company). Spend time on their website so you know their purpose/mission, their services/products, their geographical reach, their value proposition, etc.  Speak with other clients or lawyers who know them.  This background research will help you to ask considered, insightful questions rather than lazy ones, which many lawyers fall back to in social situations, proving they did nothing to prepare for the meeting.  Trust me: no one goes out of their way to send their legal work to a lazy lawyer.
  3. Build rapport and thus, trust. You have your goal and you’ve done your homework.  You’re raring to go. But don’t start by getting right down to business and asking the tough questions.  You need to take the time to build rapport first.  If you have a common acquaintance, raise that now.  If your kids go to the same school, if you heard they went on a trip somewhere recently where you’ve gone before, if their company just went through something positive that you can comment on and congratulated them for…all of these are a great way to build rapport and show that you’ve actually prepared for the meeting, and that there’s a deeper connection there that can be built upon, however slight.
  4. Ask questions. Lunches and other “social” functions are thinly veiled business calls and EVERYONE knows and accepts that.  But they are not soap boxes.  No one wants to sit through a lunch hearing a hard sell about why you are so wonderful.  Focus on the 80/20 rule: the client or prospect speaks for 80% of the time, you speak for 20% of the time.  The best way to set this up is to ask questions.  This will allow you to get a ton of information out of them and will make them feel that you are very approachable, intelligent and caring.  The trick is to ask intelligent questions, because if they are doing most of the talking, the content they will most judge you on is the intelligence of those questions.
  5. Connect the dots and make the ask. At the appropriate time in the conversation when you feel the groundwork has been laid, the logical argument is in place, you are able to clearly articulate their needs, your ability to serve those and your differentiators, put your ask on the table.  Don’t be afraid to do this: again, everyone knows this is really a business meeting.  But don’t be overly aggressive with your ask.  “I think you’d be foolish not to switch to our firm” is a bit heavy hitting and might cause defensiveness.  “There’s no doubt that XYZ is a great firm and I’m sure they’ve been doing well for you…but if it makes sense to have another firm in the wings in case of conflicts, why don’t you consider sending us a few files in the next month and let us prove ourselves to you”.  Guide, but let the client remain in the driver’s seat.

Yes, this process will take more time than simply showing up.  But really, it doesn’t take much time to determine a goal for each social meeting.  It doesn’t take much time to do your research, think about the best approach and prepare for the meeting.  It takes some practice to engage in a more meaningful conversation smoothly, but you should have lots of opportunity for practice.  (If not, we need to talk about building a marketing plan for you!)

If you don’t use these skills, then the value of your “lunch” time is extremely limited.  It’s not nearly as pro-active a marketing hour as you think it is.  Consider trying out this more structured approach.  If it feels overwhelming, work with a coach to develop these skills.  Regardless of whether you can get there yourself or you need a little help, it’s well worth it to change the way you meet with clients and prospects.  Have a goal, do your homework, have a plan, execute well.  The outcome will be so much better than if you had just shown up.

Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers.  She can be reached at heather@heathergraygrant.com