February 19, 2013

Taking a prospect out to lunch is one of the classic sales techniques which seems to have fallen by the wayside in many sales organizations, perhaps seen as too costly or simply impractical due to the time involved. But how much does a lost sale truly cost in terms of revenue and personal income? And how much time can be gained for both the salesperson and the prospect by using a focused, relationship-building lunch to provide the right solution to a business plan?

Taking a client out to lunch instead of a site visit has several advantages — as long as it is a focused activity which utilizes the following five sales skills and techniques:

  • Establish “equal footing”: As discussed in Inc. Magazine, one of the main benefits in taking  prospects out to lunch is that it allows you to control the environment and achieve equal footing due to being in neutral territory, as opposed to meeting them in their location where they are most powerful: in their office. Likewise, having a prospect visit your office can cause them to raise their defenses unnecessarily.
  • Plan ahead: Know your presentation cold, without visual aids, as pulling out an iPad might be considered tacky to some and disruptive to other customers at the eatery. Do, however, bring any paperwork needed to close the sale right then and there.
  • Listen: Paying for the meal shouldn’t motivate a salesperson to drone on endlessly because they “bought the right to.” Instead, they should take lunch as an opportunity to let the prospect communicate in a safe, relaxed environment to truly discover their needs without the pressure of an office environment.
  • Guide: The flip side to the above point is that the salesperson still needs to retain control of the conversation with effective questioning. Establishing rapport is one of the most important sales techniques, but too many fail to actually try to sell anything when at lunch. Bring the client back to the point if they stray. Remember that you usually only have an hour at most, so use the time wisely.
  • “Close before coffee” (or dessert): Saving the close until the end of the meal is usually a mistake. Why? Because in the mind of the prospect who suspects that a close is coming, this offers them an opportunity to avoid it by simply excusing themselves with a, “No thank you, I really have to get going.” when the server offers coffee or dessert. If the buyer is not ready to commit to a purchase during the meal, then the salesperson should close them on the next major action, whether that is a follow-up visit or phone call. Close them on something!

Sales organizations should encourage selling over lunch as one of the basic sales skills and techniques.  In truth, sales managers can probably track the “number of sales lunches” or similarly-named metric as a sales forecasting technique, with a higher number predicting higher potential revenues in the near future. For more helpful information, contact us here.