Monday, March 7, 2016

The Customer Lunch

For the seasoned professional reading, you may scoff at this piece and see it as a restatement of the obvious. I am the veteran of thousands of customer/client lunches. Back when I was a young pup-seller, I was instructed to take customers to lunch, but not given much guidance to do so. It was the day of the two martini lunch. For some strange reason, maybe it was my rebellious streak, I decided not to do the martini part. But I made a number of observations around the whole customer lunch thing.

First, lunch with customers expanded my day. I could make a lunch appointment for 11:30 am and create time for another call. In a territory which covered most of the state of Iowa, finding time for another call was difficult.

Customers tended to open up during our lunch times. They told me about their families, personal interests, career goals and often provided coaching. It was over lunch they shared the names of other people I should call on and often gave me pointers for my own personal involvement.

Finally, I found that lunches with customers allowed the customer to act as my advocate. They often took time to invite a colleague to join our discussion. As we had food together, they shared my value with the new guy.

Over the years I had the strong opinion that lunches furthered my cause. I encouraged others to use the idea.

Lately, I have run into a whole new school of distributor salespeople who don’t share this habit. Whether because they want the time to respond to personal emails, catch up on Facebook or, to use the words of one young sell, “just chill.” They don’t engage in the practice. I had a difficult time arguing with them. It was basically one man’s opinion versus another's -- at least until now.

At a recent SPASigma negotiation seminar, negotiation expert Tony Perzow shared a bit of negotiation research with me. According to scientific research done by Lakshmi Balachandra, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College, those who negotiate over food are markedly more successful than those who do not. The figures state:
“Individuals who negotiate in restaurants created 12 percent greater profits and those who negotiated over food in conference rooms created 11 percent greater profits.”

While selling is not pure negotiations, there is a strong component of negotiations in every sale. Further, negotiations are present in many aspects of setting price levels, determining method of delivery and laying out expected service levels. I believe the two overlap.

Can you ignore a potential 12 percent boost? If money is an issue, what is the cost of bringing a sack of sandwiches or a small pizza to the customer’s conference room?  Besides, it doesn't need to be lunch.  How about breakfast, a bagel, afternoon fruit or something else.

Let’s get down to the main course. 

Not eating with customers can cost you time and money. If you would rather eat by yourself than worry about small talk, maybe you should think about a different career.  

If I'm wrong, let's talk.  
I could be needed a big ole' slice of humble pie.

BTW: This message was not provided by the National Restaurant Association, but it could have been.  


DanOB said...

Frank, thanks for this reminder. Sometimes we get too busy for our own good and forget the basics. Expanding our day is such a crucial need to increase at bats and batting average, and this is such a simple tool to do so. I was told as a young sales engineer to do my driving outside of business hours, so that I got to my first meeting just as they opened for business, and to drive home after my last meeting had locked up for the night. A difficult engineering manager at one of my largest target customers pulled me aside one day and told me that I should to take some of his engineers to lunch once in a while. It was great advice and helped me to grow faster than the market.

The Distributor Specialist said...

It feels good to have research back up what many of us knew in an anecdotal sort of way. I suspect there are a lot of younger sellers who actually believe that customers don't want to be connected to their suppliers. They believe that engaging in personal/human activities somehow infringes on their privacy or the privacy of their customers. The truth is we humans long for connection over food. And, we have since Biblical days. The Patriarch Abraham feasted with Kings, Travelers, Angels and his wacky nephew Lot.

Dav McNay said...

Hey Dan,
I totally agree on any kind of customer entertainment. The best customer lunches I had were taking a buyer & an engineer out to a good lunch. That way I was sure the projects I was working on got proper attention. And we always had a good time.
And I was invited by a buyer to come to his home after work to play pool. It really is a positive in so many ways to expand your relationships with customers when you can get the opportunity. I got a chance to move that buyer to a larger company and
my business with that buyer went from $25k per month to $50k per month. Win! Win!

Priyanka Sekar said...

Thanks for sharing this Informative content. Well explained. Got to learn new things from your Blog on SAP SD

Preethi Asha said...

Thanks for sharing this Informative content. Well explained. Got to learn new things from your Blog on SAP

Anonymous said...

Eating lunch lunch by yourself is wasted time...if a customer doesn't have time or isn't available...ask a member from your team to lunch...learn from everyone around you. Build relationships.