Last July, Yale Law School published The Truth About the Billable Hour” and showed how hitting an 1800 billable hour target translated into a whopping 2400 hours away from home! Even more eye-opening is that this computation didn’t include any time spent on business development!  Given the intense demands on attorneys’ time, it’s no wonder that business development often gets pushed to the lowest priority.  Leaving aside what this says about how the billable hour model fails to serve firms, attorneys and clients, one thing is clear: ain’t  nobody got time to waste a minute of their work day on things that don’t translate into a positive impact on their bottom line.  In this Maraia Minutes, we are going to focus on a common time-waster than can easily be converted into a valuable business development activity: The Random Act of Lunch.

A Random Act of Lunch is an oft-committed offense, engaged in by both seasoned and amateur Rainmakers who have been led to think that taking a prospective client to lunch is a win in the business development column.  Notice I said “taking” a prospective client to lunch and not “having a productive lunch meeting”—the first is a Random Act of Lunch and the latter is true business development.  Fortunately, converting a Random Act of Lunch into a Successful Act of Lunch is a simple fix that requires only three steps: prepare, prepare and prepare! In all seriousness, taking the time to prepare for your lunch meeting (or any marketing meeting) and being clear on why you’re meeting with the client, what their needs are and how you’ll proceed next are vitally important factors in avoiding wasting another hour of your time on a Random Act of Lunch.

Why Am I Meeting This Client for Lunch?  Knowing why you’re meeting with a client helps inform how you prepare for the meeting and what you can expect to accomplish during the meeting. In the grand scale, are you meeting with this client because he fits within your definition of “ideal client” and represents a potential avenue for reaching your practice growth goals? Speaking of goals, perhaps you’re meeting with this client because you have a goal to connect with more executive officers of companies in this client’s industry. In either scenario, it’s easy to see how strategically pursuing lunches that fit within your overall business development plan will lessen the likelihood of Random Acts of Lunch.  Assuming your lunch date is someone you’ve strategically decided to pursue, then the question of “why” is more specific: is this a networking meeting or is it a marketing meeting?  That is, I am meeting simply in order to expand my network and develop and deepen my relationship with this person in the hope that it grows over time?  (All meetings are networking meetings to some degree as developing and deepening relationships is always a worthy goal, by the way.) Or is this meeting ready to progress to a true “marketing” meeting where I am going to pursue an advance? Knowing whether you intend to seek a commitment from the client to take action in a definite timeframe (this is an “advance”) will help determine “how” to take the next steps.

What Are The Client’s Needs?  As Mark Maraia writes in Chapter 17 of Rainmaking Made Simple, Avoid Random Acts of Lunch, “It’s much better to prepare thoroughly for one client meeting per month than to wing it with ten prospective clients each month.”  Preparation is transformative, you will walk into meetings feeling confident and ready to handle any potential turn the meeting may take.  The best preparation involves research and considering the personal needs and fears of the person you’re meeting and writing out 3-4 questions you’ll ask during the meeting. Why should you consider the client’s personal needs and fear? Everyone has needs unique to their job and the more you can consider a client’s personal motivations, the more you can empathetically connect with them and empathy is the foundation of relationships. Questions prepared in advance are your ticket to cool, calm, collected non-salesy encounters.  Why? Because asking questions put the onus on your lunch date to do the talking, they leave him or her feeling like you really cared to find out more, they provide opportunities for the conversation to develop and, most importantly, if you’re listening to answers instead of talking then you’re not selling! If you have a fear of sales and avoid business development for that reason, prepared questions are your new best friend.

How Do I Proceed from Lunch? You’ve thought strategically about who you are lunching with and why, you’ve prepared a list of questions and sat back and really listened while your lunch date answered, now where do you go from here?  Preparing a list of a possible specific outcomes, or advances, you’d like to see happen at the conclusion of your meeting will be instrumental in determining what your next step is.  Often times, attorneys go to lunch and rate the success of that lunch on whether they felt comfortable and the client talked to them! No wonder Random Acts of Lunch persist.  A much better way to determine if your lunch was a success is to ask “did I make progress toward the outcome I wanted for this meeting?” Mark Maraia writes “Most professionals make one of two common mistakes. They head off to a marketing meeting without having written out (or thought of) a single advance. Or they go to the other extreme and ask for work prematurely when no need is evident. The rainmakers head into meetings with multiple arrows in their quivers. They usually have thought of several advances. The best among these get the client to suggest an advance or they tell the prospect what they’d propose to happen next.”

Going to lunch needn’t waste your precious professional development time.  With the right preparation, it’s surprisingly easy to turn a Random Act of Lunch into a Successful Act of Lunch.  This approach isn’t limited to lunch, either.  Every aspect of business development improves when you prepare, when the needs of the client are paramount and when your marketing efforts are part of a larger, well-intentioned plan to grow your business. Rainmakers don’t have Random Acts of Lunch and now neither will you.

At Maraia & Associates, we’ve been coaching professionals just like you for over twenty years on how to avoid Random Acts of Lunch and achieve success as a Rainmaker. If you’re curious how our programs might benefit you or your firm, contact us today.  In the meantime, if you’d like a free electronic copy of Mark’s book “Rainmaking Made Simple”which includes a chapter devoted to avoiding Random Acts of Lunch and hundreds of other tried and true rainmaking tools, we’d be happy to send you one. Email us and ask, it’s that simple…after all, we want to see you succeed!