A custom as old as society itself, sharing a meal is one of the best business development strategies I know. It’s a great way to scope out a prospective client or to expand your network of referrals or resources. Think of it as market research.
Unlike the typical “let’s do lunch” business meeting over a bite, I am talking about a more leisurely encounter, one in which business as such need never enter the conversation. The purpose of this exchange is for you to get to know the other person (or persons) and for them to get to know you. Unlike a meeting in an office or home, a meal in a nice restaurant is neutral, “feel good” territory and more conducive to having a real conversation. You are not looking for any kind of commitment at this point. You’re just trying to get a feel for whether there’s a good fit between you and whether at some time in the future you might be able to do some business. It’s all about building trust and creating a space in which an opportunity may arise.
When you walk into a retail store and see a sales clerk behind the counter, you may think to yourself, “that’s exactly the person I’m looking for,” or you may think, “that’s the last person I want to speak to right now,” depending on whether you’re ready to buy. It’s the same with clients and vendors. If they’re ready to do business, they’re happy to see you. If they haven’t made up their minds, your presence may make them uneasy. A social meal in an agreeable spot can alleviate a lot of that tension.
Even if it turns out that there’s no chemistry there, you haven’t wasted your time and money. Now that the other party knows you better, they may refer business to you as a way of doing a favor for someone else. If you’ve planted that seed of trust, you’ve done a good day’s work.