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12 tips for a successful sales lunch meeting

Whether it’s a team meeting or an important pitch to a potential client, holding your next sales meeting over lunch is a great way to build relationships while talking business.

Meetings are a foundational part of doing business, especially in sales. They provide a more relaxed environment to make your pitch or handle tough discussions.

The catch is that business lunch meetings take up a lot of valuable time in a sales rep’s day – so it’s important to make it worth everyone’s time. Done right, lunch meetings are the perfect way to land sales and improve employee productivity.

In this guide, we’ll look at how business lunch meetings help you and your team build stronger relationships, then share tips for hosting meetings that will convert more leads into sales.

Table of contents

Why regular lunch meetings lead to stronger business relationships

Lunch meetings aren’t just a way to exchange information. They help sales leaders and reps improve team dynamics and guide prospects through the sales process.

There are two broad types of lunch meetings:

1. Team lunch meetings. Team meetings can help team members and leaders get a pulse on current sales activities, workloads, interpersonal relationships and more. Team meetings are vital to the sales process and they help ensure effective team-building and communication.

When these meetings are held over lunch, team members can bond outside of the work environment.

2. Lunch sales meetings with a prospect or client. The purpose of lunch meetings with a prospect or client is to either land new accounts or develop long-lasting relationships. These activities are the bread and butter of relationship selling, so ensuring that they go well helps your company maintain continued growth.

While lunch meetings help you and your team make more sales, they can take a lot of time and energy. For the same reason, try not to use lunch meetings as a way to squeeze more work out of your team. Lunch is an important time for your team to recoup and socialize outside of a normal work environment.

To account for this, you need to balance important meetings with the rest of your workload to avoid burnout or a drop in productivity. Make sure to schedule your team’s meetings reasonably and follow our guide below to make your meetings more effective.

Whether you’re meeting with your team, a high-profile client, business partner or otherwise, there are several reasons to meet over a meal. Here are six:

1. They put you on equal footing

When you meet with someone at their office, you’re in their “territory”. While this is usually fine, there are power dynamics that can put you on the back foot.

Meeting in their space can be intimidating and the same is true in reverse. Winning over clients is about making everybody comfortable. Meeting at “neutral territory”, like a restaurant or a coffee shop, puts you both on equal ground.

2. They help build client relationships

People bond over food. Eating together creates a shared experience that enhances the business objectives that brought you together in the first place. Lunch meetings also tend to be longer than normal meetings, so you’ll have a chance to talk about topics outside of business.

A prospective client has to trust you before they will become a customer. Getting to know each other helps build that trust. As you build a long-lasting relationship, you’ll learn more about their pain points and how you can solve their problems.

3. They bring teams together

Sharing lunch with your team is a great way to increase rapport. It can also help build deeper connections and improve their quality of teamwork. Team lunch meetings…

  • Foster communication between coworkers and departments

  • Boost team morale and reduce employee turnover

  • Show employees that you appreciate them

  • Give employees valuable time with team leaders

Ultimately, teammates can relax over lunch together. Lunch meetings let them unwind from the morning’s activities, debrief informally and learn about the lives of their coworkers outside of work.

4. They’re more flexible

A major obstacle to scheduling a meeting is finding a date and time that suits everybody. That’s why lunchtime is a great choice – people generally have more free time. Even better, lunchtime is often an hour or more, meaning you have more time to make that pitch or sort out a tricky problem.

5. There’s less pressure

Since a lunch meeting is often much less intimidating than a meeting at a high-profile client’s office, people are often more relaxed. In this environment, conversation may flow more naturally. Further, if you choose a quiet place to have lunch, you’ll have fewer interruptions and be able to stay focused.

6. It shows the prospect is willing to make an effort

Your client is probably very busy and could well be fielding a number of pitches that compete with yours. The fact that they’re willing to make the trip to meet you, albeit for a free meal (make sure, wherever you eat, that you’re paying – more on that later), suggests that they could be willing to come not just to the restaurant table, but to the negotiation table as well.

12 tips for more successful and meaningful lunch meetings

There are several things you can do to make your meetings more meaningful while ensuring you hit your business goals.

In this section, we’ll cover some general lunch meeting ideas focusing on the admin side of things. Then we’ll dive into how to host an effective lunch meeting that will build trust and close deals.

Here are some lunch meeting ideas to make the next one successful.

1. Consider the purpose of the meeting first

Before sending out any invites to clients or team members, think about the issue you’re addressing. Consider the main points you need to bring up and the goal you have in mind. You may need to discuss an ongoing project or try to land a new client. If you have multiple points to cover, create an agenda to stay on track and discuss each point you’d like to address.

For example, an agenda to pitch a new client might look like this:

  • Recap previous conversations and problems the client is looking to solve

  • Walk through the pitch deck on a portable device

  • Q&A session

  • Next steps

2. Choose the right venue

Plenty of thought needs to go into making sure the venue is just right. For instance, if you’re meeting with a high-profile client, you may wish to reserve a table at a classy restaurant. In contrast, if you’re meeting with your team, a more relaxed setting like the conference room might suit you better.

If you don’t know the area you’re meeting in, there are plenty of online services like Eater, Yelp, and Urbanspoon to help you discover the perfect venue.

Scout out your chosen venue to ensure it’s suitable before sending invites. For example, is there enough room? Is the atmosphere just right? Do they serve the right kind of food? Doing this beforehand helps avoid any potential awkwardness on the day.

3. Choose the right food

Whether you’re eating out or serving an in-office lunch, having suitable food is vital. Consider people’s requirements. Do they have specific dietary restrictions, such as being gluten-free or vegetarian?

It’s also important to make sure the amount of food is sufficient for everyone – you don’t want anyone to leave hungry, but there’s no gain to ordering over the top. If you’re having a lunch meeting somewhere private that’s not in a restaurant (like in the office or a hotel conference room), consider hiring a good caterer.

4. Invite the people who need to be there

Invite only the necessary people, so no one feels out of place or like they’re wasting their time in a meeting that doesn’t require their participation.

When you send the invites, include all the information the recipients need to avoid back and forths. Send the venue, time and date ahead of time, as well as the agenda. If it’s available, let everyone see the menu so that any potential issues with dietary requirements are noted beforehand.

5. Plan the discussion in “courses”

Planning the discussion in courses helps prevent you from getting bogged down in unhelpful details while also serving to keep productive conversation moving. To do this, think about the key points you want to cover, then plan to bring each topic up at the next stage of the meal.

Let’s return to the client pitch example above to see how it would fit into a lunch meeting’s courses:

  • Recap previous conversations and problems the client is looking to solve over appetizers

  • Walk through the pitch deck on a portable device during the main meal

  • Q&A session and next steps over desserts and coffee

6. Choose a facilitator

Depending on your meeting, you may want to have a facilitator. The facilitator acts as a host to keep the conversation on track so that time isn’t wasted and key points aren’t missed.

We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next section.

7. Stay focused

There’s no point organizing and hosting a business lunch meeting if it’s treated as a purely social event. This type of lunch doesn’t need the level of planning and organization that a working lunch meeting does.

Stay focused and keep the conversation on track so that you can meet the goals you set for the meeting. Again, having an agenda or some general notes can help make sure you don’t forget anything.

8. Make sure your team leaves with actionable tasks

There’s nothing worse than leaving a meeting with no idea what you’re supposed to do next. If you’re hosting a lunch meeting with your sales team, make sure that each team member leaves the meeting with actionable tasks.

Add and assign tasks to your CRM at the end of the lunch meeting to ensure they’re logged right away. Making sure your team understands their role and expectations is essential if you want to stay on track with your sales processes.

9. Leave time for questions and clarification at the end

This is especially true for team meetings where people are leaving the meeting with specific tasks at hand. Give everyone time to clarify their role so there’s no confusion, nothing is missed and people are able to do their job correctly.

10. Have a dedicated notetaker

Notes are a great way to keep track of a nuanced or multifaceted meeting. They’ll also help you remember a list of key takeaways.

If it’s a team meeting, notes are perfectly acceptable. If it’s a one-on-one lunch, on the other hand, your guest may feel uncomfortable if you’re taking notes rather than maintaining conversation.

If you’re meeting with a client or prospect, consider inviting another team member to take notes while you lead the conversation. This will allow you to immerse yourself in what the other party says without losing track.

11. Wrap up with authority

The end of the meal (and end of the meeting) can be awkward if no one is willing to call it a day. Wrapping up with authority leaves all of the participants feeling satisfied that objectives have been achieved and they can get on with the rest of the day’s tasks.

Wind down the discussion a few minutes before thanking your guests for coming, then stand up, inviting them to as well. Try to end each meeting on a positive note and mention that you’ll follow up by email after you depart.

12. Follow up afterward

Following up helps you leverage the momentum that you’ve built with the meeting. If the meeting was with a prospect, this might be the difference between closing the deal or not. If it was a team meeting, following up with a condensed summary of the major points ensures that everyone is on the same page.

How to be a great host for prospects, clients and partners

From choosing the venue to pleasing your guests, it’s your job as the host to make sure everything flows smoothly.

Arrive early and greet your guests professionally

The host should always arrive early and wait for everyone else before seating. Greet your guests, then sit down together. Remember that some guests will still feel uncomfortable shaking hands due to the pandemic.

If you’re the host, invite everyone to sit. If your guests are from a different culture to yours, make sure to review their cultural norms so that you know how to make them comfortable.

Ensure that everyone has a similar experience

Wait for your guests to place their orders, then choose the same amount of food. If they order something light, like a salad, avoid ordering several appetizers and a large meal. Likewise, if they order three courses, stay in the same vein. This is a good rule of thumb to ensure that you have a similar experience and eat for a similar amount of time, making your guests feel comfortable.

Remember proper business meeting etiquette

It never hurts to brush up on proper table etiquette. These points should help everyone stay on track with the business objectives without offense or distractions during the lunch meeting.

  • Be polite and courteous with the staff. How you treat people will affect how your guests view you, both as a person and a potential business partner. How you treat waitstaff could reflect how you’ll treat a partnership.

  • Keep the conversation light. Try to avoid passionate topics, like politics, and stick to small talk that helps you get to know each other better. Ask questions about where your guests are from and how they came into their job roles. You can also mention some industry-specific news that may spark conversation.

  • Remember the BMW rule. BMW stands for bread, meal, water. This means that your bread is to the left of your meal and your water is to the right. The BMW rule is an easy way to avoid accidentally taking a sip from the wrong glass.

  • Thank your guests for coming. When the meeting’s over, thank your guests and let them know that you’ll send them a follow-up email.

  • Who’s paying? If you’re the host, you pay. To avoid an awkward exchange, take care of the bill away from the table (e.g., passing your credit card to the waitstaff while on a restroom break).

What you don’t want to do

There are plenty of things to avoid in a business lunch meeting. As above, most of these are simply a matter of good manners, but it doesn’t hurt to brush up before a big meeting.

  • Avoid drinking too much. A boozy lunch meeting is common in some business circles, but remember that you want to keep your wits with you. Judge the atmosphere of the meeting and try to pace yourself accordingly. It might be tempting to have another glass of wine, but business comes first.

  • Avoid answering your phone. Hold an interruption-free conversation with your guests so they feel valued and know they have your full attention. Put your phone on silent before the meeting and let people know that you’ll be unavailable for phone calls over lunch that day.

  • Try to avoid messy foods. Save the notoriously messy foods, like ribs or buffalo wings, for non-business-related meals. This way, you’ll avoid embarrassing spills and maintain a professional appearance.

  • Don’t jump right into business. Start with introductions and light conversation and conduct business after the ice is broken. This is where planning your meeting in “courses” can come in handy.

Virtual lunch meetings

While business travel is limited and many teams are working from home, it’s still possible to host clients and meet with team members via virtual lunch meetings.

Virtual team lunch meetings are a great way to keep up camaraderie while working remotely. It can help employees fight feelings of isolation and improve morale. You’ll want to stay on track to discuss agenda items if it’s a business meeting rather than a social event, but it’s fine to leave a little time at the start or end for a quick catch-up.

If your virtual lunch meeting is with a client, many of the rules above apply. Stick to the agenda and match it to courses where possible. Avoid loud or messy foods that will stop you from navigating slides or interacting online. Mute your phone as well as desktop notifications, so your clients know they have your full attention.

Want to impress your clients or reward your team members? Pay for their lunch by sending a voucher ahead of time or organize the delivery yourself.

Final thoughts

Lunch meetings are an indispensable tool for salespeople to land new accounts and maintain great relationships with their clients and partners. Similarly, they’re a great way for leaders to keep track of and manage their teams while making them feel valued. With this guide, you’ll be hosting successful business lunches in no time.

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