What's for lunch?

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago. Some points in it now seem quaint (e.g., referring to "A/V" presentations instead of "Powerpoint", and sending a "letter" instead of an "email"). Other points have become even more important, such as the demand for continuing education credits. 

Use lunchtime presentations to dish up your product and whet prospects' appetites for one-on-one sales calls,

I've been invited to give a lunchtime product presentation at a large architectural firm. Should I approach it as a means of selling to specifiers, or just an opportunity to spread some good will? And how can I get the best results from making such a presentation?-F.T.B., sales manager

The cost of sandwiches is more than justified by the efficient use of your time at a lunch presentation. Such presentations expose you to a roomful of prospects in the same time it would take to make a sales call on one architect or specifier. The setting also lets you make a more thorough presentation and avoid the phone calls and other distractions that can occur when meeting in a prospect's office.

Use lunchtime presentations to create product awareness and lay the groundwork for future sales contacts. This is especially useful with new products since lunch allows time to display samples, give an A/V show, and demonstrate when and where to use the product. This is not the time to close sales or discuss specific projects. Instead, emphasize your product's benefits and offer solutions to your prospects' common problems. With this approach, your audience will see you as a resource they can call on with confidence when specific project needs arise.

The seminar-like format can also he used to teach product basics. If you sell admixtures, for example, use lunch to review the fundamentals of concrete technology or quality control. Younger audience members may not have learned this in school, and it can be a useful refresher for seasoned members.

When new codes or regulations go into effect, you can provide a real service to your audience by explaining the implications. A door hardware consultant I know, for example, uses lunch presentations to explain how the recently enacted Americans with Disabilities Act affects the design of entrances. Such presentations contribute to an architect's continuing professional education. This is especially important in light of the American Institute of Architects' new continuing education requirements.

Organizing a presentation
Ask the architectural firm to designate a staff liaison to give you a head count and reserve the office conference room Your liaison also may be able to suggest local catering services. The menu can range from deli sandwiches and soft drinks to something more creative. But don't get so carried away with food that the menu is more interesting then your program.

Request the firm's staff roster and send professional invitations yourself. Not only does this boost interest in your program, but you add the names to your prospect list.

Your audience will arrive en masse at the beginning of their lunch hour and will leave at the end of the hour, whether or not you are finished. They will be hungry, so feed them before you start talking. While they're eating, ask them about current projects so you can tailor your presentation to their needs. If more than one person from your firm is at the meeting, don't sit together. Spread out among your audience.

As an alternative to in-office lunches, you can hold a program at a restaurant or hotel, where you  can attract prospects from several offices. This works if you want to reach firms too small to justify in house presentations or if your message is targeted  to certain job titles, such as specification writers. Off site breakfast and lunch programs  generally attract only managements level individuals who have more flexible work hours. After-house programs can be expanded to include open bars, entertainment, and special displays.

At the end of the presentation, give everyone in the audience a brochure or other leave-behind piece. Those who are especially interested in your product will stay around to discuss specific projects. Allow time in your schedule so you will not be rushed. Pass around a sign-up sheet to get names or ask participants to fill out a short evaluation card before leaving. Then, follow up your presentation a week later with a letter or phone call.

Involve your audience
People learn more when they receive information via more than one sense, so use visual aids and product samples. Better yet, give participants a hands-on experience working with your product. A manufacturer of a new ornamental material, for example, passed around drawing paper and markers and gave the audience a building problem to solve using the new material. Quick sketch projects, or design charettes as they are called, can be an effective way for a designer to integrate information you have presented.

Your luncheon may be one of the few opportunities for members of an architectural firm to talk to each other about your product. By facilitating interaction among your audience, you can help build consensus and support for your product within the firm.

The best presentation i ever attended was for an electric water cooler, a product I though didn't need much explanation. The presenter began with a clean flip chart and marker. He had a box of coffee mugs imprinted with his company's logo and he offered one to anyone who asked a question or described a problem they'd had with his product type.

To my amazement, the room came alive. One designer complained that he could never get the colors he wanted. A construction manager griped about coordination with related work. A project manager described the difficulty she had selecting appropriate substitutions. And a specifier asked about warranty limitations.

Something to take home
During the exchange, the presenter passed out the mugs and jotted down the questions. He now had an attentive audience who knew why they were at the meeting. Rather than use a canned presentation, he used a well-organized slide show to answer the questions the audience raised. Everyone left the meeting with the sense that they had learned something they could use immediately, and with a coffee mug sporting the company's name and phone number.

Your local reps can use these presentations to build relationships with prospects and can readily provide follow-up. Some manufacturers establish incentives to encourage their reps to make box-lunch presentations. Others prefer to use an expert from the home office. In either case, be sure that your presenter is an effective speaker.

When appropriate, invite local distributors and contractors to attend the program. They will appreciate the additional exposure and it will assure prospects that your product is available and supported locally.

Bon appetit!

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com 

By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1995