We've all experienced this. Well most of us have. If you haven't, count yourself lucky...or smarter than the rest of us.
It Starts Innocently Enough
You meet someone new at a networking event. This someone says to you, "Gee, I'd love to learn more about your business ... let's get together and have coffee."
And you are thinking to yourself, "Great! I've got a live one here. Someone actually wants to learn about my business." So you get out your calendar and you find a mutually agreeable date. Later and prior to your meeting, you'll start to plan out what you will say, eager to share your innermost hopes and desires about your business with this person who has shown an interest in learning more about you.
You are also secretly hoping that this person will want to do business with you OR that they will then take your information and become an advocate for you by spreading good "word of mouth" about you to their many contacts, friends, and associates.
Reality Sets In
With eager anticipation, you arrive early to the agreed upon location and you get settled in. Your coffee date arrives and you exchange a few moments of niceties. And then, things start to tip a little sideways.
The first thing you notice is that Ms. or Mr. Coffee Date, has brought along a laptop computer that they begin to set up. You're thinking, "Wow, they are going to take notes of what I say about my company." And you are very impressed.
All the while, Mr./Ms Coffee Date is smiling and chatting away with you. And as soon as the laptop is up and running, they spin it around and begin to give you a mini-presentation on their business.
They are very smooth at this.
The room seems to tip a little further sideways. You begin to feel confused. A voice in your head says, "Hey, wait a minute ... I thought this was going to be about me?" Meanwhile, you smile graciously and you nod your head in some bobble headed sort of way as you try to figure out ... what the heck is going on here?
This is the classic bait and switch
When someone invites you to go to have coffee with them so that they can learn about you, you have a reasonable expectation that the discussion will be primarily focused on you and your business. And while there are many honorable people out there who will never do what I've described above ... there are many more who are looking for naive people to play this game on.
So how do you protect yourself from having this happen to you?
- Manage and protect your time better - invite more people to attend the coffee date.
A One on one Coffee Date or Lunch with someone new that you've just met is rarely a good use of your time. Let's take a look at how much time a 1/2 hour coffee date really takes. There's preparation time, drive time to, time actually spent at the coffee date, drive time from, and decompression time (or making sense of it time). A half hour coffee date can easily suck up 3 hours of your time. An hour long coffee date will use up 4 or more hours of your time.
If you are going to make that much time for marketing your business, then make it more productive by inviting 2 or 3 additional people to attend the coffee date. There is safety in numbers, for people rarely behave badly in front of a group.
The ideal size for a Group Coffee Date is 3 or 4 people. This makes conversation very easy for all to participate in and there is not the likelihood for crosstalk and sidebar discussions that can be distracting. When you get 5 people at a table there is always going to be one who feels like the 3rd wheel. The group dynamic breaks down and the conversation is difficult for all parties to be involved in and to follow.
- Before accepting a coffee date, find out the agenda
When someone invites you to attend a coffee date, always find out what a coffee date means to them. What will we talk about? Who goes first? How long will we each talk? What is the expected outcome?
Remember that the underlying reason to meeting with people is to grow your social capital. You want to be building relationships with people. That means a certain amount of giving must take place ... from all parties concerned.
Building relationships come from good conversations and good conversations are well balanced, informative, interesting, and mutually enjoyable. So have a map of how you want the conversation to go.
- Set your own policy for how you participate
Why not be proactive? Think about how YOU want the marketing game to be played with respect to Coffee and Lunch dates.
Tools for a Marketing Coffee or Lunch date
Agenda - Type up your own, or follow this one:
Sample Agenda for a 1 hour Coffee Date beginning at 10AM with 4 attendees
The goal of this Coffee/Lunch Date is so that each person attending has the opportunity to learn about the others and also share information about themselves and their business. In learning about each other, we learn to help spread the word about each other's businesses. In asking questions, we learn to better define how we talk about your business so that we can help you to connect with potential clients. We get and give clarity so that we can drive better potential customers to each other. And we make a committment to each other to keep our eyes and ears open for potential connections.
9:50AM - 4 people who have been invited to attend arrive
10AM - Host (person who invited everyone) goes over the Agenda noting that each person will get 5 minutes to talk about themselves and their business and then 5 minutes for question and answer. Show the participants the timer, that it is set for 5 minutes, that when the timer goes off they need to move to the Q&A segment, and then when it goes off the 2nd time they are done. And then explain that the timer will then move on to the next person.
10:05AM First person begins talking
10:10AM First person moves into Q&A mode
10:15AM 2nd Person begins talking
10:20AM 2nd Person moves into Q&A mode
10:25AM 3rd Person begins talking
10:30AM 3rd Person moves into Q&A mode
10:35AM 4th Person begins talking
10:40AM 4th Person moves into Q&A mode
10:45AM - 10:55AM Open discussion and exchanging of business cards, leads, referrals, possible connections
11:00AM Meeting is over
What you'll need:
Digital Countdown Timer (Walgreens, Fred Meyer, Target)
Brochures or other collateral material
Thank you card for follow up after
No More Heartburn - Just Better Connections
When you are proactive and create the type of small group marketing session that you want to have YOU are in the driver's seat. Other people will appreciate the venue that you have created to help them spread the word about their businesses.
You will be seen as the crafty connector who helps people by making it easier to grow their businesses through connections that you helped to facilitate.
You will have maximized your time with highly productive encounters and isn't that what we all want?