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Getting the most out of coffee meetings

Getting the most out of coffee meetings


Rather than trying to sell to clients, create a conversation and let opportunities arise organically, advises Douglas McPherson

Coffee meetings are now a mainstay of every solicitor’s personal business development plan. You only need to look through any coffee shop window on any given day and you’ll see a cluster of people in full business attire enthusiastically going through the motions of building, maintaining, and converting the conversations they’re having with their various contacts, clients, and targets.

Given this is such a pivotal part of your personal marketing plan, I thought it might be worthwhile to go through some proven, practical tips to help make your coffee meetings more effective (and more likely to yield new billable opportunities).

The first golden rule is that the likelihood of success lies in your preparation. You need to know exactly who you should be having coffee with. Keep a list of your key contacts (whether they are clients, professional contacts, targets, or preferably a mix of all three) and be prepared to update it – including promotions and relegations as new contacts are made and the productivity of others comes to a natural end.

Once you know who you are inviting for coffee, set out your plan for the meeting: what do you want to leave the table having established or obtained? We split this part of the process into two separate elements:

  • Opportunities: Do you want referrals, introductions, insight, a co-marketing initiative, or the opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell?

  • Objectives: What exactly do you want out of the meeting? The model we use is ODE: what would be the optimum result? What is your desired result? And what is your essential result?

‘Not more admin I don’t have time for,’ I hear you cry. Done properly this will take you two minutes, and I am prepared to wager that those two minutes will hugely increase the effectiveness and return your coffee meetings generate. Why? Because you will know what you want, which means you will structure and manage the meeting in a more focused way and you’ll know the meeting isn’t over until you realise at least one of your ODE objectives.

So now you know what you want to get out of your meeting, but how do you run it?

Your chances of winning work will increase exponentially if you make the best possible first impression. Here are the simplest ways to make sure you do:

  • Be respectful of time: Arrive a few minutes early and ready start on time;

  • Set the scene ahead of the meeting so your contact is fully prepared: A short three-line email agenda is a good way to do that;

  • Switch your mobile off: There’s nothing more irritating than someone who’s constantly fiddling with their phone; and

  • Make sure you are smiling and maintaining eye contact throughout.

Once the meeting is up and running, remember you’re not there to sell, just to chat over coffee. Don’t pitch, ditch your elevator script, and instead start to build trust simply by asking questions and listening attentively to the answers. Success is creating a conversation, not a sale. If you get that right, opportunities will arise organically.

Success is also reliant on you creating a genuine rapport, so be yourself, try to find common ground, and use war stories and anecdotes to underline the points you make and establish yourself as someone who can handle the types of opportunities that could arise.

And always make your conversation as easy as possible for your contact. Don’t quote legal precedents; explain things clearly and in plain English rather than using jargon. Also, be prepared to give a point of view and offer different ways to approach a particular issue if the opportunity presents itself.

The question of credibility should never be underestimated. While your priority is to establish a rapport rather than to sell, at the end of the day you do want to position yourself as the best option when the next matter arises. The best way to do that is to demonstrate you understand your contact’s world. Go to events and conferences to see what people are saying, build a personal perspective by reading industry publications, and try to drop in the trends, angles, and vocabulary you’ve picked up in other meetings.

The most important thing is that if an opportunity does arrive, get into the habit of ‘asking the question’. We’re not talking about any traditional car salesman shtick here: it’s not about hard closing, it’s about subtly positioning yourself. First, acknowledge the opportunity, drop in a relevant ‘I actually did something similar recently’ type anecdote, and then simply offer to help. Offer a second pair of eyes, offer to ride shotgun at a meeting with the client, offer to make some initial recommendations your contact can consider, or just make yourself openly available to answer any questions.

While this may cost you some time, let’s be realistic – once your feet are under the table, the work won’t go anywhere else, which, again, will only make your coffee meetings more effective.

Douglas McPherson is a director at 10 ½ Boots


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