When Is the Best Time to Pitch for New Work During Business Lunch?

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You're about to go to lunch with a connection who happens to be the CEO of a large company. You wonder: when during this lunch is the best time for me to ask to be considered for any upcoming legal work?

Answer: never.

Really. The best time to pitch for new business over lunch is never. Not before the main course or after the salad or at any point when you’re seated in a crowded restaurant enjoying a nice meal. Save the business talk for a meeting in the office, and use the lunch and its casual conversation as an opportunity to enhance your relationship with the potential client, to bring it to the point where you and your guest are comfortable meeting in a conference room to talk work. No one – not even your best friend – wants to hear a business pitch over dessert. And certainly not the CEO of a large company. They just want a good meal.

If everything goes well, that is, if you establish and build on a meaningful relationship, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to schedule more meetings where you can demonstrate your expertise as a lawyer.

So what, then, should you ask your lunch companion that will put you on the path to that meeting where you can pitch new work? Some ideas:

  • Ask about her company. Thanks to Google, it’s easy to find out recent news about virtually every company in the country. Maybe they just exceeded earnings targets. Maybe they just got sued. Maybe there’s an interesting human interest story about their employee community service program. Whatever the news, you should craft one or two questions that will give you an opportunity to demonstrate your interest in the things that are important to her. 
  • Ask about her industry. Again, Google is your friend when preparing for the lunch meeting. Asking your connection how the EPA’s rule on emissions from heavy duty trucks is going to change how they deliver – and price – their products shows that you understand the challenges that she’s facing (and that you might be able to help her overcome them).
  • Ask about her future. Obviously, you’re not interviewing your companion, so you can’t really say “where do you see yourself in five years?” But there are ways to elicit that information without being so direct. And because it gives your lunch mate a chance to talk about herself, she’ll likely enjoy that conversation.
  • Ask about her problems. Questions like “how are you preparing for the new OSHA rule on reporting workplace accidents?” or “what are you doing in the face of increasing low cost imports from Southeast Asia?” or “have you changed your drug testing policies in response to the new medical marijuana law?” give you an opportunity to learn more about her company. But more importantly, they allow you to turn what could have been generic follow-up – of the “thank-you-for-a-wonderful-lunch” variety – into specific solutions addressing the very problems that are keeping your contact awake at night: “You mentioned that you were having problems with employees abusing FMLA leave. Here’s an article written by one of my partners that lays out five steps you can take to reduce that.”

The bottom line? Lunch is a great time to build and strengthen the relationship you need to make the pitch for new work. Just so long as you don’t make that ask over dessert.

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[Lance Godard is a business development manager at Fisher Phillips. Connect with him on LinkedIn.]

 

 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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