by Bryce Sanders

You work in sales. It might be investments, yachts or real estate.

Perhaps you work in the nonprofit sector on the fundraising side.

All these situations share a common factor: You talk with members of the general public, first turning them into prospects, then clients or donors.

Perhaps you have hit a dry spell. You need a new idea.

News flash! There are no new ideas! However, there are some pretty good older ideas that cycle in and out of favor.

Consider the client–prospect dinner.

It’s simple. You invite a good client to dinner at a nice restaurant. You will be picking up the check. You ask them to bring along a friend, neighbor or co-worker. You want someone in the same economic bracket at the table.

You all have a good time getting to know each other. “What do you do?” obviously comes up in the conversation. Your client’s guest has a good time. They start to like you. People do business with people they like.

Why does the client-prospect dinner strategy work?

One reason it works is your client tells your story ahead of time, effectively pre-selling you to their friend. If you visit your client at their office, it’s highly likely their friend already recognizes your name.

Even if they don’t pre-sell you, the guest may do it for themselves: “This is Charlie’s broker. He must be good. He wouldn’t be introducing me if he’s a loser.”

It also works because business is not discussed over dinner, although you will answer questions if asked. You are learning about one another. Your client might sing your praises, but you aren’t making a pitch for business.

They will ask, “What do you do?” You might answer briefly. They will figure out they can get a balanced opinion from your client, who has already spoken favorably about you.

It works because you are learning about the guest’s interests and family. You will spot commonalities. They will be making their first trip to London soon. You’ve been multiple times. You offer to e-mail them restaurant or hotel recommendations.

They might be golfers. You can see where that can lead.

Under ideal circumstances, they take an interest in doing business and get in touch. You have also identified shared interests in common. This provides a reason to reach out.

Why it doesn’t work

This strategy costs money. You are buying dinner. If spouses are involved, costs double. However, it’s a good way to add to your prospect pipeline.

Here’s a problem: Your client accepts but can’t think of anyone to bring. They are along for a free meal.

Another problem is the client who knows the right people but doesn’t know how to extend the invitation. “Come meet my broker over dinner.” They ask why. “I think he’s looking for new clients.” They ask if the client is being paid a finder’s fee. Your client will never ask anyone ever again. They may need coaching.

Can you invite a couple of clients? Maybe more? Yes, but you must be careful about scale. Invite 10 people, and this is now a dinner seminar. That’s not what you had in mind.

Two clients is good. If they each invite a guest, there are five of you around the table. If everyone brings a spouse, you are up to 10.

You need to invite clients who like you. If the client starts complaining about you or the firm, dinner is a disaster.

Expressions to use

How do you suggest a client bring the right person? You might say: “Please bring along a guest. Ideally, it’s someone you think I should meet.” Another version is, “Someone I might be able to help.”

You’ve planted the seed. Your client will have some ideas.

How about extending the invitation? I like the “problem-solution-action” approach.

Problem:“Boris, I know you invest in the stock market just like me. The ups and downs of the market keep me awake at night.”

Solution:“Fortunately, I have a good adviser, Natasha, over at Hyer and Hyer Financial. When I’m worried, she puts things in perspective. She keeps me focused on my long-term goals. Sometimes she even suggests opportunities. She calms me down.”

Action:“We are having dinner next Thursday. She said I could bring a guest. Why don’t you come along? I think you would enjoy meeting her.”

Some ideas have enduring popularity. Consider the client-prospect dinner as a strategy to fill your prospect pipeline.

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