Is the Lunch-N-Learn Dead?
One of the most coveted meetings to get with an A&D Firm has always been a Lunch-N-Learn. To get on the calendar with the major firms, you have to schedule these events way in advance — sometimes starting in January, to ensure you get your spot. These important meetings historically gave you the opportunity to meet with key specifiers for almost an hour and share your latest and greatest products with them.
To prepare for these meetings when I was in sales, we’d spend hours getting ready, preparing our presentation, making sure we had the product samples necessary, enough brochures or fabric samples. We’d spend hundreds of dollars on the right food and drink and coordinating the delivery or pick up. We’d make sure the event was as perfect as it could be — this was the moment for us to shine. This was the face-to-face opportunity we’d been waiting on, sometimes for months, and we always wanted to make sure it was a great meeting.
But then, we’d show up at a firm with 30 designers who RSVP’s, but only 5 of them actually came to our scheduled meeting, and the other 25 had deadlines and decided they couldn’t make it that day. Or even worse, none of them showed up, and we got a few interns or non-furniture related team members who just came for the free lunch.
We’ve all been there! So much excitement building up to the event, only to leave disappointed and discouraged. If you call on the A&D community, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
We’ve all encountered difficulty in getting in front of our ideal customer — then we have to deal with the fallout from your leadership team and explain that you spent all this money and the right people did not make it, for whatever reason. You’ll get the questions about your follow-up and all the things you should have done differently to ensure you got the right people there.
But then, last year the pandemic hit and these coveted (and somewhat ineffective) meetings stopped altogether. You were forced to figure out a new and creative way to reach this community. Some did it well, while others totally missed the mark, and then there’s the group that didn’t even try anything new at all — and they’re still waiting for things to go back to “normal.”
Now that the A&D Community is making their way back into the workplace, we are being challenged to figure out how to get in front of them and share our products and services. But this time it’s different and will be even more challenging. Why? Primarily because they are not all returning to the workplace, at least not full-time. I’ve talked to several design leaders over the past few months, and though they are not 100% certain how the teams will work moving forward, they do know that there will be a component of remote work in their strategy.
It’s highly probable that you could have a design director and a few others in the office, but the balance of them will be working remotely or from anywhere.
The challenge of meeting remote workers begs the question: “Is the Lunch-N-Learn Dead?”
The short answer is YES, the days of you spending hundreds of dollars on a lunch presentation that less than 50% of your target customer actually attends — yep, that’s dead. People are over wasting their time, and they’ll only schedule what’s necessary. My prediction is that most of the A&D Firms will no longer allow these presentations and you will have limited access to this community — far more limited than you’ve ever experienced before.
Listen, I hope I’m wrong! But the one thing you can be certain of is how you have called on and worked with the A&D community is going to be different than before. So now what? What strategies can you use to reach this important community? Though I don’t have a direct answer for you, I do have some ideas as to how you should approach the challenge of meeting with designers and specifiers:
First, I want to encourage you to think big and make bold moves! Now is the time to set yourself apart by being creative and doing things that your competition will likely not consider. Don’t fall victim to doing what everyone else is doing or striving to be like everyone else who’s made it big. Focus on making your in-person meet-ups fun and engaging — you have to create something that people want to participate in, the party they’re all hoping to get an invite to — not just your standard showroom cocktail party.
You should start with a brainstorming session with your biggest brand representatives to develop the ideas around events, gatherings, and maybe even trainings that will reflect your brand and feel to your target audience. Gather all of your key stakeholders together, along with a few others from your organization who truly meet with customers and see their needs — and from there, simply have a planning session that focuses on generating ideas. Don’t worry about the tactics at this point, just come up with a list of ideas.
It’s important that you get someone to facilitate the discussion and take notes. It would be best to have your note-taker as someone who can participate in the brainstorm, as well. Additionally, it’s important that everyone feels comfortable to participate and share, since there are no wrong ideas in this stage. Some of your best ideas can come from an unexpected source — so make sure the team is diverse. Remember, when addressing a challenge like exciting your customers and wooing them to meet with you in person, there are no bad ideas, so be sure to capture them all.
Organize your ideas into categories or groups, then narrow down the list based on the ideas that best fit your organization and brand. However, before you cross one off the list, make sure you know why it’s being removed — don’t make the mistake of eliminating great ideas because they don’t seem possible or practical. Remember, you want to be different, you need to be BOLD, and that can conflict with what we believe to be practical sometimes.
Now that you have your unique meeting ideas narrowed down, rank them in order of what you want to do first, second, third, etc. Focus only on one idea at a time, build consistency, so you can turn your ideas into long-term outreach programs, events, parties, etc.
Be sure you measure your success each step along the way and make any necessary adjustments as you try your ideas. You are not going to come out of the gate with a perfect idea that’s executed perfectly, and we’re all learning how to sell in this newfound post-pandemic world. It will require evaluation and adjustments to get it to the place you want it to be.
Additionally, the process of building great customer interactions is going to take some time, so don’t rush it. Find what works for you, your organization, and how your products function, and then leverage your unique events to the best of your ability. There are a lot of things you can do to reach the A&D community and continue to build relationships and drive product specifications — but it all starts with understanding why the events of the past, like Lunch-N-Learn, are no longer a part of our industry. Are you going to lead the way through to unique customer interactions, or are you still waiting to see if the world will go back to normal?
Be sure to join the conversation, and visit my blog at www.sidmeadows.com/blog. Let me know how you will be working with the A&D Community moving forward!