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Are Lunch and Learns a Waste of Time in Architectural Sales?

  |  Posted in Architects

Are Lunch and Learns a Waste of Time in Architectural Sales?

I’m a contrarian. I’ll take the position that is opposed to the status quo and the generally accepted practice, no matter what it is. I’m not doing it to be right – I’m doing it to make you stop and think.

Lunch and learns are one of the things I take a controversial stance on. For some companies, they’re an effective way to get their products specified. For many other companies, though, they’re a waste of time and money.

What’s Wrong with Lunch and Learns

Many salespeople view lunch and learns as the best (and sometimes only) way to get a meeting at an architectural firm.

I’ve had sales reps tell me they can’t get another meeting with an architect because they already did a lunch and learn at that firm so they can’t go back until next year. Or they tell me that the architect already has the hours they need.

Are you kidding me?

What that says to me is that you have let your product become so unimportant that architects are more interested in their CEU hours than your product.

It also tells me that the rep needs some training.

They might as well be saying “I know you don’t really care about my product, but maybe I can trick you into caring if I can just get in front of you with a free lunch, some CEU hours and a really boring presentation. Maybe Salesforce measures how many lunch and learns I do instead of whether or not they actually accomplish anything.”

Salespeople are an expensive tool, and they’re becoming more expensive. They need to be used judiciously.

A good salesperson is worth their weight in gold. They shouldn’t be sent on fishing expeditions.

How One Company Got My Attention

A few years ago, I worked with a company to help them grow their commercial sales. When the subject of lunch and learns came up, it was agreed that they needed an AIA CEU presentation.

What stopped in my tracks was one of the company leaders. He said that this was not to be used as a door opener or a way to get a meeting.

He said specifically, “We are experts. Our time is valuable. The content of our presentation is valuable.”

When you give something away for free, whether it is your time or your knowledge, it won’t be valued.

This company did lunch and learns. But they had expectations on the part of the architectural firm, too. They didn’t jump at every opportunity to put one on. Instead, they considered the following:

  • Does this firm work on projects where our product is a good fit?
  • Do the architects have a sincere interest in the subject?
  • Will the decision makers attend?

They don’t measure their success by how many lunch and learns they’ve done. They measure their success based on making the best use of their reps, in a way that actually grows their business.

Being more selective about their lunch and learns elevates their importance with the architects.

Reps who will do anything to get in front of an architect don’t get their respect. They reinforce the stereotype that they are just a salesperson, not a trusted expert.

If you don’t respect your time or your knowledge, why should anyone else?

What if Architects Paid You?

Most AIA CEU presentations are not very good. Companies start with the goal of putting together an AIA presentation so they can get in front of architects. To count toward the architect’s CEU hours, the presentation has to share educational information – it can’t be a commercial for the company’s product.

Since the purpose of the presentation is more about getting the meeting than changing the architect’s mind, the focus is on producing a presentation that follows the rules as inexpensively as possible.

If you really want to make architects see things differently, you need to invest some serious money in your presentation. Instead of PowerPoint slides full of technical details, you could create a presentation that motivates them to change while educating them.

What if your presentation was so powerful that you were asked to come back to share it with more people on their staff? What if your presentation generated press coverage and word of mouth so that more firms asked you to come to their offices?

I follow a lot of architectural media, blogs and on social media. I have never seen anyone commenting on what an amazing educational presentation they just sat through. That tells me that lunch and learns have become a boring sea of sameness.

The AIA doesn’t say you can’t have a presentation that is the best presentation an architect has ever seen.

Companies will spend boatloads of money on their AIA show exhibit or a new website, but go cheap on their AIA presentation.

Companies only want to spend big bucks when they can talk about themselves or their products. “If we can’t promote our products in an AIA presentation, then we’ll do it as cheaply as possible.”

If you’re really trying to change the way a building is built and you’re one of several products that can do this, you should act like the leader. Don’t just educate architects – motivate them. Yes, your competitors may benefit from your efforts but you will gain most of the new opportunities you have created.

If you start with the goal of having a presentation that is so good architects would pay to see it, even if you don’t charge, you’re headed in the right direction.

Your Goal is to Grow Your Business

Your goal is not to get as many lunch and learns as you can. A lunch and learn with architects is one way to get in front of architects and share some knowledge. It is also not a very cost-effective way to grow your business.

Ask yourself whether lunch and learns are a good way to grow your business? If the answer is yes, then ask yourself how you can get better results from them.

If you aren’t sure whether lunch and learns are right for you, consider some alternative approaches to growing your business. Yes, architects need to keep up their CEU hours but what they really need is your help in keeping up the tremendous amount of new information they need to know to help them design better buildings.

You can also focus on owners and contractors. Ideally, you’ll cover them both along with architects, but most companies don’t have the resources to effectively cover all three.

Thanks for the following comments.  I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.

“Excellent advice, as usual. I’ve passed along to our Commercial sales manager.”
Dave Rosebery
Strategic Marketing Leader – Builder Initiatives, Residential Insulation
Owens Corning

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About The Author

I am the leading sales growth consultant in the building materials industry, I identify the blind spots that enable building materials companies to grow their sales and retain more customers.  As I am not an ad agency, my recommendations are focused on your sales growth and not my future income.

My mission is to help building materials companies be the preferred supplier of their customers and to turn those customers into their best salespeople. Contact me to discuss your situation.