Why we don’t meet for coffee

The hidden agenda of a ‘meet for coffee’

If you’re asked to ‘meet for coffee’ by someone in a business context, it’s always a good idea to find out the agenda before saying yes. In my experience, it’s never about coffee. Not least as I’m a tea drinker… so if I do say yes to coffee, it’s more than likely to be a ‘virtual’ meeting online.

I’m very protective of my time. My time is me, for my family, and for work. And I guard it as closely as I can. I have absolutely no qualms about talking to people–which if you’ve ever met me, you’ll know and wonder possibly how to shut me up at times! But to have a conversation without a purpose or outcome just to ‘get to know me’ or, worse, to ‘pick my brains’ is not going to happen. This is even more important when you’re selling your time and expertise, as if you’re not being paid for that time, it needs to be used wisely.

What to do instead of a coffee

I realise this might now be painting me as quite grumpy and antisocial and I’m really not–well, not most of the time. I actually love nothing more than helping people, and other business owners do what they do better. But I also know I can’t help everyone one at a time, which is why I write, film and record a lot of my ‘brain pickings’.

Picking your brains

I make sure there are plenty of alternatives to ‘meeting for coffee’ if someone wants to pick my brains–the ultimate version of this was writing a book. But as I’ve not written a book for Connectably (yet?), blogs work too–videos, interviews, checklists, guides, anything that’s thinking and know-how you can share. The big advantage of creating a lot of content of your ideas, opinion and ‘way of doing things’ is that you can easily send these resources to people who want to ‘meet for coffee’ to pick your brains without it taking up any of your time AND you’re still being helpful (so they don’t think you’re a grumpy so-and-so).

Sales conversations over coffee

On the other hand, if the ‘let’s meet for coffee’ is the preamble to a sales conversation, I’m happy to set the sales agenda from the outset. I’m not shy about selling, and so never need to disguise it as anything other than a conversation about ‘how we help’ or ‘here’s what we offer’. But I know, for some people, the sales process is something they prefer to approach more softly, sometimes to the point where it’s so quiet the agenda maybe a secret! Be bold is my advice–if someone is asking to meet for coffee straight out, ask if it’s to discuss the potential of working together–and if it is, explain your sales process.

If you prefer prospects to complete a qualifying questionnaire, or to have read or watched content you’ve created to explain what you do first, ask them to. Then, if your sales process doesn’t involve a conversation ‘over coffee’–and mine doesn’t–simply explain that. Almost all my sales conversations happen as a call, mostly using Zoom online, and that’s how our sales process works. Yours might be ‘in person’ meetings, but be very clear that if it’s a sales meetings, it’s a sales meeting not a ‘coffee you might hope will be a sales conversation, but you’ve not asked directly so it might get awkward to bring that up’ 🙂

Value your own time and don’t give it away to others

The key to all of this is having your own agenda and seeing if the person who wants to meet you for coffee fits with what you need right now. If you need help, and they can help you, have a sales conversation about buying from them. If you know you can help someone else, offer a sales conversation to them. If it’s a meeting to ‘see if we can help each other’ that’s still OK, and while it might not be a sales conversation–in either direction–be clear it’s about finding out how and where you can both contribute to helping both your businesses work better. There’s a buzzword fine though if they use the word ‘synergies’ when referring to the agenda.

Save time on travel and buy your own coffee

I’m a huge fan of Zoom to host video calls for meetings, and to make my own cuppa for them (even if mine is Pukka tea). It’s actually a better use of your time and gives your business contact or prospect more time, too, to focus on the conversation and not be worrying about travel, parking, finding the cafe, and even who pays.

It’s also a LOT easier to set time boundaries when you’re in your office on a call and leave after half an hour or an hour as you have ‘another appointment’ or ‘another call’ (even when that other appointment might simply be your lunch!). You can even take this a step further by using a call booking system, we’re fans of Acuity, which clearly offers 30-minute or 1-hour calls so you can set that time boundary up from the start.

When to drink coffee in business

Only have coffee with people you want coffee with. I actually do meet some business friends for coffee, and I’ve certainly had many cups of tea with my co-founder. I really value meeting face-to-face, so if you do ever have a coffee with me know you’ve really made it into my ‘inner circle’! And I highly recommend you keep it as your special option to meet with you, not your default, if you don’t want a full diary of days in cafes that aren’t helping you grow your business.

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