The Art of Coffee

Sep 2, 2020 | Featured Blog Post, Marketing

Coffee certainly has the power to help me dress, drive and think in the mornings, or kick on for a big night (how things have changed), but coffee is also an incredibly powerful marketing tool.

A coffee meeting (or a cheeky after-work wine if appropriate) is a relatively achievable marketing task that can deliver tremendous results. However, it does take a thoughtful approach and an adherence to two very important rules:

  1. This is not a marketing tactic based on selling – this is an approach designed to help you build a trusting relationship with a potential (or existing) client. If you want a quick sell, avoid the coffee meeting. You’ll just look desperate and sad, two things that DO NOT build trust or relationships;
  2. What’s in it for them? Empathy is key to a successful meeting, and any successful relationship. It’s also the key to brilliant marketing, especially in the creative sector when relationships are vital.

Those two rules aside, a coffee meeting not only works with clients, but can also be an engaging approach when talking to important customers, appropriate people from funding bodies, audience representatives, suppliers, and basically anyone who has the ability to engage with your business in a positive way.

Step 1: Do Your Homework

Who would you like to have coffee with, and why? Once you have identified your potential coffee candidate, do your homework. As a basic start, check out their LinkedIn and their website if they have one.

If you’re approaching a potential client, research their business so you can speak with confidence and listen with empathy about their goals, future, wants and needs. If you’re approaching a possible mentor or networking connection, find some common ground. Do you know the same people, did you study at the same university, did you work for the same company? A little common ground can go a long way when breaking the ice.

Step 2: Work Out Your Approach

This will be a casual situation, not a formal appointment or pitch meet, but it’s worthwhile to brainstorm the best outcome from this meeting, for both you and for your contact. What’s in it for them? Why would they want to have coffee with you? If you can answer that question with clarity and empathy, include your reasoning in your email invitation. If not – back to the drawing board and do some more research to devise your approach.

For example, perhaps you are meeting with a successful leader whom you’d like for a mentor. Your introductory email could explain: “I was intrigued by your {project, work, whatever you found out during the homework phase} and I was hoping to take half an hour of your time as I am seeking a mentor in my field to help guide my next steps”.

For a potential client? “I saw on your website that you {do something professionally aligned}. I was hoping to take half an hour of your time as I’m building professional relationships with organisations like yours, and I think I could be of value to your company”.

By naming your goal in a non-threatening email, and handing over the power to say yes or no in your invitation, you have set a clear agenda. If the contact says no – never mind. If yes, it’s time to get prepared.

Step 3: Make a Plan

The coffee or wine date has been confirmed, now it’s time to think about what you’d like to say in your meeting, and what you’d like to learn. Make a plan, but be flexible. If you start your get-together by reiterating your goals and agenda from the outset, you’ll end up consuming caffeine alone. Coffee meetings are designed to be informal and non-threatening, and experienced people will understand that. If they don’t want to have a relaxed coffee with you, they will say no at your initial email invitation.

Remember, the primary objective here is to see if there’s a possibility of building a relationship – for both of you. Let the conversation wander to see if there’s a professional spark, but come back to your agenda if you lose your way.

It’s also good to keep things short and specific.  30 minutes is a great meeting time and can be easily conveyed to your contact in your initial email and again at the start of the meeting. A clear ending time means that whatever your individual agendas, you both know there’s a time limit to reach any conversational goals.

If you’re meeting in person, consider doing a trial run. Scope out the café in advance, discover which times of day to avoid, and find the best spot to sit. If you’re meeting online, send a Zoom or Skype invite and create a well-lit and professional atmosphere for your online get-together.

Step 4: Create a Conversation

Now, what to say? Thank You is a good start! Expressing your gratitude towards your contact is a terrific start to the relationship. Offer to buy their coffee, thank them for their time, and get the process moving.

Next – relax. This is not a job interview, it’s coffee. Unless the person you’re meeting with asks, you don’t need to begin by listing your resumé. Coffee chats are more about personality and chemistry than degrees and qualifications. If asked, share openly, and be proud but humble about your accomplishments.

Listening is the next skill. Ask intelligent, open-ended questions that show that you are thoughtful and that you did your homework. Make sure you’re engaging in back and forth conversational turns, not sitting there mute or banging on about yourself endlessly.

The Golden Rule? Don’t gossip! The creative industries are very small, and everyone knows everyone. That person you were about to tell a salacious story about is probably your contact’s best friend. Keep your tattling to yourself and don’t indulge.

Coffee meetings are all about relationship building, and being good at conversation will help to separate you from the pack. When in doubt, practice with a partner or flatmate. Be yourself, be charming, and understand the power of being casual and confident. This is why coffee meetings work. If you know how to make your way around a conversation and you’ve done your homework, you’ve got this.

Step 5: Follow Up

Once the meeting is over, follow up with a grateful email within 24 hours. This is both professional and necessary for your success. Take the time to write a few lines stating how you appreciate that the future client/stakeholder/mentor met with you and mention a few highlights from your meeting or discuss a plan you have to pursue something you discussed. If appropriate, send any links or resources that you discussed.

Now, ask yourself if this relationship is worth pursuing. Was is fun or boring? Professional or awkward? Sometimes people just don’t click, and that’s ok. However, every coffee meeting is a chance to network at the very least and get better at the Art of Coffee. And if you clicked, suggest another coffee at some later stage. Perhaps in a month or so? Remember, this is not about making a quick sale. Relationships take time to build, and for the small price of a cup of coffee and a thoughtful approach, caffeine could be your best marketing strategy yet.

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