Free dinner? Count me in!

It’s an ongoing debate: Will you book more appointments when you host dinner seminars at a restaurant or are you wasting your budget? 

Advisors usually fall into two camps: the pro-dinner camp and the no-dinner camp. The first group believes the food and beverage costs are justified by the results. While the other believes, if you wanted to feed people, you would have gone into the restaurant business.  

Let’s look at the logic offered by the first group. They contend that when you hold a seminar at a popular restaurant, you’ll attract a higher number of attendees. As a result, the bigger turnout offers agents more opportunities to book qualified appointments and convert them into loyal clients. When agents complain that expensive dinner seminars fail to increase their appointment ratio, the pro-dinnerexperts blame the poor results on the agent’s lack of closing skills.

At first glance, this may seem to make sense. If you attract a good number of people to your seminar, yet fail to book enough appointments, the onus falls on you. But there’s a flaw in this logic: It assumes every attendee who arrives at your seminar has the same exact motive in mind.

You don’t have to be an expert on human nature to figure out this is rarely the case with large groups of people. In fact, it begs the question – how many attendees come for the knowledge and how many come for dinner?

Here are three ways to help answer this question:

  • You see the same faces at your seminars, over and over and over, but you rarely see these same people in your office.  
  • They come to the restaurant, on time with a big smile, but they don’t bother to bring a pen and paper to take notes.
  • Most don’t book an appointment at the end of the seminar and those who do call back later to cancel while claiming they’re not able to reschedule, right now.

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re probably attracting people who have learned how to the play the “seminar game” to get a free meal. Failing to book appointments with this type of attendee may have nothing to do with your closing skills.

To test it for yourself, host a couple of seminars that do not include a meal. Most communities offer low-cost meeting space at libraries, community centers or local colleges. Call around or check with your local Chamber of Commerce. You may even find a free venue.

By now you’re probably thinking, “If I don’t offer dinner, I’ll end up with a smaller turnout.” You may be surprised to find it doesn’t affect your turnout much at all. In fact, depending on the seminar topic you discuss, your turnout may actually be higher. How is this possible?

There’s been a lot of negative press about dinner seminars that promise to educate yet turn out to be a high-pressure sales pitch for questionable investment products. With warnings circulated by  organizations like the AARP, the public has become highly suspicious of any dinner seminar.

Even if you’re not selling a specific product at your seminar, the damage to public perception has been done. There’s a good chance that offering holding a dinner seminar at a restaurant may be seen as a red flag by a number of qualified prospects who then choose to stay away. 

Hosting seminars at your local community center or local college can begin to raise your credibility with those who are wary. Instead of seeing you as a salesman pushing a product in exchange for a free dinner, they start to trust you as a knowledgeable source for valuable information they need. 

See also:

How to takcle two major sales and marketing challenges

The 3 secrets to seminar success