Asking a potential prospect out for coffee prior to a fact-finding appointment is a great idea. However, the meeting needs to be effective or you’re wasting two people’s time. Many sales managers have asked me what to do about advisors that go on “a lot” of coffee appointments and “then nothing happens.”

First, I need to emphasize that building relationships is not a fast activity. Second, if you’re seeing the coffee appointment as a precursor to a fact-finding appointment, you’re doing it wrong. The coffee appointment is a get-to-know-you event.

When you’ve invited someone out for coffee, it’s similar to a first date. You are getting to know each other better to see if you’re a good fit. It is entirely possible to meet someone at a networking or social event, suggest a coffee appointment to continue the conversation and then you realize you don’t like them. Or their business is not in the realm of your practice. There are lots of reasons a coffee appointment may not move forward to a possible one-on-one fact find.

When you’re with someone for coffee, the easiest way to think about the conversation is as a sequence of topics. These are natural, common ways to get to know someone. The only difference here is that your interest in them may be lean more towards their business or their family life, and not just freewheeling around shared interests.

Asking how their week is going is a good way to start. Finding out more about their business (especially if you’ve initially met at a business event of some kind) is the goal. Keep them talking for at least 10-15 minutes. The purpose of this conversation is to get more “intelligence” about this person’s business life. You are looking for ways to insert your skills into their picture. When it’s your turn to talk, you must refer to their life and beneficially place your practice in it.

When you’re speaking of your financial practice to a new person, you should always be able to start your story with “You know when you said…” and refer back to something they mentioned that you truly can be a resource around.

For example:

You know when you said that you are competing in your industry for talent? I have other clients with that problem and we came up with ideas that made it more attractive for people to stay at their company.

You know when you said you can’t figure out how to exit your business? I worked on that very same problem with a client this year. It ended very well.

You know when you said that you can’t figure out how to manage saving for both college and retirement? I have a lot of clients in that situation and I showed them how it’s possible.

If you can position yourself into their story, then you can more readily suggest another appointment where you will get into the details of the situation. You do NOT want to start getting financial details at Starbucks. You want to use that as the reason for another appointment. Your suggestion of a fact finding appointment should be a natural progression from a conversation that creates the need to go deeper into their finances. (And just to mention a pet peeve: Please don’t suggest “a fact finding appointment”. Non-financial people don’t use that language so it can come off as pretentious.)

“The best way for me to help you is to find out more details….” is a better way to say it. Or: “The next step is sitting down and you telling me more of the details.”

You have to accept that a coffee appointment is one building block of a new relationship. If you use your initial meeting as a way of suggesting the two of you explore your relationship more, then you get a coffee appointment. If you use the coffee appointment to get more detail about their lives, then the fact finding appointment makes sense and gets more acceptance.

Keep that in mind when suggesting any kind of appointment.