Ah! The Lunch and Learn – Is it still a valuable tool?

For many security product vendors, the lunch and learn has historically been an integral part of their sales strategy.  For a salesperson, one of the easiest ways to get overworked, billing-hours conscious architects and consultants to sit through your pitch has been to ply them with sandwiches and cookies.  Some suggest that the effectiveness of this classic sales technique is dwindling.  In this article we will explore why that might be and how you can avoid the pitfalls of a stale lunch and learn session.

Matching the message to the audience

All too often, too little thought goes into matching the message to the audience.  An eager salesperson will tout the educational benefits of their presentation in an effort to entice the practice lead or other decision maker to accept that her presentation will be interesting and time well spent.  If, in her enthusiasm, she overstates her case or assumes that the audience will be interested in such things as features and benefits or return on investment, the architect or design staff may find it difficult to stay mentally engaged in the presentation.  Not to demean professional sales people, but many sales people are trained to sell, not to educate.  Selling requires a laser focus on the the specific needs of a buyer.  In the lunch and learn environment you will rarely find a room full of buyers, rather the attendees are likely to be designers of the system or solution with an entirely different set of needs than the buyer.

If you are the security products vendor, give some serious thought to who you will send to give a lunch and learn presentation to a group of architects or consultants.  It may very well be that your most polished salesperson is not the right person.  Think about the needs of the audience.  Think about who in your organization has the technical knowledge and industry experience to understand what is important to the designer.  Certainly they need to be able to articulate clearly in front of a crowd, but a smooth stage presence is usually not that impressive to this audience.

If you are the practice lead or someone responsible for vetting and scheduling lunch and learn presentations for your group, you need to make your desires known. Don’t hesitate to ask for a short resume or bio of the presenter to gain an idea of their expertise.  Don’t be shy about letting the vendor know what you want your group to learn.  Set the meeting’s objective for the vendor.  Most vendors will appreciate this.  They want to give you what you want in the way of an educational event, but without guidance from you they will invariably fall back to their default lunch and learn presentation which will, of course, be very generic and likely “salesy.”

Create and deliver real value

Not everything that is interesting is of real value.  As a lunch and learn presenter you must remember that the attendees are not mandated to be there.  In fact, they are making a sacrifice.  Most people value their “down time” during the lunch hour, not to mention the shirts that need to be picked up, the personal calls they’d like to make, and some fresh air and a little exercise.  They come, not for a free lunch, but because they hope the investment and sacrifice will make their lives, at least in some small way, better, easier, or more productive.  It may be gaining education to help further their career or just a more efficient way to help them meet their ever-pressing deadlines.  You have a responsibility to use their time wisely.  It may be interesting to you to talk about how big, or creative, or wonderful your company is; but outside of establishing credibility for your firm this line of information will not be useful to your audience.  Establish the scope of your presence in the market and then move on.  As you create your lunch and learn presentation ask yourself how your audience can use the information you will present to make their jobs easier or more accurate or apply whatever the value is for your solution.  Keep that in mind as you decide what to talk about and you will deliver something that has real value to your audience.

If you are an attendee of a lunch and learn that seems to be missing the mark with respect to the needs of your group, redirect with questions.  Questions are a great way to telegraph to the presenter where your interests lie.  When the presenter is going on and on about the features and benefits of their widget, ask them directly, “how will this help me as a systems designer?” or “how will this help my client meet their security goals?”  A good presenter will immediately pick up on these cues and refocus the presentation on the fly.

So, are lunch and learns still a valuable tool?

Certainly lunch and leans are a valuable tool, if they are done right.  Like many things in life, if care is not given, the original value can be diluted over time.  If you use lunch and learns as a means to keep your group abreast of the latest advances in your field, here are a few suggestions that various experts in the subject offer:

  • Time Management.  Include sufficient time for the presenter to set up, allowing for potential technical difficulties with A/V equipment, and for attendees to get their food.
  • No Distractions.  Try and host the event in a room or area that will reduce the potential number of distractions for the audience.  A good presenter will push on, even in the middle of a three-ring circus, but marginally interested attendees can easily be distracted.
  • A knowledgeable and educated presenter.  If you suspect that your group is getting set up for an hour-long sales pitch from a salesperson, take control.  Ask the salesperson if there is someone from their technical or support staff that might come along and assist with the presentation.
  • Promote the event internally with your group.  Paint a pretty face on the upcoming event and then make sure the presenter understands the expectations that you have set.
  • Three weeks plus for advertising.  Many people schedule their lives several weeks in advance – or at least try to.  You want to avoid a situation where key people on your staff would have liked to have attended, but unknowingly created a schedule conflict.
  • Get a pulse check.  You may want to check with your group to gauge the interest level before committing to the vendor.  A simple email with a vendor provided description of the topics to be discussed will usually suffice.

The lunch and learn is alive and well.  It just needs to be approached sensibly to ensure that it brings real value to your team.


By: Steven Bowcut, CPP, PSP
Security Consultant
Brilliance Security Consulting