Host lunch and learns to bolster client relationships

Erik Eckel explains why offering to lead lunch and learn presentations for your best IT consulting clients is a win-win proposition.

 Clients, like IT consultants, have a lot on their plates. In addition to overcoming their own industry challenges, clients frequently struggle to understand new technologies. (Statistics suggest office workers understand less than 20% of most software programs' capabilities.) That's where you can help.

Good IT consultants don't just repair broken client systems; IT consultants who develop stellar professional reputations typically do so because they empower clients' businesses, understand customers' technology needs, and match solutions to real and measurable objectives. Helping clients make the most of the technology solutions they purchase and implement sets great consultancies apart from run-of-the-mill shops.

One way IT consultancies can help clients get up to speed on new technologies is by leading lunch and learn training presentations. Simply follow these easy steps:

  1. Identify and focus on areas with which clients are struggling. Examples include following security best practices, finding common features in Microsoft Office 2007, maximizing Microsoft Excel 2007, and reducing virus and spyware risks. If you find yourself repeatedly having to remove spyware for a client or show users how to manipulate data within Microsoft Access, schedule a virus/spyware or an Access tips and tricks lunch.
  2. Draft brief PowerPoint presentations. Your 12-15 slide presentation can provide best practices recommendations, tips, and instruction. Written properly, the presentation (complete with your consultancy's logo and contact information) can also be used as a handout clients can use as long-term reference material. You may not even need to create a unique presentation; TechRepublic and other sources provide ready-made pre-packaged presentations.
  3. Schedule a lunch meeting. These sessions can be informal meetings held at the client's office. One hour is plenty of time for a lunch and learn. I've had success conducting such meetings in the client's conference room, with my office springing for box lunches or pizza.
  4. Lead the presentation. Budget time for questions. You should also plan for questions to arise regarding employees' own computers. That's fine, as the goal is to position your firm and its staff as technology experts available to help the client organization and its staff maximize software and systems.

During these informal lunch and learn sessions, I've seen clients get answers to long-standing questions because the occasion to ask the right questions at the right time was finally made available. And just think of the goodwill such sessions engender with clients. Here are some of the dividends you can expect from a lunch and learn:

  • Clients will tell other organizations about the presentations you provide.
  • Your presentation handouts will keep your consultancy's name front and center, making it easier for support calls to find their way to your office.
  • Clients are able to better leverage the investments they make in software, hardware, and other technologies.
  • Your organization becomes an agency that helps empower productivity, solve problems, and train employees -- in other words, you're just not another vendor with which the client does business.

Nothing to lose

Best of all, these benefits come at little to no cost to your organization. Box lunches are less than ten bucks apiece. Other than taking some time to create or track down appropriate presentations (which can be used repeatedly for other clients), there's no out-of-pocket expense. Your consultancy reaps the benefits.

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