Lunch and learns are dead. Or are they?

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What is a lunch and learn? I’m sure the term is used in other industries, but for the building industry specifically it is when a building product representative—or any vendor, for that matter—comes to an AEC (Architect-Engineer-Contractor) company and buys lunch for the team. In return for the free lunch, the representative gets to educate the team for an hour while they eat pizza or sandwiches. It’s an interesting go-to-market method to build awareness about your product or service. In some cases, the team may receive CEU (Continuing Education Units) for their learning experience. This has been the method for decades.

Like many technologists, I once believed that, between the web and social media, conferences and trade shows would soon be dead. 

But about four years ago, I started what has now become Shadow Summit. Every year, it has gotten better and better. And every year, we question why we host Shadow Summit. After all, we are a venture capital firm. Not a media company. There are so many events that people complain about the overloaded industry calendar. Yet, when I go to events, there are so many people attending. Why? Turns out I was wrong about conferences and trade shows; they’re alive and well, because people crave the human connection more than ever. 

They also apparently need to be fed lunch in order to learn about a new product. 

So that’s how any new innovation makes it to market in the building industry: trade shows, conferences, and lunch and learns. But why does the building industry struggle to adopt new products? Trade shows, conferences, and lunch and learns. 

Lunch and learns are an expensive and time consuming method. They add a lot of expense that most startups in other industries don’t have in the early days of their business. Everyone can leverage digital methods like email campaigns, social media, and webinars to start building awareness. But building industry startups may additionally need to hire an outside salesperson to host lunch and learns. The challenge is that when you have limited resources, it is near impossible to do everything well even if you have a lot of capital.

I recently gave a talk at an industry organization event. It was about how AI, machine learning, and similar advancements are disrupting the construction industry. During introductions, it was clear that the average age in the room was likely about 60. During Q&A, someone asked me about the human relationship during the sales process. My answer was a simple one: clients now have information available at their fingertips. Maybe the lunch and learn can just be lunch? He seemed very unconvinced and had no further questions. 

The lunch and learn attracts the “old school” decision-makers. So think about this: who is buying your product, and what are their narrow demographics? It may turn out that the lunch and learn is a good method to engage with your specific market. If that’s the case, though, your product adoption will take a long time. Going door to door is not a scalable business model. This doesn’t mean that you can’t grow a nice business going door to door; it just means that you will not build a scalable business.

The bottom line: knowing your target audience and understanding the easiest way to get their attention is critical. And unfortunately, that may be a lunch and learn.