How Many Calories Are There In A New Client?

How Many Calories Are There In A New Client?

This month my Carnival blogging group chose to write on the subject of health and business; more specifically, how one hinges on the other.

It’s tough to run a healthy business if your own health is suffering… and likewise an unhealthy business tends to exact a toll on your personal well-being.

And I bet you’ve read a slew of articles and posts that explore the dangers of sitting at a desk all day, being generally sedentary, working too many hours and getting too little sleep, living in a constant state of stress and stuffing your face with all manner of fast food and conference room crap.

We know all this stuff. We may or may not choose to act on it but that’s another issue entirely.

So instead of regurgitating something about using a standing desk, or lying to you and telling you how healthy I am as I stuff another peanut butter cream filled cupcake in my mouth, I want to ponder a deeper question:

The high (caloric) cost of acquiring a new client.

You know the familiar mantra: it’s cheaper to sell your services to an existing customer than to gain a new one.

Some studies put the cost of acquisition anywhere from 5-7 times higher.

But that’s in dollars.

The thing that nobody considers, the thing we’re not talking about or calculating is the cost to our health… namely by way of the additional calories required to close a deal and win that new client.

If you’re not yet convinced of the monetary value of retaining your existing customers, building loyalty and maintaining trust, then let your waistline convince you instead.

Here’s how new client acquisition usually unfolds in our business with a few takeaways that perhaps you can apply to yours.

The Coffee And Donuts Phase

Up until recently, we actually advertised on our company website that we’d take you out to breakfast if you called us for a free consultation.

It was well-intended. We wanted to build up local business and we found that meeting and shaking hands with someone was a good way to do that. Few people would take the consultation and donuts and run. We set up a lot more follow-up meetings when sugar and caffeine were involved.

Alas, do enough of these and not only does the cost of breakfast add up, but so do the calories. Last I checked, my favorite Dunkin Donut clocked in at 310 calories. And come on, who eats one donut? They don’t sell a dozen for nothing.

The good news: people are a lot friendlier when you ply them with food. They’re more likely to return your calls afterwards and usually more willing to keep talking.

Even if you don’t make a business match, they’ll be your LinkedIn connection for life and refer you to the next person who wants a donut.

The bad news: did I mention sugar? And caffeine? Goodbye afternoon. Hello mid-morning crash-nap at desk and general inability to get anything useful done for the rest of the day.

A lot of our breakfast meetings were followed by someone sneaking off to nap in a dark place or under a plant in a corner somewhere.

Lesson learned: there are healthier ways to start a day, and you can still meet local prospects. We skip the breakfast these days and go straight to coffee. It makes the meetings a little shorter and less giddy (who isn’t giddy while scarfing down a pink frosted donut?) but at least we don’t lose an entire day of work or flirt with diabetic shock.

The Soup And Sandwich Phase

If breakfast goes well enough, there’s probably going to be a follow-up. Keep in mind we’re not selling a green sweater here (it probably wouldn’t fit, anyway). We’re selling a service; one that can be expensive for a lot of small businesses and one that requires a lot of education and trust-building.

When we’re ready with a proposal, we offer to discuss it over lunch. There’s a very good reason for this: a person sitting across from you over a roast beef sandwich cannot pretend that they’re on another call or out of the office.

So when they look at the price tag and stare at you with that slack-jawed “But I thought it would be $500” look, you can offer them another French fry and explain.

The good news: sitting face-to-face with someone, answering questions, addressing pain points, quelling doubts, clarifying value… is a lot more effective than leaving another voicemail. Most times in a service industry, cost does not convey value and you need that extra time to make the connection.

Plus after a second meal, you’re likely to be escalated from LinkedIn connection to Facebook friend and even if you don’t close the deal, there will be plenty of photos of your new friend’s kids to Like. That can actually buy you a few brownie points, although at this point you probably shouldn’t even be saying the word “brownie”. I’m pretty sure that was an additional ten calories right there.

The bad news: Your afternoon is still going to be shot. You probably lingered over lunch, got a little chatty, and now you can’t refocus on whatever was on your to-do list in the first place.

Plus, parsley. You know why.

Lesson learned: coffee is a nice substitute for lunch, too. I’m not saying don’t eat it – I’m just saying the apple you planned to eat is probably better than the fatsugarsalt thing you would have stuffed in your mouth at the diner. Buy an overpriced skim latte and sit in a café where you can still meet and talk with your prospect, but leave the calories out of it. Or invite them to your office and serve a lovely fruit platter with a lot of toothpicks and no parsley.

The Burger And Fries Phase

This one is generally reserved for prospects who are seriously on the verge of writing a healthy – no pun intended – check. You’ve probably talked to them a number of times, maybe even had multiple breakfasts and graduated from donuts to pancakes.

Dinner is the formality before the signature. If you’re working hard at trust and relationships, you know your prospect’s kids’ names by now and you don’t worry about showing up in jeans and a t-shirt. You may even have a beer or a martini. Or a few.

Personally this is my favorite phase because it means you’ve broken down the walls and are simply connecting with another human being. The last time we closed a deal this way, we stayed out well past midnight talking life, cocktails and eventually “how much do you want for a deposit?”

The good news: It’s a nice place to be from a relationship standpoint, assuming you can still breathe in those jeans. There’s also a certain relief and enjoyment in knowing that you “won” that new client.

Plus, dessert.

The bad news: instead of approaching the deal with a spring in your step, you more or less waddle to it. You and your prospect are both likely to lament the girth of your waists and chances are you loosen your belt on the way home.

Lesson learned: Restaurants make salads, too. Sharing a meal and building rapport is a precious opportunity that you don’t have to miss because you’re worried about your hips. But you also don’t have to sacrifice your health to do it. In the end, you realize it’s not really about the food – it’s about the experience. And you can enjoy it a lot more when you can breathe. Plus, you do want to stick around long enough to enjoy the fruits of your labor and the new relationship you just worked (and ate) so hard to earn.

Appreciating Existing Clients

We still ply existing clients with food. The difference is that we do it by way of gift baskets and boxes of chocolates sent to their offices.

And yes, we still share meals with existing clients – but by the time we do, we’re so mortified to be stuffing our faces again that we can usually exhibit some restraint.

So the next time you wonder about the cost of acquiring a new client or you question the value of your old… remember how many calories it takes to get that signed check the first time. And how much healthier – and easier – it is the second time around.

In the spirit of the topic, how about sharing one of your guilty food stories with me? Maybe we can make a pact to spend at least ten minutes on the treadmill today!

This post is part of the monthly Word Carnival series of posts. This month, our carnies are exploring the theme of health, specifically: how does one impact the other? Check out more of the Word Carnival series at WordCarnivals.com.

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera
  • Melanie Kissell

    There are so many memorable (and humorous) lines in your post, Carol Lynn, I lost count! However, I’m now starting to count calories as a result of devouring your post. 🙂

    LOVE this line:

    ” It’s a nice place to be from a relationship standpoint, assuming you can still breathe in those jeans.”

    Maybe I’ll just search for skinny prospective clients who only order mineral water when they’re in a restaurant. LOL!!

    Funnies aside …
    Constantly wining and dining clients can put on the pounds. No question about it. I really think you and Ralph came up with the best solution in opting to send gift baskets or boxes of chocolates. And when you do feel compelled to sit down and eat a meal with a client, you’re right … restaurants serve salads.

    Great message and very enjoyable post!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Thanks Melanie, if only I followed my own advice all the time 🙂 It’s really about being mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth, which is easy to lose track of when you’re anxious/nervous/excited. I haven’t met too many mineral-water-drinking people willing to forego the donuts, but that might help!

  • So that picture you used? I want to go out right now and buy a half dozen cupcakes! Your stories remind me of my investment banker days. I would have weighed 300 pounds if I hadn’t learned salads are your friend. Coffee however, well there is NEVER too much coffee!!!

    Seriously this is a great post, and as Melanie says so many humorous lines in your post. Another thing to consider is that some clients may have dietary restrictions. It IS possible to show appreciation without calories – although I’m not going to mind if you want to send me a box of cupcakes! Recently I purchased a relaxation MP3 for a stressed out client. She can listen to it over and over again, plus zero calories!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      If I told you that I already bought and ate a half a dozen cupcakes this past weekend, would you tell on me? I’ve adopted to strategy of deciding what I will eat ahead of time so I can make a rational decision without staring at a tempting menu.

      I love the idea of sending non-food gifts. That takes a bit of creativity, too! Part of the problem is that so many of us have been socialized to believe that food=love. I’ve stopped trying to change that view and just try to deal with “the way it is” instead!

  • I love your approach to this topic.

    I remember I learned my coffee lesson during my early days of freelancing. I wasn’t earning a whole lot of money just yet, and Starbucks added up. I had to curtail some of that or find more inventive meeting places. (Besides, it’s really hard to hear what the other person is saying over the noise of the coffee grinder.)

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      We have a favorite breakfast stop that has seen many client meetings which is great for ambiance but not so great for cost and calories! They both add up.

    • Yes Erin! Once I did the math and figured out that if I downsized my apartment, I could use that savings and add it to what I was spending on coffee, et al and have myself a REAL office. And then, I’d also save loads of travel time and gas money, too.

  • I learned a similar lesson over press lunches way back when, Carol Lynn. Lots of eating and imbibing, not so much work, and the afternoon was always shot. I find a mid-morning coffee meeting gets me away from my desk at what would have been a slump time anyway. Love the humor and practical advice in this post.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Oh yes, death-by-buffet! Same thing for trade shows and seminars, they drag out the bagels and donuts and there goes your waistline. A mid-morning or mid-afternoon break is definitely a good idea. As long as you can stick with coffee!

  • Life (and apparently business) revolves around food. It just does. So that makes it easy to use food as the tool that brings us together — whether it’s a networking mixer or an art opening. We’re just more likely to say yes when we’re fat and happy.

    This was a fabulous take on our topic this month, CL. And something that applies to all of us. For me, I know my bad eating habits (and my slide out of eating vegetarian/raw) came from the need to attend mixers and network.

    Those of us who organize these types of meetings need to remember to find healthier foods than donuts and cheese platters!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Yup, out come the bagels, out come the fried gooey things, out come the donuts… sometimes I get into a “why bother” mentality because I can eat well five days out of the week then attend a day of meetings and gain 2 pounds. And as of yet I am not one of those people who can tuck carrot sticks into my purse :::eye rolling::: We definitely need some better food ideas for group events.

  • Great tips here about how to connect with clients without stuffing your face. (which I so love to do) Also, if you’re not all hyped up on sugar and stuffed to the gills, you’ll probably be a better negotiator anyways! You also reminded me that I need to be doing more face to face meetings with local clientele. Eesh, but I love hiding behind my computer! 😉

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Oh, I hear you on hiding behind the computer! Just because I meet people doesn’t mean I want to be lol… No really, I enjoy it, but there is something definitely compelling about the inertia of sitting behind a monitor. Imagine all the health benefits of getting out to met people AND eating healthy while you’re there!

  • Great things to think about here!I don’t have many face to face meetings in my line of work, but when I do I have found that if I maneuver to choose the place to eat, I can not only watch my waistline, but my billfold as well.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      So true! I find it helps to plan ahead of time where you’ll go and what you’ll eat!

  • Sylviane Nuccio

    Hi Carol,

    I’m so glad I made it back here, because as always I enjoyed your post and you made me laugh a few times.

    Man, that was a tough topic if you asked me. But you managed to pull through with a very interesting article that makes a lot of sense.

    Well, yes, all those breakfasts, lunches and what not business dinners can make you pack on the calories. The good thing with me is that I do not like donuts so, when some donuts are served places I happened to be I don’t even tough them. Plus I am always health conscious, so while I love to cook, bake and eat, I’m also very selective of what come in my mouth 🙂

    I agree, you can get the same potential clients with a cup of coffee and a salad. but if it’s me I won’t drink the coffee either as I drink only one cup a day when I just get up and that’s it for me.

    Thanks for this fun post 🙂

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      It’s good that you’re able to be health conscious even when other people are stuffing their faces around you! The funny thing is, I’m not even a fan of donuts either but if someone puts them in front of me I just tend to eat them. Bad habit! But I do like to cook and eat real food so maybe that will save me!

  • SandyMcD

    Did you ever consider a career as a stand up comic Carole Lynn. Your take on otherwise serious topics is always hilarious. I was gagging by the third or fourth donut, but was also reminded of the days not so long past, perhaps the 80’s, were it was virtually mandatory to get ‘snotters’ to use a good old fashioned British term with your client over lunch to seal a deal. Leaving a loooong lunch at 5pm and a dreadful hangover after another round of Irish Coffees and liqueur took the gloss off most business triumphs for me.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      One of my many hidden talents, Sandy… 🙂

      I have never heard of a snotter but I bet that’s probably a good thing! I can only imagine the end result! Here’s to our future health in a snotter-free zone.

  • Boy you are so right on. When I sold real estate I took my customer’s out for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Between all the dining and snacking I was gaining weight and really wasn’t happy about it. I love the way you made this article interesting. Today I have an internet business and happy to say I don’t have to meet people face to face. However, I need to keep the snacking down.I have become health conscious and now into eating alkaline foods as opposed to acidic. When you are dining out that is hard to keep in toe. But don’t put a bag of Cheetos in my face, because I will eat the whole bag. I guess bad habits die hard.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      lol… I know what you mean, there are certain things I can avoid if they are out of sight out of mind, but put them in front of me and goodbye bag!

  • clarestweets

    Love the integration of food and client trust and how they play off of each other from first bite to long lingering conversation. Great post!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Good for business… not always so good for hip size!

      • clarestweets

        Sad, but true!

  • I used to meet clients in my old biz at the local Starbucks. I’d have a latte, buy the prospect whatever they wanted plus a small treat (that usually cost way too much money and wasn’t even very good) and of course I couldn’t let them feel self-conscious being the only one eating that sorta-yummy thing, so I’d buy one for me too. Maybe that’s why I put on ten pounds during that whole dismally failed experiment?

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      I KNOW! Even if the thing you’re eating isn’t that good, you have to eat it! Like donuts. I really do not like donuts. There is one that I like ok-enough but I could take it or leave it. But if someone else is eating them, I will eat them. Many of them.

  • Lynne

    Sharing good food is a great way for me to acquire new clients and retaining present ones, although as you said, not very healthy for all.

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      Growing up in a “food equals love” kind of family, food has always been pretty central to everything we do! If you can share a meal with someone you get to know them a lot better. You just have to watch those cheese fries 🙂

  • There are two kinds of meetings in Fort Collins – Coffee Meetings (15 minutes or less) and Beer Meetings (1 hour or more). Lunch, of course, falls somewhere in between and for me, I loathe in-person meetings with people I don’t know. I’ll only ever meet with someone in person once they’ve come through my blog or some other online communications pathway.

    On top of all the other craziness you mention about new clients being calorie intensive, don’t forget the addition of stress: the hormone cortisol increases your body’s drive to store energy as fat. Cortisol is generated during stress and makes all sorts of horrible changes in your body.

    Great post, great thought exercise!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera

      We’ve become a bit more selective about our meetings, too. While meeting in person is great for getting to know someone, there has to be some qualification to it or we’d just be out meeting random people all day. And getting fat 🙂