It seems like a lifetime ago. I was fresh out of college in local radio sales. This day was particularly exciting because I had my first meeting with an advertising agency! I was to take the owner to lunch. I had my materials ready. My facts and figures straight. What a great opportunity!
You see, I had called in individual accounts. But THIS was an AGENCY with all kinds of accounts. If I could impress this guy, it was my intro to a wealth of new business. All through one contact. This was going to be good. It started out well enough. I ordered a sandwich. He ordered a steak. A steak, really? Well, ok.
I waited until the food arrived to start my pitch. I was barely into it when he laid his knife and fork down to hold up his right hand.
“Let me tell you how this works,” he said.
“I’m going to sit here and eat this steak. And I don’t want to be annoyed by your pitch. If I want something from you – and I don’t – I’ll let you know. And next month, you can buy me another steak. You know why? Because your sales manager thinks maybe – maybe – at some point I’ll buy your station. That’s how this works. You need to learn that.”
I don’t think I said a word until we got up to leave. But I was certainly thinking. I was thinking that I was on the wrong side of the table. Not that I wanted to be the one taking advantage of some green radio rep. I just wanted to be the one in control. This guy didn’t know all the great things I could do for him and his clients. We never got that far. If I was on the other side, I’d at least have listened.
Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve listened. Not all the presentations have been stellar, but I hope I’ve learned something from each one. I know I’ve never not listened. The way I see it, as the person on the other side of the table I have three distinct areas of responsibility:
First, I have a responsibility to the person making that presentation. I owe them the courtesy of my time and attention. Whether they know if or not, that was me years ago. And I’ll never forget that.
Second, I have a responsibility to myself and my employer. If there’s information in this presentation that helps me or the company in any way, it’s my responsibility to recognize it, take ownership of it, and use it.
Finally, I have a tremendous responsibility to my client. He or she has entrusted me to take this meeting (so they wouldn’t have to), digest the information (which relies on my expertise, which they might not have ) and use it to help his or her business (which is what I’m being paid for). I am his or her surrogate, so I need to be patient, polite and ask the right questions. It’s how I prove my value to my client.
My agency contact with the steak lost sight of all that. And that was his loss. And his clients’. But that meeting taught me a lesson I will never forget. And he was right. I needed to learn that.