As a “creative type” I spent the first years of my career in marketing blessedly unneeded in early meetings focused on sales – convincing strangers that you are actually really good at what you do. I just had to BE really good at what I did, it was up to others to convince people that the team and I could deliver the goods.
I spent some years watching business development folks and sales people and bosses write proposals and go to meeting. They’d come back and give us all an update like “it went well, we’re a really good fit, they were impressed with the portfolio, etc.” Then I’d go back to work and a few days or weeks later I’d find out whether or not we got the project, generally because an AE scheduled a kick-off meeting.
Being in a more senior, leadership position in a small marketing agency means that now those kinds of meetings often need someone with my “perspective” on things, as my bosses like to call it. Someone who can speak to the creative strategy, skills, and solutions that will be brought to bear on whatever problem these strangers sitting in front of us may need to solve. They may also need another person who, comfortable or not, can pull off a song and dance and stick the landing. “You sound smart when you talk,” they tell me. So I go and I try to sound smart, because my team is really good at what they do and they are counting on me to convince strangers of that fact.
We’ve been doing a lot of proposals the last few weeks. Well, proposal meetings, SOW walkthroughs, and client discovery meetings. All of which put us in the position of having to play a role. You’re still yourself, but you have to be the best possible version of yourself. Avoid the embarrassing stories, listen really hard, be really interested in what the other person is saying, frame your responses in the context of what they need to hear. All of which is fine, I’m a good listener, I believe very strongly that we are excellent problem solvers, and that pretty much whatever the client’s marketing needs, we can get results for them. And I have learned to “watch the face” because I tend toward bored resting face even when I’m not bored.
The part I did not know about is what happens between the meeting and the decision. It’s excruciating. Maybe people who are natural sales people don’t feel it, but it’s awful. Sitting there. Waiting for THE CALL or, god-help-me, the email. Remaining confident even though you know there are a thousand things that might influence the decision beyond the part you played in it, but fully ready to blame yourself entirely if they say no.
Today, for instance. It’s the Friday before Labor Day as I write this and we’re hoping to get one of those calls before we leave. I know it’s unlikely, we’re far more likely to hear from them on Tuesday. And I know we’re a good fit, but an unlikely winner for this business, no matter how badly I want the project or how good we’d be at it. They probably went with someone bigger or with more direct experience in their industry. Maybe I didn’t quite convince them that we’d be brilliant and they’d be happy. Maybe they didn’t like the show. Or, maybe I should just get back to work.