When I first met Howard Christensen (the publisher of this magazine), I was standing in the hallway at an industry convention.
At that time, Howard was with Broadcast News and writing a column for an industry magazine.
He introduced himself and, like any good reporter, tried to find out what I was doing – standing in the hall – ignoring the sessions going on behind the massive doorways opposite.
I told him I was working.
He said it didn’t look like I was working.
I told him this was a very busy time for me.
He wanted to know how I categorized standing in a hallway as work.
It was at this point that I realized that Howard understood neither work nor the rep business.
You see, he had been brought up to believe that when you worked, you actually had to appear busy. You had to be doing something. Standing about could never be considered work.
I remember, years ago, my Dad got me a summer job working in the accounts office of the E.B. Eddy paper company across the river from Ottawa, just in Hull (but close to the old Ottawa House). My job had to do with payables.
I had one of those cartridge calculators that looked like a cash register topped by a large hair roller. I entered a bunch of numbers and a function then pressed a button and watched for long minutes as the numerals spin around in the hair roller before finally settling on a group the machine liked. One could only assume that number represented a correct answer.
I did that all day. It was, for me, a terrible job.
It was during that summer, being busy at that job, that I decided I would never work at a straight office desk job again.
I never did.
It was also during that summer that I learned how to appear busy.
I learned three things – never walk anywhere slowly – never move from your desk without clutching a bunch of paper – never go home before the boss.
I had learned that people, particularly managers, confuse being busy with being productive.
So it was that I eventually wound up in sales. Here was an area where performance was measured by results and no matter how busy I tried to look, if I didn’t have my name at the bottom of enough orders fast walking and smooth talking wasn’t going to do.
When Howard met me in the hall that day, I may not have looked like I was working but I most certainly was .
You see, as a rep for radio stations across the country I knew that being visible was a priority of my attendance at any industry convention. If I spent my time in dark session rooms or having so called meetings in my hotel room, most of my customers would go back to their markets thinking I had never attended the convention at all.
Besides, if I wanted to pitch another rep’s station I had a better chance of starting up a conversation in a casual hallway encounter than by phoning his room and asking for a meet.
When I first attended conventions I just sort of appeared, without a real plan, went to as many sessions as I could and served drinks in a hospitality suite. In time, it occurred to me that most of the sessions were aimed at my customers, not me , and many of the power people I wanted to talk to rarely spent much time in hospitality rooms.
I suspect that many of us attend industry conferences without a firm set of objectives . Obviously , any strategic meetings you wish to have should be set up in advance if possible. But one has to be careful not to arrange so many meetings , particularly with your own staff who are easily reached at other times , that you can’t take advantage of opportunities that present themselves unannounced.
There were times , in the early days , that I was so consumed with looking busy that I really didn’t make contact with most of my clients and prospects who were in attendance.
Most conventions are presented as an information exchange . But most of them represent a wonderful sales opportunity , particularly in the broadcast industry. For those of us that do not have products and services that lend themselves to the traditional areas of exhibit – hall haunting is probably the best way to prospect . It is also an excellent device to make certain you service your existing client base as well.
It has been my observation that most people are somewhat introverted despite their public image. Although most would deny it , many are actually on the shy side . So if you can initiate contact in an informal setting , around a coffee urn or during a cocktail hour the opportunity to establish a relationship is enhanced.
There’s that word relationship again. And we all know that building relationships is the key to successful selling in any field.
When Howard met me that day – he wanted to know what I had thought of the sessions thus far.
I told him I wouldn’t be able to answer that question until after the convention . That’s when I listened to the full set of tapes I always ordered .
As a sales person , I was too busy to attend most of the sessions .
I made an exception when people like Ted or Tony were speaking of course.
John Gorman is President of John Franklin & Associates Inc.
He can be reached by phone at (905) 642-0861 or by e-mail