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Realizing that the familiar buyer who calls you a friend is more likely to buy around you to avoid the appearance of favoritism, you must take your presentation to them far more seriously than you would otherwise.


I was sitting in Dick’s office at the small work table in the corner proofing a direct mail piece that we were using for our 2nd quarter promotion.  Many would have thought it unusual that a sales person was proofreading a marketing piece.  But, I had once saved the station from an embarrassing misspelling – think of a word that rhymes with heart but should have been spelled f-a-s-t.  So, now I was the unofficial proofreader of all public documents.

Dick sat at his desk going over sales figures.  They were not making him happy.

With a quick start, Dick snapped his head up from the sales reports as a shadow momentarily flashed passed his door.

“Chelsea, is that you?” Dick shouted after the adumbration.

In way of answer, Chelsea darkened the door.  I got up to leave as I didn’t want to intrude but Dick indicated with his left hand held low over the table, palm down, that I should stay put.  From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see Chelsea and I knew that she couldn’t see me, either.  This was either going to be a very quick conversation or something that Dick wanted me to hear.  As it turned out, the latter was in play and I was privy to another sales lesson from Dick Harlow.

“How did it go with Media Abomination, Chelsea?” Dick asked using his favorite nickname for our town’s largest ad agency.  After one disappointment and another over the last few weeks, Dick was looking for some good news.  He didn’t get it.

“Not so great.  They decided to go with Fox instead of us,” Chelsea replied softly.

“Why did they go with Fox?” Dick asked pointedly.

“Well, they offered a better promotion and still hit the cost per point.”

“How is it that they offered a better promotion?  Didn’t we offer a promotion?” Dick was ticked and he wasn’t hiding it well.

“Yes, we offered a promotion.  I thought it was pretty good, too.  We went with one of the promotions that the agency had suggested on their avail sheet.”

“Wait a minute,” Dick had both hands up in front of him, arms bent at 90 degrees as if keeping a heavy weight from crushing him.  “Isn’t this buyer someone you know personally?”

“Yes, that’s why I’m so surprised.  I was just over her house this weekend and she didn’t say anything about us being in trouble.”

“Did you bring it up,” Dick wondered.

“No, I didn’t think it was appropriate during a dinner party to try and close a deal.”

“Okay, I get that,” Dick said impatiently “but, she didn’t seem to be as concerned about social niceties when she decided to stiff a friend.”

“I guess that’s true,” Chelsea said dejectedly.  “Anyway, Fox came in with an idea that just blew the agency away and we, or rather I, did not and that was the deciding factor.”

“No, it was not,” Dick said sternly.

Although it wasn’t unusual for Dick’s passions to flow freely, I hadn’t ever seen him dress down a seller so completely.  Frankly, I was beginning to feel sorry for Chelsea.

“The account has been lost over time and you just found out about it today.  The promotion that Fox proposed was simply the dramatic conclusion in a multi-act play.  We’ve got some changes to make in our approach.  Now isn’t a good time to have that discussion, so we’ll talk more later.”

The conversation was obviously over so a subdued Chelsea drifted away.

Quietude returned to Dick’s office.  A minute or two passed while we both pretended to re-immerse ourselves in our respective tasks.  Finally, Dick spoke:

“I’ve been expecting a loss of that magnitude and what you heard was a prepared speech,” Dick explained softly.  “Chelsea isn’t any more to blame than anyone else as the entire sales force is guilty of exactly the same thing.”

I wanted to ask a question but sensed that Dick was going to answer it regardless so I kept still.

“We’ve become too casual with our long-term relationships,” Dick continued.  “So many of our sellers have been calling on the same agency buyers for so long now that we take for granted that we’ll be bought.  As a consequence, we aren’t always making our best effort; coming up with great ideas; working hard to earn the business.  We hit the cost parameters and we offer promotional ideas but we don’t attack with zeal or aggression.  We’re placid and cool and we’re losing to others who act hungry and are being creative.  In short, the familiarity that we’ve earned has caused the complacency that is killing us.”

“What do we do about it?” I asked.  “After all, not to defend it, but that behavior seems pretty normal.”

“Yeah, it’s normal but in a sales arena it’s not acceptable.  I have to take the blame for not making changes before we started to lose business because of it.  As for what we do about it, that depends on one’s role.  The sales manager should be guarding against.  However, the seller should be guarding against it, too, as the seller is ultimately responsible for their own success.”

“That makes sense, ” I agreed “because there aren’t enough sales managers to assume that one is available to police our every move.  Plus, I don’t know a seller that would respond well to that type of management.”

“Given all of that,” Dick said “let’s put together a short list of the actions sellers can take to avoid complacency.”

With that, Dick took the sales reports and threw them in the garbage.  Then, he pulled out a fresh pad of paper and his favorite Montblanc pen and we got to work.


To Avoid Complacency Derived from Familiarity a Seller should:

  1. Treat those with whom you are most familiar as least likely to buy from you.  Realizing that the familiar buyer who calls you a friend is more likely to buy around you to avoid the appearance of favoritism, you must take your presentation to them far more seriously than you would otherwise.
  2. Act as if your presentation determines the success of your friend.  Buyers are judged on the quality of their buys.  That’s obvious but the familiar seller doesn’t act as if the work they bring to their friend has any impact at all on the success that friend enjoys within her industry.  This mistake opens the door to your competition and it’s an easy door to slam in their face if you believe you owe it to your friend to help her succeed in her career.
  3. Tell your friend you want to earn her business every time business is up.  Maybe you don’t think you act as if your friend owes you a piece of the business, but by telling her you expect to earn her business every single time, you take that possibility and the accompanying hard feelings out of play.
  4. Ask someone to role play with you before you make your presentation.  This will help determine if your presentation is any good.  After all, your friend isn’t likely to tell you that you did sub-par work.  She just won’t buy you.

“Certainly not a comprehensive list,” we thought as we put the finishing touches on our compilation “but, it’s a good start.”

A good start, indeed!  These ideas turned around our slump and generated palpable energy on our sales floor.  We became committed to submitting strong ideas and taking nothing for granted.  These simple concepts changed the culture of our sales team and led to a major shift in revenue shares.

Perhaps, they could do the same for you.

About the author

Tim Rohrer

Tim Rohrer

Tim J.M. Rohrer is an eighteen year veteran of advertising sales. Currently, working as…

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