Rebecca Todd

Business Lessons Learned: The Meeting I Completely Blew

By: Rebecca Todd | August 7, 2013 | 

Business Lessons Learned

By Rebecca Todd

Whilst reading Lindsay Bell’s post today, I realized I could put this off no longer.

Ladies, Gentlemen, Crazies…here are the business lessons I learned, and the story of The Meeting I Totally and Completely Blew.

Picture this: It is late fall of 2011.

I am on my first sales road trip in my new role at Ivey Publishing.

My agenda was aggressive, to say the least.

Overbook Yourself at Your Peril

I left London, Ontario early Sunday morning. Upon landing in Winnipeg, I picked up my first rental car of the journey, then checked in to my first hotel.

Monday, I had 15 back-to-back meetings at one institution; Tuesday I had 13 at another. Tuesday night, I head back to the airport and fly to Regina, pick up a second rental car, head to my second hotel.

Wednesday, I had 18 calls booked, then drove the Trans-Canada Highway north to Saskatoon, and checked in to hotel three. Thursday, I had 21 back-to-back meetings, then drove to the airport to fly back to Manitoba, face a four hour delay, land at YYZ (Toronto) to face a cancelled flight to YXU (London International Airport). Instead I drove the more than two hours  home.

And people think business travel is glamorous

The numbers: 15 + 13 + 18 + 21 = 67 meetings in three cities in four days. I told you it was a tad aggressive. I was gunning for the cover of Meetings Monthly.

The Incident of 2011

The Incident went down in the middle of day three. When my schedule is that tight, all it takes is a few minutes here and there, and my day is shot. There was a department meeting that ran over, someone was 10 minutes late, someone else had a student in their office, someone else had an interesting issue we worked through together. All very normal…but I was running 17 minutes behind.

Dashing down the hall in my heels, ‘he’ stepped out of the office and caught my attention.

“You must be Rebecca from Ivey! We are set to meet in 10 minutes. I have a room booked down the hall – see you then!”

Hindsight being what it is, I should have asked him if we could go right then. But RAT being who she is, there was a list – and The List Must Be Obeyed! I told him I would see him then, and told myself I would somehow make it happen.

Sidetracked..? Who…Me?

My next meeting was an oasis of calm and cool. I stepped in, he had jazz playing, had brewed his own coffee, offered the finest dark chocolate. Before I knew it, we were talking bikes and bars and branding. I knew instantly that I needed him to write for me, that this could be THE meeting of the day in terms of acquisitions. I couldn’t afford to cut the conversation short. I can’t even say it was “an accident”- I am hyper aware of the time (thanks Dad!), and knew exactly as each second passed I was eating in to the next meeting.

Seventeen minutes later, I fly through the door of the meeting room booked by the other professor. He is not there. The assistant gives me a justifiably hard look and said, “He waited more than 10 minutes.” Somehow, my cold, black heart manages a painful twinge.

I went back to his colleague, went to his dean, and scrawled him a long letter of apology. I followed up in an email too, but never heard back. I Totally and Completely Blew It.

Business Lessons Learned

Sure, there were so many mitigating factors professionally, and a whole whack of personal ones as well. But those were all MY factors, not his. To him, it came down to this: He set aside his most precious commodities – his time and attention-  and I showed no respect for that. I didn’t even call him to say I was running late.

I get it. If the tables were turned, I would never again set aside space for someone who had treated me so cavalierly when I was doing them a favor. And he was doing me a favor. We often forget, in sales and marketing, the ask of the customer in those terms. We consider the value of our investment in terms of OUR time and money, but not theirs. It’s not always easy to see it like that, to assign a price tag to their time and attention.

But if you lose their time and attention, never mind their respect and trust – it will cost you. It has me.

About Rebecca Todd

Graduating with her bachelor's of education degree, Rebecca Todd knew the classroom wasn’t for her. Her passion for adventure carried her to educational publishing, and now she travels the globe and savors life on the road as a representative for Ivey Publishing. But she’ll always be an academic at heart, as evidenced by the meticulous annotations in the science fiction novels she loves to find in second-hand bookstores. When she’s not working on her list of the world’s best vegan restaurants, she enjoys hot yoga, hangs with her dogs, and sometimes thinks about working on her Victorian home.

  • ElissaFreeman

    Ok firstly? You are a wonder woman.  Can’t believe it took til DAY THREE for things to implode.  So, you are forgetting just how much you accomplished in the first two days! That being said – being late is my ‘chronic disease’ if you will. One day, it will totally bite me in the butt – and this was a good lesson to read. Time and attention ARE precious commodities that we take for granted. But come on, aside from the withering look, that prof’s assistant should have had some sense of understanding and offered a re-booking. Why? Cuz you ARE Rebecca representing one of the top biz schools in the country. And with apologies to whatever Prairie-based learning institution you were at, they should have considered that.

    • Thank you so much Elissa! I actually book trips much busier than that-set the record 31 meetings in one day at UNSW. But usually, I can make it work. This day, I did not. I will try again next time I am there, maybe with cupcakes.

      • ElissaFreeman  RebeccaTodd Jeez, yeah that’s like, 60 more meetings than I could have booked in that time…

      • photo chris

        RebeccaTodd cupcakes always do the trick, lol

  • I love it. I understand you work for a publishing company and they should publish YOU. I loveeeeed the story. You can write. 
    By the way, I agree with Elissa, wonder woman!!

    • Thank you very much Brankica! I love getting to be out on the road meeting my customers, which is why this incident stuck with me. Thanks for commenting!

  • I can’t help but wonder how many meetings and deals you have you closed because you learned that lesson early!  Brilliant. Thanks for sharing the lesson — and great writing.

    • Thank you very much Dwayne! “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” Moltke the Elder-so days never go as planned. But this one never left me.

  • Amazing. What a schedule.
    We’ve all been there….if you’d politely stopped your meeting for a moment & called the other professor he probably would have been ok with rescheduling. Took me a long time to really learn to do that sort of thing. That’s actually a structural issue, not so much content – forget what you’re actually discussing (it could have been worth 8 gazillion dollars to that prof) it’s more a matter of the structure of your relationship with him, and missing the boat on that. Not judging at all though, I doubt anyone who reads this hasn’t done that once or twice.

    • JoeCardillo Not me. I’m totally judging her.

      • Thanks Joe! Not so much Ell Bee…
        I know. That’s the worst bit. I could have done it all differently. This was our first interaction…ugh.
        A teaching mentor shared a nice analogy with me. He says that you can view a relationship like a bank account. Be sure to deposit more than you withdraw. With this prof, I withdrew a lot without depositing anything. Ugh.

    • photo chris

      JoeCardillo I agree that a phone call would maybe have saved it, but, speaking from experience, I also know how it feels to interrupt the “magic” flow happening in the here and now. When you step out of the “magic bubble” as I sometimes call it, it can kill the mood and flow of the current meeting. I likely wouldn’t have stopped it either.

  • That is one impressive schedule. When I did entertainment publicity, I used to try for a day that – commuting back and forth along the DVP in Toronto, hoping there wouldn’t be a slowdown and I’d miss a live interview. (I got lucky). And it was one day, not several. Kudos getting 99% there.
    I think your post is a great lesson in adding in time for serendipity into a schedule – that is giving yourself a bit of leeway to catch up.
    Mind you, having been to those cities, I might have packed in that much too :).
    Thanks RebeccaTodd!

    • That’s a great idea. No day ever goes as planned, but usually things even out. This time, I didn’t handle it quite right.

  • Always enjoy getting caught up in your stories.
    P.S. Do you wear a cape? Because that would be even cooler.

  • Holy crap, talk about a packed schedule. I’d go nuts if I did that – there’s no way! Kudos for recognizing you screwed up – sucks that you had to learn the hard way, but you won’t ever make the same mistake again (hopefully!).
    I’ve had my fair share of mishaps too – I always chalk it up to lesson learned and don’t ever let it happen again.

    • I really love being on the road and keeping a busy schedule. It is exhausting sure, but getting to meet my customers and learn more about them is what I like most about my job, for reals. Thanks for commenting!

  • Good lesson learned; time is money and if you are asking it of someone else, respect it. 
    I think your first problem was not knowing if you left London or Ontario, but that’s just my take on it…..:).

    • Hadry har har. The city actually recently hired someone to craft a new slogan for London Ontario, and they came back with “Canada’s London”, I kid you not. Someone got paid for that, and it wasn’t me.

  • A) that schedule was exhausting just to read much less to DO B) I appreciate your candor and C) I have placed myself in that “somehow I will make it happen” position all too frequently (and not just in business). It takes tremendous discipline to excise the things that don’t matter in order to focus on the ones that do (and that are within our abilities to accomplish). Thank you for sharing your lesson learned. 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting! This isn’t even close to my most insane agenda- I am not sure of my final stats in Sydney last summer, but I set the record at 31 at UNSW and my “lightest” day was 18 calls starting less than 24 hours after I landed… But THIS is the one that haunts me still.

  • No one told me this post would involve higher math, I protest. I like being busy but that sort of jam packed schedule is just meshugah.

    • As my territory is so vast, I try and see as many people as possible. And most times, I can finesse it. But not this day…

  • rdopping

    Sad. So, so sad. 😉

    • It was. Nest time I am in SK, I am going to try again. Thoughts on how to do so? Cupcakes?

  • photo chris

    I’m shaking my head at the wonder of it all, the math (granted, NOT my strong suit) doesn’t even make sense for me- it’s like, time enough to say hello, your name, throw a business card at them and then run to the next person. CRAZY! I cannot BELIEVE it took until day 3 for anything to happen.

    • Hey Chris thanks for commenting! My philosophy on an initial face-to-face meeting is for me to learn more about their daily activities and find out where I can help. My take away is permission to register them in our system if they aren’t already and prepare a folder of custom resources to match their teaching, plus any specific reqests the customer makes. Usually, this takes 7-13 minutes. I book 15 minutes per individual, longer if I am doing a group meeting. At UNSW last August, I did 31 meetings from 8-6- the company record (not that I am competitive…). On most days, things happen and I can roll with it. This time…not so much.

      • photo chris

        RebeccaTodd I so admire the ability to move that quickly and get so much done! I build business through referrals and so my first meetings with a new venue can be an hour and a half! Professionally I want to know what they’re about, and want them to know why we are a good match. There is usually a tour of the property and several personal shared stories as well. I usually know about children, grandchildren and spouses by the time I leave, as well as how many weddings they do in a year and if we’ve made their list.

        • photo chris RebeccaTodd Oh wow! Those meetings are much more intense than what I generally do. It seems to be a very relationship-based process for you.

        • photo chris

          RebeccaTodd photo chris Exactly! That meeting you held with the Jazz and the chocolate guy? I would have been there for two hours. I talk (and listen!) until people give me the small sign they need to move on with their day. At the end of the day people need to be comfortable with our company to refer us, and also to give us (me) a head’s up if they find something amiss with services to their couples. 
          Rather than being thrown off their referral list without so much as a second thought, I’ll get a phone call, “Hey Chris, I was a bit confused by something I saw the photographer do this Saturday, can you give me a call?”

        • photo chris Great perspective! I’ve got this old-school sales mantra that I still drag out every once in a while- Earn The Right. You earn the right to have your venues call you first through your maintenance of the relationship when there is nothing on the line. Excellent sales skills!

        • photo chris

          RebeccaTodd photo chris Oh- thank you Rebecca!

  • You are just spreading yourself SO thin, its amazing you only blew that one ! Its gut wrenching when you know you have messed up, but you are right when you said you should have made a quick call. It’s wonderful how understand people can be if you just keep the line of communication going. The best part is, you learned from your experience and shared it with others.

    • Marketing Gal Thanks! My days are often packed tighter than this, but usually I can make anything work. It is the fact that I made bad choice after bad choice that lead to this blown meeting that will haunt me forever.  Lessons learned, though, right? Thanks for commenting!

      • RebeccaTodd Marketing Gal I am a single mom of three, I work 2 jobs and I just finished my degree, I hear you 100%!! I know many people who over book their day and just get upset when they drop the ball in their juggling act. I love the fact you see it and just pick the ball back up and push forward !! Much respect to you for putting yourself out there =)

        • Marketing Gal RebeccaTodd Oh wow- now I do not know HOW you manage all that! I can barely keep myself in clean clothes. And thanks! I am certainly not perfect, no one is, so if my mistakes can serve as a cautionary tale for others, I’ve done my bit.

        • photo chris

          Marketing Gal RebeccaTodd May blessings and awe be heaped upon you…how?! How do you DO that?