Hayley Romer | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Hayley Romer

Background:  

Atlantic Media is the parent company of The Atlantic, National Journal and Quartz, among other publications.

The Mistake:

I was in a sales role, and I had been the youngest person to have my job. People told me what a great job I was doing because I brought new thinking and new energy to the role. So I was feeling pretty good about myself when the new senior leader came in. He says, "I’ve heard so many great things about you, I can’t wait to get out on the street with you and really see what you can do." And so of course I have to prove myself to him.

I decide that I'm going to bring him on this meeting that I’ve done nothing but preparation work for, that our closest competitor is a big partner with, and I’m going to win that business. I want him to really see what I can do. One of the most common practices that took place at the organization at the time was a lot of bashing the competitor, and people said I was good was because I was able to win business over our competitor. But in this case, this was a long-established partnership with the competitor.

I open up the meeting and start talking about ourselves. I go on and on and on, and I start pointing out how and why we’re better than our competitor, how and where we’re different from our competitor. All of course, from my perspective. When I eventually stopped talking, she said, “I appreciate all that, but the reason we work with them is X, Y and Z,” which wasn’t relevant to the point I’d been making about why she should be working with us.

The less you say, the better. Listening is more important.

After we walk out of there, the new guy says to me, “Hey, why don’t we grab a cup of coffee?” And I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is awesome. He really likes me. He thinks I did a good job; this is going to go well." So he asks me how I think it went and I say, “I think it was good.” And he said, “That was one of the worst meetings I’ve ever sat in. … First of all, you never start talking when you walk into a room. You didn’t listen to a single word she said, and you should never, ever, ever, ever bash your competitors.” Of course, I was completely mortified.

The Lesson:

Since then, I’ve never said a bad word about a competitor. There’s no way you can build credibility when you say anything bad about people, and I preach that as much as anything else. Also, the less you say, the better. Listening is more important. The more you listen, the more salient points you can make. So less is best.

 

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