Advice from Hollywood

By Heather Baldwin

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to show us where we really need improvement. That’s why companies hire consultants, and that’s why Bernie Brillstein wrote his new book, The Little Stuff Matters Most: 50 Rules from 50 Years of Trying to Make a Living (Gotham Books, 2004). Brillstein, a legendary Hollywood super manager and producer, gained wisdom and insight from his 50 years in business. Here are four of his recommendations for managers.

1. Don’t confuse business friends with real friends. Your biggest, longest-standing customer, a guy with whom you have played many rounds of golf and laughed over many lunches, calls to say he’s switching to your competitor’s product. Your reaction: How could he do this to me? We were friends! Not really, says Brillstein. Business friendship is exactly that – business. The vast majority of business relationships won’t last through a change in position by one party or another. Salespeople want good connections to last forever, of course, but you must remember it is business. Otherwise you’ll overestimate your comfort level.

2. Don’t confuse ego with self confidence. Some people think you need a tremendous ego to get anywhere, particularly in the field of sales. “I think you need a tremendous amount of self confidence,” counters Brillstein. “Self confidence comes from knowing your powers and using them accordingly. Ego is blindly thinking you can do it all.”

3. Always smell the room. Use your gut instinct to figure out what’s going on in an organization, and then act accordingly. This takes time, so don’t arrive at 1:29 to meet with a prospect at 1:30. Get there early, sit in the lobby and absorb the atmosphere. Figure out if the environment that day is hostile or friendly, harried or calm. If the prospect makes you wait 30 or 40 minutes beyond your meeting time, you should know instinctively that the timing for your pitch is wrong. The prospect probably is so far behind he won’t be concentrating. “It takes a big guy to say: Okay, let’s forget today. I know you’re harried. Let’s just talk for a few minutes and we’ll do it another time,” says Brillstein. Whether the prospect tells you to go ahead anyway or reschedules, he or she will appreciate your instinct.

4. Winners make the tough calls. It’s easy to call prospects and customers when their budgets are flush and the company is booming, or to call sales reps who have just scored a huge sale. It’s much harder, but often more important, to call when times are tough, such as when the client’s company is struggling or one of your reps has lost a big sale. “Leaders and winners make the tough calls. Whomever is on the other end of the line never forgets,” says Brillstein.