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Earning a seat at the table

Well, I’m sure this post won’t win me many new friends among my fellow pharma vendors, but here goes anyway…

Lately I’ve noticed a new trend where vendor partners bring numerous people to a meeting and all of the partners take seats at the main meeting table.  This, in and of itself, doesn’t seem like a big deal.  However, at many of these meetings, there is not enough room for all of the attendees to sit at the table.  In these instances, I watch in stunned silence as clients take seats along the back walls or in corners, while their vendors stay in their seats at the main table.

These clients refuse to pull rank and make their vendor partners feel bad in a public forum, which makes them good and sensitive human beings.  So, for my clients who are too polite to say what should be said, let me do it for you.

Fellow vendors:

  • Unless you are presenting or facilitating the meeting, your first option should never be to take a seat at the main table while your clients sit along the sidelines
  • If you as a team leader bring more than 2 people to a meeting, you should plan for your more junior team members to sit in the back row, and they should be told this ahead of time to avoid any awkwardness
  • And if you come to a meeting and take a seat at the table, be prepared to offer a meaningful contribution to the group discussion

Crowded work meetings are not unlike big family holiday dinners.  There is a main table and an overflow table.  Heck, I’m in my 40s and I have 4 children, and sometimes at my family gatherings, depending on who is in attendance, I sit at the overflow table with my own kids – not because I’m a child, but because it’s the polite and respectful thing to do.  Likewise, at big client meetings, I often sit along the wall, balancing my notebook on my lap, because it’s also the polite and respectful thing to do.

So next time you go to a big, crowded client meeting, take a back-row seat and be sure to contribute and demonstrate your value. Ultimately, as a vendor partner, you should be prepared to earn a seat at the table. You’ll know once you earn that spot, because your clients will be the ones to insist that you sit right up front where the action is.

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