The Danger of “I’ve Done This Before”

Sometimes through the course of a career we prepare for something so many times that it becomes second-nature.  We feel that we can begin to relax because we have such a great understanding of what we’re doing and what’s going to happen.  Our chairman, Ron Shapiro, likes to tell a story that reminds us to be careful when uttering the phrase, “I’ve done this before.”

The following is an excerpt from the book Dare to Prepare by Ron Shapiro.

The wisdom gained from hard experience has taught me not to say, “I’ve done this before.”  Indeed, one of the toughest lessons for me was the time I lost the opportunity for my sports firm to represent the great slugger Mark Teixeira.

Baseballs abiding sentimentality makes a hometown star one of the delights of the game.  The occurrence is rare:  Cal Ripkin, Jr., who grew up near Baltimore; Joe Mauer, a Minnesota boy; the return of Roger Clemens, a legend from his days at the University of Texas, to play for the Houston Astros.  So when Mark was slugging his way through high school baseball in my hometown of Baltimore, I felt very confident that my sports firm would end up representing him.

Mark was known to be a big Orioles fan; he came from a strong and famously grounded family; and we had even met on one occasion.  What’s more, his baseball coach was a friend of a former client, the Hall of Famer and Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson.

So, subconsciously, I did not prepare for my meeting with Mark and his family as methodically or even as vigorously as I usually do.  I said to myself, everyone is telling me this is destiny.  A local kid and a good family meet a local sports firm known for a high standard of values and relationships in a morally problematic business.  I said to myself, I’ve done this before.

What had I done before?  At my sports firm, we target clients just like Mark.  We have represented Brooks Robinson, Cal Jr., Kirby Puckett, and later Joe Mauer.  We are small and want to stay small, and we strive to find clients who want life coaches as much as contract negotiators.

I generally prepare for meeting this sort of client and his parents by proceeding through my preparation principles.  In particular, I focus on four of the principles: objectives, precedents, alternatives, and interests.  I set our objectives of making clear our desire to engage in a long-term relationship, collaborate with the client in building a solid personal brand, and earn a competitive fee.  I look thoroughly at precedents—the scripts and notes from previous presentations.  And I prepare to cite some of these precedents in the meeting with the potential clients.  I look at alternative ways to structure the potential client’s goals prior to the Major League Baseball draft and discuss this at the presentation.  And I try to determine clearly the interests of the client: How important is money to him?  What kind of organization would fit his personality?  How important are family and friends and relationships in general?  What other agents is he considering?

I did very little of this as we prepared to present our firm to Mark Teixeira.  I said, I’ve done this before, and my track record speaks for itself.  Guess who got to represent Mark?  Scott Boras.  Yes, the guy who got Alex Rodriguez the contract the size of the GDP of some small nations.  The guy loved by players seeking fortunes and feared by ownership and management for his winning track record.

Scott came on my turf and beat me at my own game.  I no longer was confidently saying, I’ve done this before.  I was struggling to answer to myself as I asked over and over, What have I done?

I walked into the meeting coasting on my career and my reputation as a good guy in Baltimore.  I did not have a deep understanding of the family’s financial objectives or Mark’s professional and educational goals.  I did not probe them with questions about what they looked for in an organization.  I did not present a thorough negotiating plan.  I did not prepare methodically.


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