The one where Sam closes a $17M deal at a bar in San Francisco

By Devon Hennig

Boardroom Confidential is a collection of wild-but-true stories from the careers of me and my friends.

AS A SEASONED SPEAKER, it’s in my best interest to encourage you to attend as many sessions at as many conferences as possible. Many of these talks are great opportunities to hear from experts, and the strategies and insights you pick up can bring a ton of value back to your org.

Now please, cross out that last paragraph.

I’m serious. I want to see some hard scribbling up there, because this is a story about what happens when you walk into a conference and make a beeline for the bar instead of the exhibition hall.

Yes, the bar. And yes, I realize most conferences start in the morning. That is why God invented Bloody Marys.

This isn’t my own wisdom. It’s a tactic I learned from a colleague, Sam.

Sam is one of the most successful VPs of Sales I know, and you can always find him bellied up to the bar of a conference center instead of in the dark theaters and carpeted conference rooms listening to the speakers. His strategy isn’t to travel with the herd, but to make connections by chatting up people between sessions.

Wait, what? you’re thinking. That’s terrible advice. Anyway, I don’t have drinking superpowers. How could I possibly sit at the bar all day and make meaningful connections, let alone remember them?

The answer, my friends? Do the S.A.M.

Spirit (as in, an alcoholic beverage)

Agua (AKA one glass of water)


aaaaaand repeat.

According to Sam, if you tell your bartender the plan (one drink, followed by one water, followed by one drink that looks like alcohol but isn’t) and you tip well, they’ll be happy to assist. As a result, you’ll stay sober enough to stay awake, loose enough to have fun and attract potential clients into your orbit, and you’ll appear to be keeping up with even the thirstiest of drinkers.

Genius or ridiculous, you decide.

Personally, I’ve seen it work. A few years ago, Sam and I attended a conference in SF. I was slated to speak in the morning, so I showed up early to rehearse. Of course, when I passed the lobby, Sam was already posted at the bar with an Irish coffee in hand. I ribbed him for skipping my talk, but he promised his strategy would pay off. I rolled my eyes.

The talk went well and I met some great people. Later, I stopped back at the bar just in time to see a woman handing Sam her business card.

“So,” I asked Sam after the woman left, “she your big deal?”

He looked at me, smirked, and took a swig of his mocktail. “Not yet. So far, I’ve bought rounds for a crypto kid, a professor, a CFO, and ten others I’ve already forgotten,” he said. “But I’m just warming up. You’ll see.”

I patted Sam on the shoulder, feeling almost sorry for the guy. I said goodbye and walked away, seeing him waste no time in waving over another person in a conference lanyard.

Hey, I thought. At least he’s committed.

Later that evening, I thought I’d stop by the bar again for a nightcap. It was late, but of course Sam was still there. This time he was alone. I hopped on the stool next to him and asked how the rest of his day went.

He didn’t answer. Instead, a bottle of Prosecco appeared beside him.

“Bubbly?” I asked as the bartender popped the bottle and poured two glasses.

Sam clinked his glass on mine.

“That guy I met when you left this afternoon?”


“Harvey. Runs a chain of gyms in Texas.”

“Okay. And?”

“Seventeen mill. Signed, sealed, delivered.”

I nearly choked on the drink.

That was the biggest deal the company had ever closed by far.

I could barely believe it. While I was off doing everything you’re “supposed to do” at a conference, Sam was inking an eight-figure deal at the bar.

That was the day I learned never to underestimate the Sams of the world. Turns out they aren’t weirdos with drinking problems (at least, not all of them). They’re methodical. Intuitive. Sam taught me that  “following the crowd” doesn’t always yield the best results. Sometimes you gotta do your own thing.

Devon Hennig

Devon Hennig is a writer, marketer, and ex-game-show host. He quit his job as a software executive to make a go of it on his own. Follow along as he tries not to go broke.

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