A couple of years ago I was asked to represent a Bermuda-based bank. They wanted my company to increase their exposure in EMEA (Europe Middle East and Africa). The idea was that I would design an all-singing, all-dancing presentation/pitch and deliver it to various organisations on their behalf. During a meeting with their Board, they asked whether I would mind (for the purposes of this presentation) acting as if I was a member of their senior team rather than as a consultancy. I agreed and they asked me whether a corporate title would help. Eventually, we agreed on Business Development Director and they even printed a few hundred business cards with my name a title on them.
I contrasted this with a similar scenario which presented itself here in the United Kingdom. A relatively small company asked me to help them to break into new markets.There were also specific clients which they had tried to attract but which they had been unable to “hook”. The owner of the business and I agreed that the sales pitch which I had arranged with a major company would be led by me and that he and two of his senior staff would also attend the pitch but more as corporate “ballast”. Once again, we agreed that I would present as his company’s “pretend” Sales Director.
A couple of days later, slides, handouts plus the script had been completed and I was ready to go. Then the phone rang with a rather frantic company owner on the line. ” You can’t call yourself “Sales Director” because, according to my advisor, there are legal implications. You’ll have to think of another title or present as Chief Executive of your own company.”
That is the British attitude. Not positive motivation but “fear” motivation.
The owner of the British company was being advised by an accountant who used to be a bank manager and a small-business specialist. Rules, legislation and regulations were more important than pulling-in business. The British Way.
He was also one of those people who believed that anything to do with “sales” , by definition, was dodgy. He also felt that he should be involved because he had all the figures at his fingertips. An accountant-bank manager attempting a sales pitch! THE nightmare scenario.
The company owner has still not realised that his “adviser” will do everything to ensure that his company remains small, otherwise the adviser will be out of a job and if the company did become big, he would be stranded well above his personal level of incompetence.
I politely told them that they should perhaps consider making the presentation without me and handed-over all the marketing material that we’d prepared.
To cut a long story short – they blew it and will carry-on blowing it until they rethink their attitude to business.
The banker/accountant had advised the company owner that if he agreed to me using the title “Director”, I might be able to lay some sort of monetary claim against his business and that it was “dishonest” to allow me to call myself something that I wasn’t.(The fact that the title “Sales Director” effectively demoted me did not occur to him). Ugly self-interest, an accountant’s caution and total lack of business “nouse” had blown a potential £30 million deal.
Here in the UK we are afraid of success and waste too much time considering what could go wrong, not what could go right and we have too many advisers. I have a relative who always did everything that his accountant told him not to do. He retired at the age of 40 with £7 million cash in the bank.
We “make do” and instead of getting something 90% right and launching it, we wait until it is 100% right, by which time we’ve missed the bus because someone else has not-only launched but stolen all the clients.
The company owner and his accountant above had gone into their presentation without the proper preparation and screwed-up the whole thing and forgot the most important thing – again very British. They forgot to ask for the business! Their pitch was amateurish because instead or preparing , they “made-do”. They thought that they could muddle through.
The Brits have a Heath-Robinson attitude in a Heath-Robinson society. We muddle through and invoke what is laughably called the “Dunkirk spirit”.
Currently, the country is languishing under a blanket of snow and inevitably, the media are hunting for human-interest stories. Stories abut how we are managing and once again “making do” because that is what makes the nation happy.
Roads, airports and railways are struggling because they “made do” in their preparation.
Our FIFA bid for the 2018 World Cup relied on the oratory of Beckham – for Christ’s sake! We made-do once again because we did not realise that the FIFA decision had been made months ago!
Our media likes to expose bribery scandals which upset our delicate British sensibilities so here’s another lesson:
I used to be a director of a company called American Marine and we used to carry out expensive refits on yachts in the Med. To everyone’s surprise, we managed to secure most of the business – from Nice, Antibes and Cannes to anywhere you care to mention on the Italian Med coast. How did we do it?
We would ask the skippers of any yachts which were tendering-out refit business to let us know what the highest quote that they had received was. Once we had the information, we made sure that our own figures well substantially above the highest other quote. Why did we do that?
Because we knew that the skipper of the yacht would demand 10% of the quote (in cash) as commission. Needless to say, we would always make sure that there was an additional amount paid over to him as well.
The higher the quote, the higher the skipper’s commission – except when the skipper was also the owner!
If I sold a yacht to an Arab Prince, I knew that his “advisor” would need a commission. That consisted of a handshake and an envelope full of cash before any deal was signed. Because of our British hard-wired gene-level suspicious nature, we in Britain believe that all Arabs are crooks. I have always found them to be extremely honourable. The real bandits are the suited ones in Europe who shake your hand and congratulate you on a wonderful presentation.
When I was Head of Broker Division at Citibank, I would talk to brokers and offer them ridiculous amounts of commission in return for them placing their clients’ money with us. I could erode a profit margin like no-one else! However, I made sure that there was still a profit and with the volumes that my over-generosity (bribes) generated, I was not given as much trouble by my CEO as I probably deserved.
So, we should stop trying to “make do” and always play fair and derive satisfaction from the belief that although we don’t win, at least we lost honourably.
As far as the FIFA bid for the 2018 World Cup is concerned, we should have done what most other countries would have done. We should have approached each committee member and asked him what we needed to do to be able to secure his vote. The answer would have been simple – money.
What did we do? We sent an ex-England footballer, a new Prime Minister that no-one outside London is particularly aware of and a grandson of our Queen!
So, the Queen couldn’t be bothered to turn up, the heir to the throne couldn’t be bothered, so we sent the grandson. OK, (on paper) he’s nominal President of the FA but he has never actually either played football or been interested in it – and they know it. You cannot fake passion about your product – unless you are a pro. William is a rank amateur.
We sent William because we are in love with our Royal family and imagine that everyone else is. They don’t care about our Royals any more than we care about the Dutch or Scandinavian ones.
David Beckham is a fine-looking young man but in spite of voice-coaching and presentation-training, he is not a presenter. This was a sales pitch which impressed no-one but fellow Brits.
David “Hey look at me I can talk wthout notes” Cameron’s spiel impressed the British media but it was not a sales pitch – it was politico-bullshit. He spoke without notes (wow). That may impress fat Tory ladies on a Conference front row but is not for the jaded palettes of Sepp Blatter and the rest of the football Illuminati. What they saw in Cameron’s noteless “trick” was not an impressive orator but a young Prime Minister who could not be arsed to prepare properly.
Boris Johnson would have made a better fist of the whole thing. Where was he? Either in the audience or munching canapes at a reception.
The FIFA bandits did not want to be entertained by Cameron, Wills and Becks (The Three Amigos). They wanted bucks transferred to their nominee companies in Liechtenstein. What did we do? We entertained them and were happy to be told how well our presentation was received.
We were suckered.
Now it transpires that we managed TWO votes out of twenty-two and one of those was the British vote.
I shall repeat that the decision was not dependant on the presentation. As Sun Tzu said over 2500 years ago “Every battle is won before it is even fought.” When you go in to pitch for any sort of business, it should already be in your pocket. The presentation is the Coda not the Exposition.
By the time Cameron, Beckham and William had entertained the FIFA committe, they were nothing more the “post-deal” cabaret. The battle had already been fought and won. It is unbelievable that they actually believed that such a major decision was going to be based on three amateurish performances by a footballer, a politician and a prince. They had missed the battle.
We “made do” and once again emerged as the gallant losers.
They say that a silver medal merely indicates the first of the losers. We weren’t really even among the losers so we must never ever again send amateurs to do a professional’s job.
Let the recriminations begin. (By the way, it was not the fault of the media).