You have been asked to head an international team from your company – spanning five regional offices – to pitch for a massive multi-cultural account worth millions. Do you react:
Your first reaction could well be unfettered enthusiasm for the task ahead. But most people’s experience of working with their colleagues from overseas – many of whom they have probably never met – is more like:
Pitching is hard enough when you’re trying to run it from one office, for one client, with a team of people who speak the same language, and who work in the same building. It is a million miles more fraught when run over multiple markets, across myriad time zones, with teams of people with different agendas, profit and loss responsibilities and cultural mores.
When pitching in a team made up of people from different nationalities, it is beneficial to understand the behaviour that will get your team acting as one, rather than a loose federation of individuals whose respective home countries may have been at loggerheads for centuries. International pitching means more than having someone show up for your team in order to read the Powerpoint slides in a foreign accent.
I’m still haunted by a pitch I was involved in many years ago for a global tyre manufacturer. The agency had a cast of thousands (well, at least 10 people representing the major markets). We hadn’t met in person until the morning of the pitch. The London team were delayed due to signal problems on the Eurostar which meant no time for a full rehearsal. We entered what, in my memory, was the biggest boardroom I had ever seen and scattered ourselves around the table. Another cast of thousands sat opposite us on the client side.
Our pitch leader stood up and waxed lyrical about the team. This was no ordinary team. This was a truly global team – a seamless group of experts who regularly worked on cross-border programmes. This was, “a network that works.”
“And now”, he said, “to explain that further, I’d like to hand over to Sandrine from the Paris office.”
“I’m Claudette” said ‘Sandrine.’
Perhaps that wasn’t the only reason we lost that pitch, but it felt like it at the time.
You can get a long way to achieving international pitch Nirvana by remembering a few, very fundamental principles.
- We respond quicker and better for people we know. Even if it is the least you do, make sure all your pitching specialists or new business directors sit down to break bread with each other regularly. The simple act of spending an evening talking, – about anything but business – over a few drinks will multiply your inter-office cooperation quotient by a thousand. This is very handy when you pick up the phone and need information and help at short notice. Think that’s obvious? When was the last time you had a drink or dinner with your counterpart in Frankfurt, Bangkok, Adelaide or Amsterdam? Why should they move Heaven and Earth for you?
- Don’t be arrogant. Speaking English with an unusual accent doesn’t mean you’re any less intelligent.
- Show respect. Country size does not equal office size.
- Appoint a benign dictator who is in overall charge of the pitch effort. This person must be capable of differentiating between bullshit and brilliance in 37 different languages.
- Get the most senior management to buy in immediately, at each office within your network, in order to mobilize the necessary resources early and effectively.
- Design and distribute simple templates so you streamline the way information is fed in to the central office team. Standardise how information or content is to be reported. Make it easy for all offices to deliver what is needed efficiently.
- Allocate reasonable budgets to make participation affordable and practical.
- Be crystal clear about roles and who is expected to do what and with whom.
- Be ruthless with everyone’s diary – especially the top people. They must be flown in 36 – 48 hours before the pitch so they can rehearse together and get the chemistry going.
- Give responsible feedback on the pitch during and after it. Often, once the pitch is made, that’s the last your Milan office hears about it until they discover eight months later that you won it but sadly there wasn’t any budget for their market…
- Thank everyone
And, if in the heat of presenting someone gets your name wrong, just go with it. Chances are, the only person who notices or cares is you.
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