I was never particularly skilled at my job because I was too lazy to do much research and not much cop at analysing stuff, which may have been acceptable in certain careers but not when you’re a research analyst.
What’s more, all those numbers and all that technical jargon were really confusing for a history graduate who’d given up maths aged 15 and had spent too many years in Goa sampling the local herbs.
However, despite these gaping holes in my skill set, I still somehow managed to be voted fourth-best analyst in the City in the annual Extel survey. How? Well, I attribute that undeserved success to regular and cleverly-targeted client entertainment.
Now, there are a lot of pin-striped killjoys out there who’ll tell you that client entertainment should no longer be regarded as a key tool when considering how to win friends and influence people in the City. They’ll bang on about how bankers have to be much more professional these days, how expense accounts have been pared back by beleaguered bosses and some may even mention The Bribery Act that, in theory, could put the kybosh on profligate corporate entertainment.
I wouldn’t listen to these comedians: wining and dining clients is still a vital way of getting on in the City. Despite an ever-expanding influx of automaton graduate trainees, banking is a ‘human business’ and humans are much happier doing business with someone they’ve chewed the fat with over steak and chips than some character they’ve only ever seen hosting a PowerPoint presentation. You’re certainly more likely to garner commission and survey votes from a friend than a client because even hard-nosed ‘friends’ feel that it would be rude not to help out a mate. This works.
Since I no longer work in the Square Mile – and, strangely enough, am unlikely to be asked back – I now feel able to disclose the top ten lessons about client entertainment I learnt during my City career that can help you too.
Things may have changed a bit since the good ol’ days when I was gallivanting around Bishopsgate, but I think these tricks are as relevant today as back then:
Unusual Can Be Good
When it comes to corporate entertainment, Ascot, Wimbledon, Six Nations Rugby etc are your bread and butter as there are many clients who like nothing more than getting properly sozzled at these classic sporting events. However, I used to get a lot of kudos by taking (generally younger) clients to events where other City boys were scarce: opening night of a new restaurant; a Verve gig; the Kill Bill premiere and so forth. Other clients heard about my ‘trendy’ and esoteric entertainment and wanted in. My strategy was working.
Use Your Strengths
If you have any club memberships (The Groucho, Shoreditch House, say) or mates who have access to fashion or music biz parties then get your clients along to them… this makes them feel ‘exclusive’ and, of course, your uncool competitors can’t offer them such things no matter how much cash they have.
Don’t Talk Shop
Unless the client wants to; rather, form a relationship beyond two businessmen who want to use each other to further their careers.
Gear The Entertainment To Your Client’s Interests
When you first meet a new client find out what football team he supports, whether he likes cricket or S&M and note this all down in a spreadsheet. Also, make sure you listen to any hints the clients drop about what upcoming events they’d like to see; ask if they’re interested in any you’ll be attending, too. Note and remember.
Note Down All Info, No Matter How Small
Not only can you now ask flattering questions about whether Dipsy the Labradoodle is still crapping on the floor, you’ll avoid the kind of schoolboy errors I made early on in my career.
In 2002, I took 14 clients to Fergus Henderson’s flesh-reliant restaurant St John for a Christmas lunch without telling them I’d pre-ordered a whole roast pig for our consumption. On arriving, I found over half my clients could not indulge due to being either Jewish, Muslim or vegetarian. Whoops.
When one meat-eating joker started devouring the pig’s head sitting on a platter staring at us from one end of the table I could see the disgust on the faces of many of my guests. When another stuck a fag in the pig’s mouth I knew that commission might not be great in 2003. Sadly, I was right.
Timing Is Everything
Find out when your client fills out his or her quarterly internal commission form and make sure you see him then. If they participate in external voting forms, and that’s your bag, then make sure you meet them for a knees-up around April for the Extel voting period and November for Institutional Investor.
Form A Team Of Clients To Take Out
Match up those clients who are bonded by similar interests – a football team, a love of theatre, certain music or even ‘a very active appreciation of the female form’. Seeing several clients at the same time is more fun and very cost and time efficient.
The Client Must Decide Whether To Raise The Naughtiness Level
I found premature suggestions to get naughty can be detrimental to a budding friendship, like when a client I’d invited to Spearmint Rhino informed me he was a born-again Christian. I’ve heard about dodgy brokers offering clients cocaine and trips to the local bordello but don’t go down this road as you could both lose your jobs. Finance is a small world and reputations can be sullied quickly.
Less Can Be More
The tried and tested corporate packages with a catered box at Wimbledon or the cricket are safe, reliable ways of showing clients a damn fine time. But if expense budgets are down you may to have think again. Apply for tickets as soon as they are publicly available and create your own ‘corporate package’. I used to take groups to a suitable restaurant (having booked a table weeks in advance) and then hit Lords or Twickenham, or wherever. You save a few quid and it can be just as much as fun.
Don’t Forget Birthdays
Phone early and be the first to ask the client out on the razzle dazzle to celebrate major events, be it a birthday, the birth of a child – or a divorce. This kind of thing doesn’t half make him or her feel special.
Client entertainment isn’t dead; these days it just has to be done a bit more imaginatively and frugally. Eating, drinking and seeing a show are still vital ways to establish a bond with a customer and gain their trust. Just remember to relax, have a few drinks (but not too many) and always chat to the soon-to-be-friend as an equal, without too much arse-kissing along the way.
Geraint Anderson’s latest novel ‘Just Business’ is out now; twitter @cityboylondon