Part 3 - Tips for Israelis Working with UK Businesses
This is the third and final post of a three-parter covering UK-Israeli business perspectives. The two previous posts covered the thoughts and feelings Israeli's had when working with UK business. Now from my own experiences dealing with Israeli businesses and start-ups over the past six years I'd like to share my own recommendations on how to better approach UK business. There are some key "Do and Don't" recommendations, but also the more subtle aspects of shifting mentality and mannerisms. I hope you find it to be useful.
Something I noticed during my time in Israel and from Start-Up pitches over the years is the presentation style. For some reason, many people lead with telling the story about their team, and then talking about the product or start-up they've built.
There are two points to consider when doing a Start-Up pitch in this order. Firstly, (and I speak broadly), UK people tend to be interested in the product before the people. We want to know that as we sit listening to a pitch, it is something that solves a problem we face, or a topic that is personally interesting. Then we are engaged, continuing to listen and wanting to hear more - especially if we want that type of solution. By opening with a story about where your team heralds from, you essentially switch off the attention of your audience. Yes, you've got many PhD researchers, and yes, the CEO is someone who has had two successful start-ups before. Very impressive, but don't open your pitch with it. Tell me you're going to make my job easier or save me money. Then tell me how you'll do that. Finally, close with a few moments saying who your team is - just moments - which leads to the second point.
There is an expression in English - 'Blowing your own trumpet'. The meaning is easy to understand but the nomenclature and why and when it is used is much more important. Typically it is used by one person, to another, when the third person they are both watching is being overly boastful: too proud, 'full of himself', bragging. There are exceptions but normally in the weird mess that is British culture this is considered a bad thing. It is impolite to stand on a podium and shout to the world about 'how great you are'. For various reasons, it is regarded as rude.
I know first hand, thanks to my secondment in Israel that this is a normal behaviour in Israel and I completely understand. In British culture though it is not, and you can quickly lose the attention or focus of your audience by being too 'full of yourself'. The Cambridge Dictionary sums up the meaning of this second expression very well:
Full of yourself: Thinking that you are very important in a way that annoys other people.
So, don't lead with the tale of your team and when closing the pitch, be brief on your accomplishments. With UK clients, less is more.
I met with a representative from a Bank in Tel Aviv and explained this whole concept to her. Her response: "Why would you want to know the product first? The people are everything!". Cultural differences!
Don't ever skip the Pleasantries
I've had many, many meetings with Start-Ups where they sit down and immediately switch into high gear and start talking business or sales. One example stands out in particular where I sat down at an open area at an Expo, the guy clearly saw where I worked on my badge and sat down with me pretty much uninvited and began to pitch himself. No manners on asking whether they could sit, nor asking how I was, how was my day? If you're going to blast a pseudo-one-sided conversation at me, a coffee wouldn't go amiss...
Every time I've had this approach made (regardless of whether it is 'normal' in Israel) it comes across as rude, callous and unprofessional to British businessmen. We can sense within ten seconds whether you're actually there to enjoy the conference like the rest of us, or if you just see $ signs when you look at us. If you're trying to get us to open up and talk it is probably one of the worst things you can do - a massive turn-off.
Instead, what I promoted heavily in Tel Aviv was the concept of 'being British about it'. Yes, our mannerisms and weird societal concepts seem pointless or that they waste time before 'getting down to business' - but they make us more comfortable. The discussion starts as a pleasantry rather than an upfront attack trying to work out who we are connected to and how much influence we have in a business.
There are many advantages to the pleasantries. If you invite us out for a coffee or something similar then actually let us enjoy the coffee. Chat casually about the business ecosystem, troubles, challenges and make discussion. Don't try to straight-up sell to us, it rarely works. What you need to do is make us feel at ease so we are more willing to divulge information and open up. If you want to 'pitch' yourself or your product, make it almost invisible. When relevant, casually drop in a subtle hint that you have a solution for the business problem being discussed. Maybe the Brit will bite and ask more questions, and maybe he won't. The point is you want him leaving that coffee table thinking positively about you. Enjoyment leads to memories, and if he remembers you well then that 10 seconds of product pitch will stay with him too. Due to him being relaxed and volunteering his business card to you, you are in a position to give him yours and now he can chase you up if he is interested, rather than the opposite 'chasing' method I've covered in my last two blog posts.
Remember, don't turn things sharply to business at any point. It makes us 'aware' that it is a sales tactic and we will quickly become uninterested or feel offended that this was the 'premise' for the coffee or beer in our hands.
The greatest benefit to engaging in these types of relaxed and open discussions in British business isn't even for you - it's for your friends, partners and colleagues back in Israel. If Brits are relaxed and open up about their difficulties or problems then even if those problems are not something you can help with your friend's Start-Up might. Then you're in a position to say to your Start-Up friends:
The Cyber guy from Verizon wasn't really the sort of person who would have a use for my product right now, but he has a problem that yours is ideal for.
Then your friend can (gently) approach the 'Cyber guy from Verizon' knowing that his services may well be desired. Of course, taking all of the other points in these posts into consideration so as not to ruin the opportunity.
The best part is that the friend you referred will remember you, and if he carries himself in the same way you did amongst UK businesspeople, when he finds a potential customer for you, he'll tell you. Another British saying is relevant: "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours".
I've noticed that Israeli's who grew up in the West tend to have a good grasp of this concept, so if you're native to Israel you can ask a 'Westernised' friend to practice the 'bar banter' with you and help you improve. As you'll read at the end, the bar is very useful in British business.
Where are you staying?
On two separate visits to Tel Aviv I have been asked the question; "Where are you staying?". Both times I was busy and unable to meet with the sales guy so they decided to try and find a way of catching me in my spare time. When you break it down to a matter of fact, yes, knowing where I am staying may or may not make it easy for a sales person to come visit me. However, British people do not like to give away where they are staying and find it extremely discomforting, particularly if they are concerned the sales person may tell other sales people. I have fair grounds for this concern - each time I've been to Tel Aviv, once one rep from a company knows I am there they somehow all know. This is before I've posted anything on social media about the visit, and some of them have never heard of me before they send the message. Very unsettling.
If I had told these people where I was staying I would not have put it past them to arrive at the hotel and ask the concierge which room I was in, come up and begin knocking on the door. Asking something as personal as 'which hotel are you staying at?' conveys your determination but it also sends very unnerving signals to Brits.
If you continue to try and get a face-to-face meeting with no luck, offer telepresence instead. Face to face is not a requirement for business just because we are in the same city. This is true in London, too.
Being too Determined
As I've mentioned in the previous posts, Israeli sales techniques can come across as aggressive. Determination is good, but there it can easily be taken too far (especially with the 'Where are you staying?' aspect). Even trying to regularly check in with us, poking on social media such as LinkedIn or sending chaser emails, phone calls, anything like that comes across as annoying. If we are not interested, we're not interested, and if we are interested then we will contact you back at some point - we get busy too!
All that sending chasers does is remind us you exist but for all the wrong reasons. In our minds you become an annoyance rather than an opportunity. Be patient. If we don't get back to you, then there was no sales opportunity and we were just using our 'British Mask' to not disappoint you.
Have a Drink With Us
As I wrote in Part 2, the people I spoke to regarded the Israeli's as not interested in drinks. Many people may disagree with me that a lot of British business happens at Bars, but I believe it to have a strong element of truth behind it.
Where does essentially every London businessman go at 5pm every other day of the week? The Pub. Most British people enjoy a drink and in London bars you will find the highest concentration of potential clients possible. It gets better too, because most of them are one or two pints down (especially on a Friday) and so their 'British guard' will be lowered. They're relaxed and willing to talk. At popular bars you will have hundreds of potential leads standing outside the pub smoking and/or drinking. See someone who looks 'Cyber'? Casually and politely offer them a cigarette - see if anything happens. All the points I've made above come into play, too.
Perhaps you're there with an existing client. They may bring their friends from another company who might message their friends to come join you and so on. Everyone introduces themselves to each other and suddenly your network has grown that much larger.
The Israeli's I interviewed told me that 'drinking' as a concept isn't really that big of a deal and most people will choose to go home over a pub trip or free drinks at the end of an Expo. I encourage you to stay for the drinks. Enjoy them and talk to people. You can get more connections and honesty from people in that final 'happy hour' than you will have done for the rest of the day.
That's the end of the three-part post. I've enjoyed writing these and reflecting on the small things I've picked up on over the years. It's nice to finally have them written down in a place I can refer people to. I hope you found my ramblings interesting and that they are of use to you.
The content of this article is personal with thoughts, anecdotes and observations. They do not reflect the position or view of my employer.