RFP: Diary of an institutional salesman, part 10

This week, Will is selling his stuff in Singapore.

Jeff's nerves got the better of him, and so it's me waiting in the holding pen at the offices of the Singapore Hub of Information Technology. I should be annoyed at Jeff. Typical of him to get sick the day before a beauty parade. But instead of thinking of him as a bastard or a coward, I'm thinking of him as a sucker. Because, Dear Diary, William T Fitzgerald is in his element, and a client win today will surely lead to expanded regional coverage tomorrow.

A win is not guaranteed, however. Quite the opposite. First there's Jeff's preparation work. There was no time for me to do anything. On the plane last night, I tried to read the RFP submission he'd put together, but they were showing 'Transformers 2' and the drinks were free.

Nonetheless, I knew what a salesman needs to know. The mandate is for S$50 million to run European credit for an endowment with a comical acronym. People are still buying this stuff, as if being contrarian were the key to investment, rather than an abandonment of fiduciary duty.

But hey, you're the client. You want 10-year bonds from Greece and Spain? No problem, and if you listen to my pitch, you'll learn that Integrity Asset Management is the firm to handle things. We'll at least lose less of your money than those other players.

The RFP was submitted via Hansens, the consultancy. We got it last month. It was dry then and it's dry now, like a martini, only without the olives. Forty-five scintillating pages about our philosophy, our team and... our track record. Yes, the track record is what counts, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, and this entire month-long effort is a waste of time, because it will inevitably come down to performance.

Which is our bigger problem, never mind Jeff's duffer work on the RFP, because our performance in European credit is another Greek tragedy. Worse: I know for a fact that Integrity's performance is rock-bottom last among those on the short list.

How do I know this? Well, Dear Diary, it's the job of an elite salesman to know such things. Need I say more? Well, then, my incessant flirting with the team secretary at Hansen's, a horse-faced and decidedly dim-witted young lady named Quinella -- where do Hong Kongers get these magical names? Maybe she was conceived after a good night at the Shatin race course yielded results. She faxed me a copy of that single important page from their report (page 107: those guys truly add value to the whole process!).

So thanks to Quinella, I now know that Swiss Heritage's numbers come out top over the past one and three years. Which means we are just here so Hansen's and the client's managers can say they've been thorough.

We've been given a 42-minute slot to sell ourselves and have been told specifically to remember that they are on a tight schedule. I've budgeted the time carefully. First three minutes saying hello and exchanging cards, then my seven minutes to introduce the firm and tee it up for our 'star' fund manager, David Owens, the dullest man they will ever meet.

He flew in from London the day before and essentially locked himself in his room at the Ritz-Carlton. My invites to the bar last night fell on deaf ears, so I'd been forced to drink with Gavin Price, now of Gravitas.

Quite how Gavin managed to get them into this search after just a few weeks with the firm I don't know. Perhaps he and Quinella have a special relationship or something? Well today it's winner takes all and no prize money to place or show.

We're scheduled to go second, so I'm sitting in the pen with my 'frenemies'.  Gavin's up first, so I'm in here with a Eurotrash greaseball from a French bank and the local Singaporean girl from Swiss Heritage with the rather sobering name of Chloris.

Naturally I attempt a bit of small talk with her. Chloris has clearly taken the term 'beauty parade' too literally, sporting an outrageously short skirt and bright red pumps. I wonder if she has any clue that Swiss Heritage can sell itself on the numbers alone, and there's really no need to win over the Singapore Hub of Information Technology geeks with the seductress approach.

I'm partly dismayed, because this sort of thing is the bane of the good salesman. My razzle-dazzle just can't compete with pure sex appeal, not with the band of middle-aged bean counters behind that door.

I'm also dismayed because really, Chloris and Quinella should have swapped names. The fact that Chloris preferred to chitchat with David Owens, crossing and uncrossing her endless legs in his direction, just pisses me off. Somehow I must win this thing. I will beat her.

This is it. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. William T Fitzgerald in his natural environment. This is what I was born to do. The consultant likes each product enough to put it forward on the short-list, so the client probably thinks we're all roughly the same. If it goes badly, a couple of years down the line, they can always blame Hansen's. So my job is to work the softer side, make them realise that Integrity is a firm they can do business with. At this stage, that's the real battle. Well, given our performance record, it's the only battle.

We enter the conference room, two brave warriors ready to die for our cause. For those of you dear readers who have never had the pleasure of tasting the arena that is an asset-management beauty parade, it is the purest form of sales you can get. I'm feeling high on the adrenaline. David is sweating, and I wonder if he's concentrating on this.

That Chloris is sneaky-good. Oh yes she is.

We're told to be quick, they're already behind schedule. Don't bother with the cards, the Hansen's guy tells us. I launch into my spiel -- the usual well-rehearsed ad-libs go down a storm -- and by the time David starts his piece, I know that the mandate is ours to lose. I've briefed him on what Asian clients look for: a consistent track record, a believable process with plenty of quantitative elements (this should be especially true of this bunch of technophiles), humility of the manager in times of mistakes and, most importantly, a phone number in the local time zone.

Forget all the bull about Net Information Ratios and batting averages -- it's too complicated and the client understands that we're just data mining by that stage.

Before I know it, we're being bundled out of the room and Chloris from Swiss Heritage is coming in. Gavin is long gone by this time, so no opportunity to gloat and needle him there. So instead I call Jeff, still on his sick bed, to deliver the good news.

He sounds remarkably upbeat when he answers, which is never good, and my hackles are up. Before I can tell him about my almost-certain success, he announces his news. Jeff is leaving Integrity, going to join a small-but-ambitious Hong Kong hedge fund.

Wow. I am stunned, but immediately realise the implication. If even No-Show Jeff can find a new job, ladies and gentlemen, the merry-go-round is back in full swing.

That realisation became even more obvious the next week, as did the degree of Jeff's mediocrity. His crap RFP had let us down. Hansen's didn't exactly say so, but what else could explain our not winning the Singapore geekathon?