I had travelled all the way from London to Dubai for that one meeting. All for nothing...
At least that is what I thought at the time...
I’ve had ‘no-shows’ before, but this is the one I’ll never forget because it initiated a series of events that would change my career forever!
I had been working on a key account in Dubai for months - a large bank. Winning this account would be a massive game changer for us.
I used to travel to the Middle East all the time. There were other important targets out there but this one was the trophy account.
Just like most of my peers, I had relentlessly been looking for an entry point into this bastion of local finance.
Eventually, I figured out that the main gatekeeper was a guy called Albert. I can’t remember how many times I met with him during the months before that fateful visit but Albert and I wound up getting along just fine.
Here’s the thing with gatekeepers: It’s hardly as much about you, your product or the company your work for, but it is all about their job security. That’s why you need to win their trust so they can become confident enough to put their precious reputation on the line for you within their organisation.
I eventually won Albert’s trust. He told me that he had gotten his people very excited about my fund and that I would soon be asked to present it to the decision makers.
In fact, less than a week after he gave me this great news over a cup of coffee, Albert called me. I was already back in London.
He said: “Baldwin, I know this is very short notice, but could you come to our office on Wednesday morning to present your fund to the rest of the team?”
This was on a Monday afternoon.
I said “Albert, this is great news! The thing is that I have a trip to Helsinki scheduled for Thursday and Friday. I’m not sure if…"
“Baldwin, it’s important… you really should come!"
And that was it. After all, Albert had ‘stuck his neck out’ for me and there was no way I was going to let him down!
The next evening I was boarding a red-eye flight to Dubai. I’d be there in time for the presentation and still have enough of a window to catch another plane that would get me to Helsinki on time… my life used to be crazy like that!
The flight landed on time and one hour later, I confidently walked into the meeting room where I found Albert hunched down over his laptop.
I knew something was wrong the moment I walked into that room.
Albert looked small.
“Hi there Albert! Long time no see” I said jokingly.
“I just got in from the airport and I’m looking forward to the presentation!”
I could tell that Albert was gathering the courage to tell me the bad news: “Baldwin, there’s a problem… I just found out that the team is attending another presentation in Abu Dhabi…..."
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but on the way back to the airport on that dark sunny Dubai morning in 2007, an idea started gestating in my mind. It would eventually define what I am all about today.
I was obviously frustrated about what had just happened but I wasn’t really angry with Albert. I knew we had both been let down that day.
By the time I was at cruising altitude, flying back to Europe, the irritation started to ebb away. The problem I was working out in my head was much bigger than Albert and all those damned gatekeepers just like him.
I had to figure out how to find an easier passage to the stakeholders! A direct connection that would emancipate any business opportunity from that singular dimension of only one person holding the keys…
Ideally, I needed to turn the table and lure the business out of the bastion rather that wage a debilitating siege to penetrate it.
A crazy idea, but one that sparked an obsession that eventually took shape a few years later. I had no idea of where it would lead, but now that I look back at it all, everything makes sense.
As time went by, I noticed that my prospective clients became more and more distracted. It was like an epidemic and it was increasingly difficult to get ahead with opportunities.
The meetings with prospective investors had this recurring ‘ground hog day’ feeling of having to start over every single time.
Everyone was clearly struggling with all the distractions of a world that just kept getting more noisier and crowded thanks to the internet.
After a while I started to realise that technology wasn’t really the problem - it was the solution!
By now it was 2009. The internet we take for granted today only just taking shape. The first smartphones were coming out and the iPad was probably still a top-secret Apple project.
The insight I had then was that this direct connectivity between individuals, regardless of rank or location was going to break down the barriers that gatekeepers like Albert were trying to protect.
I realised that this was that secret passage I had been looking for.
I worked out a plan…
I set out to build a new website for our business, configured for rich content and more interaction. This turned out to be surprisingly easy...
I started to put our insights online.
That would make it easier to share our information more efficiently...
I wanted to create an online presence that would allow us to share rich content with animated graphs and videos to make it easier and more entertaining for our audience to understand our ideas...
I started publishing a blog, which started to attract a bigger audience of investors...
Then I realised that it was a priority to earn a privileged place in the email inboxes of our readers...
That prompted me to learn how to better communicate ideas.I set out to master the art of creating compelling content...
I studied the art of scriptwriting to figure out how to keep the ongoing attention of an audience...
As I got better at it, it prompted more people to consume and share our information. The media started paying attention to us, they increasingly saw us as a regular source of insights and information...
But most importantly, our content could now effortlessly make it through to those people who used to exist only behind those ‘protective’ walls of the gatekeepers.
I realised that the Albert's of this world became increasingly irrelevant now that everyone could effortlessly access our ideas and insights on demand.
The idea that was originally incepted on that fateful day in Dubai had finally come to fruition.
It caused a fundamental shift in the way I work and think today. It helped me understand one truth that changes everything: It is no longer about who you know, but all about who knows you.
Technology makes this possible. But all the connectivity it provides is worthless unless you understand how to tell stories that get people’s attention.
Storytelling has become one of the most essential business skills to master in a hyper-connected and distracting world. Actually, it always has been important, but now it was totally obvious.
Stories make our messages more contagious.
A great place to start is by getting your elevator pitch right.
I have developed a simple but powerful method to use the power of stories to always make an amazing first impression.
I created a free 20-minute guide to tell you more about it. Make sure to pick up a copy below...