Roger Proctor – An Inquisitive Approach

Roger founded P+S in 1979 and has continued to lead its transformation ever since. Under his leadership, the business has grown from 2 people to more than 70, plus a network of freelance talent, and has won a global portfolio of clients such as Panasonic, National Grid, Saudi Arabian Airlines, AXA Wealth, Mini and BMW. Passionate about the power of creativity to make positive change, Roger is heavily involved in strengthening the links between the creative industries and education.

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Mike: [00:00:00] Hey everybody, welcome back to in the trenches with Michael King where we talk with business owners, leaders, and executives about the lessons they've learned while fighting in the trenches of the business battlefield. I am Michael King

[00:00:22] I am a crazy, fierce reader. I've been reading between 20 and 30 books a year for the last 10 or 11 years now. And a question that people often ask me is, what's the most impactful book you've ever read? And without hesitation and without pause, I can say that it's the seven habits of highly effective people.

[00:00:41] Why is that? The seven habits of highly effective people is an amazing tool for pointing out. The opportunities that you have to grow and become a better person. For me, when I read that book, I felt remarkably uncomfortable because there were maybe 58 different ways in in those chapters that I realized I needed to grow, and I needed to grow quickly.

[00:01:07] One of the most important of the principles in that book, for me anyway, was the concept that you should first seek to understand others. And then seek for them to understand you. This was particularly impactful for me because for a big portion of my life up to that point, I recognized that I would go into conversations wanting other people to hear me and understand my position, my opinion, and my take on whatever it was we were talking about.

[00:01:35] I assumed out of the gate that I knew the answer and I assumed out of the gate that other people needed to hear what I had to say. The problem was. I missed a lot

[00:01:44] Roger: [00:01:44] there.

[00:01:46] Mike: [00:01:46] Nine times out of 10 I was probably wrong about anyone, if not all of the assumptions I had made and that that caused me to be. Not all I could be in relationships.

[00:01:57] It caused people to not like me as much and probably to not trust me as much as they maybe could have otherwise done. So, this was an amazing chapter for personal growth and realizing that, you know, shut up, listen process. And then talk. This is particularly important in sales is I've learned over the years, a lot of times when we have sales meetings with prospects, we go in assuming that we know what their problem is and that we have the solution to fix it, but maybe that's not the case all the time.

[00:02:29] Maybe even if it is the case, we should still give people the opportunity to be heard and get their thoughts in their fears and their opinions across before we jump in. A lot of times people trust you more when they feel like you're listening to them. And trust is everything with sales. Today I'm talking with my friend Roger Proctor.

[00:02:51] Roger had a meeting through an interesting set of events with a chic from Saudi Arabia who just happened to be the president of the largest bank in Saudi Arabia. Roger's in marketing and branding, and when he got in front of the Sheik, he. Started out kind of like I had done for so many years, assuming that the shake had a particular level of knowledge in a particular set of problems and needed a particular solution set that Roger had to offer.

[00:03:18] And just a few minutes into the conversation, Roger recognized that. He had grossly miscalculated why the Sheikh was there, what the SHEEX experience with marketing and branding was, and had to pivot pretty quick. So today we're going to talk about the importance of listening. First, how to ask amazing open-ended questions, how to be a better listener, and ultimately how to foster better relationships.

[00:03:44] Without further ado, here is my conversation with Roger Proctor. Roger, thanks for joining us

[00:03:49] Roger: [00:03:49] today. It's a

[00:03:51] Mike: [00:03:51] pleasure. So, Roger, you were telling me about a story where a few years ago you had a meeting, a pretty high-profile meeting, a sales meeting with the Sheik of the largest bank in Saudi Arabia, and the meeting didn't go so well.

[00:04:06] What happened?

[00:04:08] Roger: [00:04:08] Well, it was a, it was a great opportunity. It's about 20 years ago. And we had the opportunities to present to the head of the family who, the largest bank in Saudi Arabia. he was a shake and, we were invited to go to a very nice address in Mayfair in London. And we turned up at this, of this meeting.

[00:04:31] And I made the mistake really of just launching into a presentation, because I hadn't spent any time up front. I was making assumptions about this person's knowledge of branding and identity and communications, because actually he was. It's quite intriguing. It was actually very quiet, to start with.

[00:04:57] So it was almost like an invitation to launch. But in fact, actually what I realized afterwards is that I had made a series of pretty basic assumptions around that knowledge and understanding of brands and the importance of brand and identity. And so, I. Was talking in incredibly simplistic terms in a way that illustrated that one.

[00:05:24] I didn't, I haven't taken the time to understand their level of knowledge, but also, I hadn't also taken the time to torch them really first to find out what, what their command of, English was. And so I was talking very, as I say, embrace simplistic terms until he turned around in a very elegant and sophisticated manner and spoke to me in perfect English and indicates to me that his level of knowledge of what I was talking about was incredibly sophisticated and way above where I had pitch it.

[00:05:55] And it was hugely embarrassing really, because no, I only had, I made some fundamental mistakes and how I was addressing him, but it was also to a certain extent rather than insults, if you like, in terms of my understanding and perception. And so. I kind of drew by the way we won the work, which was great.

[00:06:20] It was, it was after a lot of backtracking, and it had also taught me some valuable lessons, really about, listening and communication, but also in a wider sense also. For working, for instance, in this particular case out in the middle East, to the ability to, gain cultural understanding and indeed empathy as well in terms of my communications with people.

[00:06:49] And I think going back, having the ability to go in and ask open ended questions and to draw people out and for them to. You know, explain that problems, their issues that fairs their ambitions and so forth in a way that is engaging to them and actually means that probably they end up spending 90% of the time talking and you actually only spend about 10% of the time.

[00:07:15] Well, I think,

[00:07:16] Mike: [00:07:16] let's, let's go back a little bit. I want to give a little bit more context to understand kind of how the whole thing came to be. First is I think I've seen myself doing exactly what you're talking about in sales meetings. And so how did you find out that the family wanted you to do a presentation?

[00:07:35] What was the Genesis of the lead? How did it come in?

[00:07:38] Roger: [00:07:38] Well, the ask was, we'd actually been out to the middle East and we had. Max, various people associated with the bank, I mean, one or two people. And it was suggested to us that the shape was actually in London. What we might want to do is go and meet, you know, it was a, a kind of part of the approval process, I suppose.

[00:08:04] But to go and meet and to present our, credentials now. He's obviously a very difficult guy to get to go and see. And we had, we had made contacts in the, in the middle East with someone who, well, it's a pretty high level. And so, we had a, we had the benefit of a, a sort of using an English expression, sort of a bit of a shoe in if you like.

[00:08:28] We were, that we, we'd already sort of managed to gain the audience, if you like. And I think a lot of things out in that particular culture, right? She's done on the basis of relationships and trust. the, if someone recommends you to someone else, then actually they take that very seriously. Whereas.

[00:08:49] If you just go in on the basis that you know you've got something great; everybody should listen because it's so great. Then you know you're not going to get anywhere very fast. So, it's actually about taking the time to build relationships and taking the time. Two, allow people to recommend you cross.

[00:09:10] What kind of stuff? You know? It's a way of getting new business really.

[00:09:15] Mike: [00:09:15] So you had. Some existing relationships with somebody in the middle East. And through that you found out that this bank,

[00:09:24] Roger: [00:09:24] the reason that we actually had this contact is because one of our guys lives in this village down in, on the South coast, the UK, and he just happened to go into a pub one evening.

[00:09:37] And he met the guy who just come back from Saudi Arabia and they just got talking and it turned out that he was a water and the invited back for, for a whiskey after the pub. And the guy said, you know this, this stuff's really interesting. You want to talk to this friend of mine called Charlie? Okay. And Charlie was this guy who'd been out in the middle East out the kingdom since 1970.

[00:10:00] Anyway, we sent some stuff off to Charlie and Charlie called out and said,  I think this could really be interesting, so why don't you get on a plane and come over? Anyway, we got on a plane, went over, and it was an interesting trip where we got nothing out of it, but the one person you didn't manage to see was agreed.

[00:10:19] contest them and agreed to meet us in the Ritz in London for breakfast, and we had half an hour and, anyway, within the AF an hour, astronomy, bacon, and egg and so forth. We got our first project down there, which was a very big project. From lax. We started the small beginnings and then we got passed on by to shoot the shape actually, bizarrely by his Swiss bank.

[00:10:49] That's another story. Know,

[00:10:52] Mike: [00:10:52] so you get in your, your whole in with the largest bank in Saudi Arabia, that whole thing started at a pub. Yeah. In the U K and just through, I know a guy who recommended, who gave a referral Swiss bank. That almost sounds like something from a movie, to be honest. So, we started a pub and then there's some connection with the Swiss bank, and next thing you know, you've got a sales meeting with the, the shake that runs the largest bank in Saudi Arabia.

[00:11:22] What's the timeframe that all this happens in.

[00:11:24] Roger: [00:11:24] I suppose it probably over nine months. I mean, it was, it took a bit of time to get going, but I mean, you know, there were lots of sort of kind of adventures in between. And over the 20 years there've been plenty of adventures because it's a remarkable, it's a remarkable place.

[00:11:43] I mean, you know, it's full of really interesting people doing amazing things and getting sort of incredible opportunities, but it's. I think a lot of people fail in that market, actually, and I think this applies to lots of different markets around the world. We work in Japan and across Europe and North America and Africa and all over the place, and the, and I think the, one of the things that I've often wondered why we've managed to do this, and.

[00:12:17] I think it's because we have a fundamental, well certainly the people involved in this sort of fundamental interest in other people and other cultures, and. It's very often when you go into a new business situation, you spend your time. You know, a lot of people spend the time sort of trying to lay out their wares and talk and really over-communicate.

[00:12:44] Whereas in fact, quite often if you, Steven start off the meeting completely off subject, but in a way that is that draw. People out of themselves and to, for them to sort of explain themselves and to feel heard. Then I think it becomes not only a much more productive meeting, but it's also been. Cool. Is that what your goal is?

[00:13:10] The beginnings of a relationship and isn't just a relationship on, but based on sort of, you know, I want to sell you something is based on, I'm a person, you're a person. We've all will have an orange stories and our own interests and so forth. And I, and I think over the years, certainly when, if I use the leases.

[00:13:33] culturally interested. so many people make so many assumptions about, for instance, the culture there that in fact, actually so often people are just desperate to be heard. if you see what I mean, and that, those kinds of conversations. Really fantastic relationships. You know, we've got clients that go back over 20 years.

[00:13:56] I mean, they are our first clients. we actually tried aye nine years ago, maybe a little longer. We actually decided to, so different circumstances to do, to withdraw from the market. You know, we built quite a reputation. You've probably worked for eight of that sort of top 10 companies. And. They just wouldn't let us go.

[00:14:20] And the emails, and it was incredibly flattering and, make you feel great. You know?  I think it was about, you know, again, this whole thing about the quality of the relationship. And whether it's just something that's national. I think it's just, we've, we found, we found a formula. The kind of works for us, and I don't think it was any great, we didn't devise.

[00:14:50] But I think upon analysis and in retrospect, those are the sort of kind of key things that I've a dentist.

[00:14:58] Mike: [00:14:58] So in the sales presentation, tell me a little bit about. Your approach in a little bit more detail. And you know what, what did that look like? That led to him. And this is what I'm picturing, Roger, I'm picturing, you know, maybe there's a TV or a projector.

[00:15:12] I'm imagining some really comfy chairs that, you know, there's royalties sitting in and you're up there talking, this is what I imagined, and please don't ruin this for me if I'm wrong, but I imagine him like signaling over for one of his assistants and he like whispers in his assistants ear, and then the assistant comes up and tells you.

[00:15:29] Yes. He understands all of this and you've offended him. Could you please get into the detail or something and like it's super awkward? How did that go?

[00:15:40] Roger: [00:15:40] Well, the big TV was right. What happened was we went into this massive room. I mean, it was kind of, I don't know how big it was, but it was huge. And then the end was the biggest TV I've ever seen in my life.

[00:15:55] And. He was just sitting there, and some sandwiches were sort of presented and he was there with the advisor from the bank, and he was just watched on TV. I don't know what was on TV, you know, kind of probably neighbors. It was some soap opera. so, we didn't really know what to do. You know, am I supposed to start presenting?

[00:16:17] Am I supposed to. Sit and have a chat. What I've got to eat the sandwiches, what am I supposed to do with it?

[00:16:23] Mike: [00:16:23] And then we'll wait till this episode of friends is over that he's watching or something like that.

[00:16:28] Roger: [00:16:28] So basically, we will laugh, floundering as to know what to do, where we supposed to be watching that, watching your friends.

[00:16:37] Where are we supposed to be talking about the sandwiches? What were we supposed to be doing anyway? After about. Half an hour. It felt like it probably wasn't as long as that  we were off, go into this dining room and in, there was this massive sort of Georgian table with, you know, dining chairs and there was cabinet, etc.

[00:17:00] You know, we've just been invited to. Present, and this was the days before took projectors along. So, let me say this, for 25 years, I have a portfolio and usual sort of stuff because we haven't actually said anything. I started talking, as I said it really basic terms, because I was, I suppose in a way, I was also trying to determine what level of knowledge was, but in fact, actually.

[00:17:30] I got through the whole presentation and it was only afterwards and following the conversation. I mean, he, he started, started talking and he started talking about some of the issues and what I quickly realized just through what he was saying. His level of knowledge for soccer. I made the assumption of, and it was, that's when it became, if you like embarrassed, and then there was backtracking and there was an enabled me then to actually talk in a much more sophisticated way.

[00:18:07] It wasn't, there was no one confronting me with my stupid city, if you see what I mean. In terms of, yes, they confronted me with my stupidity, and they weren't letting me realize very gently, but without being rude. People in Saudi Arabia are all incredibly polite,

[00:18:27] good to know. They were nice to me. So

[00:18:30] Mike: [00:18:30] going forward, coming out of this, how did you change your approach? Talk to me in a kind of a tactical way or strategically, how have you changed your approach in the way that you take on big sales opportunities and then what? How does that translate into it from a tactical sense?

[00:18:47] Roger: [00:18:47] I think one of the things that we run up from, because you're trying to find out as much about the purse and the companies we can right at the beginning and looking at competitors. I mean going in with some kind of opinion or analysis of the kind of issues that they might be facing in terms of their competition and the sort of market situations.

[00:19:10] It gives you a basis. Over conversation. Also finding out about them, who they are, their backgrounds, their history, et cetera, is also incredibly useful because actually walk them that. Then, there's the ability to ask those open questions. You won't know everything. You'll never go in. And also, there's a danger is how much research you've done.

[00:19:36] Join the wrong conclusion, for instance, perhaps from what it is you found out because you're not, you're not necessarily an expert in that particular market. Yeah. Okay. Again, it, it just goes back to giving you that ability to ask the open questions that will allow them two, give you everything they've, they've gone now, most people.

[00:20:01] Actually just want to be heard. They just want the opportunity to like get it off their chest. And as I say, some of the best meetings I've ever had been, I've said 10%. Top 10% of the time, and they've taught 90% of the time. And sometimes we've, we'd come out of meetings and we've, we've done the deal and we've not shown any work at all simply because they have fell bonded with us.

[00:20:30] They felt that we understand their issues and their problems and their challenges, and that we have the ability and this understanding to actually take it. Take it to the next stage. And it's about, you know, so much of it is around about trust. You know? And very often when you go  to see prospects, prospective clients, they've got quite often, they face some pretty big challenges.

[00:20:55] And they need to know that not only can you understand, but you're on their side and you're actually there to make them deliver solutions but make them look good. And. So often people are in positions where actually they're very challenged. They wouldn't be the best places. They wouldn't be talking to you unless they just wasted a couple of hours out of their day.

[00:21:17] Mike: [00:21:17] One of the things that I've learned over the years, Roger, is whether it's a sales meeting, whether it's a follow-up meeting with a, an existing client, maybe it's a feedback meeting with somebody on my team, like, you know, an employee or something like that. Whatever the circumstances, I really, really try my best to always lead with what's on your mind.

[00:21:37] What's keeping you up at night? How are things going? And giving them that opportunity cause they're going to tell you, they're going to tell you what's going on in their life. But what I've, what I've learned the hard way a lot of times is when you don't lead with that, when you jump right into whatever the business at hand is.

[00:21:53] They're not listening to what that is. They're not thinking about what that is. They're not listening to what you say because they've got this thing on their mind, this problem or this issue. And you really can't get into the meta things until people have had that opportunity to be heard. And, and that's been a game changer for me.

[00:22:11] From just a leadership perspective, from a sales perspective, just as a person perspective of giving people that opportunity to share with me what's on their mind before I start to get into, again, the business at hand. So, I think that's really, really wise observation you've made there. Do you have any go-to questions?

[00:22:30] For the eliciting those kinds of things from people. For example, one of the ones that I like to ask is what's keeping you awake at night right now? What's something that's really worrying you, whether it's from a personal or a business perspective? That seems to be a good one for me to get people to open up, but do you have anything that's similar to that.

[00:22:47] Roger: [00:22:47]  I mean, that's, I do offer those. I do ask that question, but I think also it happens in various different ways, but it's, it's a good question, but it's also very direct and sometimes people are more subtle than that. And I think that there's a sense of bravado, you know, they kind of, they go,  I'm fine.

[00:23:09] What, why should I, you know, it's almost like, watch it. I'd be awake at night

[00:23:16] on a challenging and, back at you, and that's one could say not the basis of a good relationship. Well, beginnings of a good relationship, but I think it's actually finding ways around that. And. Sometimes your kind of, you go into, I go, and I've been in meetings. The last thing I've sold to them is actually the work I've, you know, you, you just, you go in there and almost sometimes I've looked at the window, so we'll start over there, you know, or you started completely left of field.

[00:23:53] And the reason that I've done that. I suppose on upon analysis, I've never really thought about this before because actually it's first of all about the conversations about who are you. Find out a bit about me and, but I'll ask in these open-ended questions. Oh, it could be around where we are. It could be around their lives.

[00:24:18] It could be around their culture. It could be around an experience that I had back in wherever it was, you know? Could you tell me about that? It actually is still being written after fails and it subtly. Then gets into the whole thing about relationship. Who I am, who are they? You can trust me. And then actually the conversation about the problems and the things that keep them awake at night become more fruitful.

[00:24:53] If you see what I mean? It's a bit like getting to the, going to the psychiatrist very often. Whenever I've been to a psychologist, psychiatrist, you end up talking about things that you just never thought you were going to talk about, and they're linked in some way. It's very subtle and they eventually to the nub of the issues, but in the process, you gain trust, you gain respect, you've gained knowledge, etc.

[00:25:25] It's a long-winded way of saying that going direct and saying what's keeping you awake at night is, it's a good way. Necessarily always the right way, and I think sometimes you have to go left to fail.

[00:25:39] Mike: [00:25:39] That's definitely an opportunity for me to get better. I know that I'm a very direct person and that's not the first time I've been told,  I see what you're doing.

[00:25:47] Maybe do a softer approach to it, so this, this is really good

[00:25:53] Roger: [00:25:53] English.

[00:25:57] Mike: [00:25:57] but that's something that's a problem for me is in somewhere I need to develop is I'm the one that's sitting there. And I think it's because of my background is as an engineer, and I'm a very direct, straightforward person, is, you know, I, I jump into it, you know, Hey, let's, let's go. And it's like slow down just a little bit.

[00:26:16] I was, yeah.

[00:26:18] Roger: [00:26:18] I mean, you know, we in the military, the training is, tell me when I go on a date, I'll do it. I'll deliver.

[00:26:24] Mike: [00:26:24] That's right. What I'm hearing you say though, is it sounds like it's more of an art than a science on how to do this kind of the best way possible.

[00:26:33] Roger: [00:26:33] Yeah. I mean, I think for some people it can be a science.

[00:26:36] I'm just saying that for me. I'm thinking  take the person who deals it. It was in the middle East. It's more of a, it's actually more of a, for us, it's more of an art. If we just talking about in the middle East here, France, I mean, one of the things that struck me over the years is that. There's an awful lot of misunderstanding around the culture  and I think there is a sense of, of not being listened to, people making sort of judgements, et cetera.

[00:27:07] And I think that, all, I hope.  through the way that we've approached things. We have always gone on, go on in the questioning mind, a, an open mind and an interest that has really starting to get under the skin, all of that, that culture and the society and so forth, which I think is. Actually, greatly appreciate it.

[00:27:36] Mm. That's what I mean about, this, this sort of cultural interest and this openness. And I think it applies where, where, wherever I've been, you know, for instance, in Japan. Across Europe, Africa, and North America. I mean, we talk the same language that way, but you know, there are big differences between us, me being British, you being American, that very big cultural differences that actually, if I just went and impose myself and my culture, if you like, that would go down very badly.

[00:28:09] But if I were to go in with an inquiring mind and be asking questions. Showing that I wanted to understand the nuance.

[00:28:21] Mike: [00:28:21] So just to kind of recap, 90% listening, 10% talking. If you leave a meeting and they say. Wow. These guys really get me, and you've barely spoken. That's a huge win and just really situational awareness about cultural differences and understanding how more about, don't make assumptions about what their needs are and what their fears are, but go in with, with this questioning attitude to understand exactly where they're at and what they need, rather than just launching right into a sales pitch.

[00:28:54] Best approach.

[00:28:59] Roger: [00:28:59] I think if you do, as I was saying, you're actually demonstrating really respect and. People like that. They appreciate it.

[00:29:07] Mike: [00:29:07] So if any of our listeners are the president of a large bank, how can they find you and who else do you serve other than just large Saudi Arabian banks?

[00:29:17] Roger: [00:29:17] While we work, I would say we work around the world.

[00:29:20] We work in over 30 different languages, including Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese, Russian, et

[00:29:27] Mike: [00:29:27] cetera, 30 different languages.

[00:29:31]Roger: [00:29:31] 15 different nationalities that work here. Some of them speak, I'm still in some of the other day and they speak five languages. Six, I'm told six languages. No, I mean, I speak one no, very well, but no, we work for people like Panasonic , the Wells, largest cable manufacturers.

[00:29:52] Yes. As I say, banks, law firms, universities, car companies. All sorts of different people. And basically, you can contact us at www, Dot. UK. It's IRS at the end. Yeah. I'm just going to look at our website and we'll see the kind of things that we, we do. And, I think the. You know, I've been doing this for 40 years, and the really interesting thing about this job has been I've walked into many strange and different places, met many incredible people trying to do.

[00:30:31] Really amazing things, and no two days have ever been the same. There is amazing the sort of similarities between people wherever you go and what they're, what they're, the kind of problems that they face. but also, I never would have thought after 40 years of I ended up, yeah. Where I am, when I first started.

[00:30:54] And that's the one thing that I've realized over the years is being an opportunist is a very, very interesting thing to be. And we have an expression in the UK, which is, if we see an opportunity, we're like a rat up a drainpipe, are then, if you've ever heard that expression,

[00:31:12] Mike: [00:31:12] I don't even know what that means

[00:31:15] Roger: [00:31:15] anyway.

[00:31:17] Expression, follows an opportunity like a rat up a drainpipe. And you know, we've always been opportunities led us to some amazing places and I never would thought I'd ever have gone out to the middle East and spent a lot of time. That makes me some pretty amazing people equally in Japan. And Zambia. U S

[00:31:39] Mike: [00:31:39] Well, thank you very much for sharing your stories today. I really appreciate it.

[00:31:55] Mike: [00:31:55] thanks for joining us today. Please don't forget to subscribe to in the trenches with Michael King on your favorite podcast platform like Apple, Google, or Spotify. Once again, I'm Michael King with KFE Solutions. We'll see you again next week.