When you sit down for your Christmas meal next week, spare a thought for the sales team of investment banks across the City and Wall Street. Turkey dinners are great, but what if the meal on Christmas Day was your tenth in the last few weeks?
For sales teams, the build up to Christmas is a battle for survival. Planning starts in early autumn; you don’t want to miss out on availability at the best restaurants or private rooms, or – worse still – the shame of clients being booked up to be wined and dined by a competitor.
The first to go are your Thursday evenings. Then Friday lunchtimes, mid-week evenings and then – finally – team dinners mean that you’re booked up every single day. From drinks with colleagues and last minute client lunches to the full-on client dinners with dusted-off senior managers included, the battle just to keep going begins.
One week to go before Christmas and you’re at the limit, with gout just one more forkful away and your liver quickly becoming permanently pickled. So, the last thing you really want on Christmas Day is another turkey or mince pie.
I spent 15 years in the City and have seen most things. Every year, you could pretty much guarantee that at least one client would drink too much and start a fight with another one. Salesmen had to be the mediator, and also try to avoid getting smacked in the head when trying to calm the situation down.
Early in my career we took clients to a festive Somerset House, compete with ice rink, and two clients thought this would be a good place to square up to each other and settle their differences. Needless to say, they weren’t invited back. This is the challenge – alcohol is necessary at these events, but it can potentially be a career limiter. In sales, you have to drink to keep clients happy, but never become the source of an embarrassing anecdote.
However, times have changed since the financial crisis hit. A leaner more conscientious banking industry is emerging and sales may actually be breathing a sigh of relief as a result. Entertainment budgets have been slashed at the banks, and how much the recipient counterparties are allowed to accept are under extreme scrutiny.
Gone are the days of those boozy lunches infamous to the UK’s gilt market and those extravagant all-nighters, let alone those crazy hedonistic, dodgem wielding, all you can eat and drink, banking parties.
The norm was previously trying to grab a mid-morning sleep to recover. You even have time to hit the gym to keep the flab at bay now. Times have changed.
Some things have changed the same though: there's still too much eating and drinking, even if the extent of the over-indulgence is less than previously.
You also need to be aware that clients have the same dilemma – it’s not like they want to have back to back dinners with sales that keep them away from their families all December. Now, healthier meet ups – a game of five a side football or a jog (really) - are more common. If you think that’s too Scrooge, you could always have a mince pie with your client coffee.
If you’re good at your job, clients will appreciate a healthier gesture. And for sales teams across the City, livers can be pickled in the company of friends and family instead.
Simon James has worked in fixed income sales roles in the City of London for 16 years at Barclays and Credit Agricole. He left finance earlier this year and is now the founder of Run the Wild, which offers long-distance running holidays.
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