How We Won Lastminute.com

(No thanks to me)

Let me tell you about one of my most humiliating business meetings. 

It was the early Noughties and from where my leisure business was sitting, the biggest affiliate we could align with was Lastminute.com. Lastminute.com was one of the earlier brands to jump off the internet and into the every-day and it was absolutely huge. This cool, fresh-faced portal for last-minute bookings and flash sales on hotel rooms or leisure spaces was a perfect fit for our party biz. It would be massive for our brand to be associated with them; massive.

It’s fair to say that to win the Lastminute.com affiliate was at the top of our list of key business objectives each and every year. It never moved from that position. The partnership would be worth at least an extra million quid in revenue. But more than that, it would bring us credibility.

So we pursued it, relentlessly.

A phrase that we bandied regularly round the office was ‘persistence beats resistance’. That was the approach we took to pretty much everything and this affiliation would be no different. We hounded Lastminute.com. I sent periodic emails, made regular phone calls (well, left regular voicemails without hearing back, if I’m honest).

I’m not sure about ‘persistence’ – it was pretty much harassment.

Finally, the inevitable happened: we were granted a meeting. To get rid of us, presumably. A light cosh. They probably just wanted their inbox back. On the big day I dressed sharp, got an early train up to London, and waited eagerly in their futuristic foyer for them to call me up to a sumptuous boardroom. There’d doubtless be croissants and fruit alongside the fresh coffee. I’d teed up some light banter to grease the wheels. I was only an hour away from victory, surely!

Fifteen minutes later I was escorted politely but quickly out of their fancy reception and across the road to the nearest heaving Costa Coffee.

“Okay, Mick! Fire away. I’ve got five minutes.”

I delivered my six-months-in-the-prep presentation to Lastminute’s exec, surrounded by screaming kids and accompanied by an extremely hot collar and suffocating tie.

Ugh. Humiliating.

An hour later? I was on a slow train back down to Brighton, tail between legs.

Not long after this hellish humiliation, we appointed a new marketing manager. Keith was at the top of his game and one of our early high-level recruits. We still wanted Lastminute to be an affiliate, so I made a grown-up business decision, swallowed my pride and reluctantly gave Keith the task of winning them over.

Cut to six months later: Keith and I are at a fancy lunch with Lastminute.com’s key account decision-maker, laughing over the wine menu and discussing financials. What?? How?!

Because Keith had looked at the situation creatively. 

*Cue a heist movie ‘montage’ soundtrack…*

It turned out that our man at Lastminute.com loved boxing. Keith sent him a copy of Boxing Monthly and two tickets to the next Carl Froch fight. Next thing you know, Lastminute’s exec is ringside with Keith, eyes glued on The Cobra, chatting about anything and everything. 

The next day the email arrives. 

“When can we talk business?” Ding ding ding! KNOCKOUT.

Long story short: we didn’t win the contract. Lastminute.com understood its value and put the handshake out of our reach. We didn’t have deep enough pockets is all. But that’s not the point.

The point of the story is this:

1. ‘Winning’ isn’t always winning. Sometimes losing and learning from that is the best lesson.

2. Tried and tested methods and approaches are sometimes simply old hat. Review your business approach. Is it fit for purpose or a bit tired?

3. Let go of your ego and share tasks out into the wider business. Who’s the best fit for the job in hand?

4. Another pair of eyes is essential, even when you’re the expert.

5. Think creatively: practical solutions don’t always work but a creative approach might lift you to a new perspective.

Bear these five simple pointers in mind and you’ll find your grip on creative solutions are lighter while at the same time, more focused and useful. Best of luck!