Moments Of Epic Failure: Not Being A French Miracle Worker.

Today has been a busy day.

Actually... The past few days have been incredibly busy.

Part of my day involved delving into various crises of those around me... Moments where people were lacking confidence for themselves. It was all across the spectrum... In work and personal life. And often they can be spectacular failures.

Awesome ones.

Ones worthy of writing about and sharing, even.

This is a story about one of mine... (Not a recent one, though. This was years ago.)

I was working at an agency. I was very high up in this agency. In fact, you could say I was running it in the absence of my boss. An opportunity came through to pitch for the SEO/Social business of a company that operated in both English and French languages.

The proposal request was written in French. I immediately put it aside in my "not going to pitch" pile because we had no French-speaking resources we could tap into within the agency network. All of our agency teams who were capable of French work could not take this pitch on with us, because they worked for competing clients.

So that meant we had to pitch it alone. Which meant we (I) would not be pitching it.

Oh how I was mistaken.

My boss questioned why we wouldn't pitch it. And I listed all of the requirements within the proposal:

  1. Company must operate in the French language.
  2. Company must be based in the regional area where the client operates. (We were not.)
  3. Company must be using the client for their own needs within the industry. (We were not.)
  4. Company must provide financials for the two previous fiscal years, and they must be published in French. (Ours were not.)

All of these things had to be submitted with the formal pitch. Additionally, the pitch had to be responded to in French.

"I don't speak French," I pointed out. "Nor do I write in French. And neither do you."

"Use Google Translate to translate everything back and forth," I was told.

I paused for laughter which never came.

"You're serious?" I asked.

"Yes," they said. "And hit up this French social agency in XXXXXXX and see if they want to tag-team this with us. I know someone there."

I reached out to the person. They blew me off, given the pitch needed to be submitted in less than four days.

"No. No. Sorry, Heather. There just is no time. We're happy to service the account, should you win it. But we can not help you pitch it. And we won't be translators."

I attempted to locate approved translators I could tap in to. It would take a few days to get the proposal request translated... Then a few days to get our response translated back into French.

There simply wasn't time.

"Just use Google Translate!" I was told again. Only this time, I was ordered.

And this began a few days of sleepless nights and not eating because I was so stressed and busy.

I was able to get most of the response translated from French into English. I began to pull the required elements and draft our strategy. It was a solid strategy.

But I was worried.

I picked up the phone and called our head finance person in another location of the city. I expressed my concerns about the overall pitch, and hit him up for the two years of financials we needed - published in French.

"We don't have them in French. Just English. And we only have last year's. I don't have a published version of the year before's. But I am sure it will be fine."

I expressed my doubt on that.

"Well, it will have to be fine," said the finance person. "Your boss told me to count this in our new business opportunity list as a a likely client acquisition. So we have to win it."

Now, I didn't know if he was messing with me or not. So I laughed.

I laughed like a shrill maniac.

"There is no way in a world where Beyonce is all that is awesome and holy that we are going to win this."

"They are very specific in saying flat-out in the requirements that they are only considering companies that operate in their geographic location and that already use them themselves for services.  They didn't even send this proposal request to us directly. They sent it to another agency who passed it onto us."

The finance person continued to be a dreamer... Refusing to believe that these requirements were real. Only chasing the dreams of revenue - unrealistic as they were.

So I pressed on with the project. And I managed to find a freelance translator who had a "few spare hours to proof the finished project" for me.

Her notes came back with all kinds of "WTF IS THIS WORD SUPPOSED TO BE? IT'S NOT EVEN FRENCH" kind of comments.

(Thanks, Google Translate! While I had no expectation you be accurate... Now others out there in the industry thing I am a moron when it comes to translation.)

I submitted the project - having to overnight it. And knowing what a "cluster-eff" it was.

I never heard from the vendor-selection committee.  And that was no surprise. While our strategy was dead-on, we didn't meet the other requirements. And I have no way of knowing if our translator did a "hack job" on the translation.

But I wasn't disappointed about not hearing back on it.

No... What made me feel like a failure was my boss... Who didn't understand how we couldn't have won it.

"We're the only agency doing this kind of thing. How could they not want us? What did you do in the pitch pack that made them not want us."

That. Right there. That's what makes you feel like a failure.

When your boss - who was absent (though for a legitimate reason) and had no part in helping you put the pitch together OR troubleshoot where you could find resources to attack it - casts the blame on you.

This wasn't a "make or break" deal for us. We had PLENTY of revenue coming into the agency. We were on a hiring path. We had far, far superior client brands we were already working with... Some of which actually were competitors of the French brand we pitched (though based on lots of agency technicalities, we didn't have to mention any of them)... So I wasn't sure why my boss was so mad that we didn't get this.

I summed it up to my boss just didn't like losing.

Every failure is an opportunity. I believe that, because I have lived many failures... Just as those who step out the door each day do.

Shortly after, I was recruited away to a higher-level role at twice the salary my boss was paying me. (I kid you not.) But for the time leading up to my deciding to leave, my boss made me feel bad about the pitch loss. My boss never thanked me for leading and growing the agency in their absence.

So leaving was a pretty easy thing to decide when the opportunity popped up.

"I can't believe you're leaving," was the response I got from them.

I wanted to respond with, "I know, right? I mean, what an epic failure on that French thing. Who would want me after that?"

But I said, "Yes, it's sad. The people here are great. But I can't turn this opportunity down."

I learned (again) from that failure how important it is to support your team members who work with you on stuff. Encourage them, always. Show them a path of hope. Constructively guide and educate them. But encourage them. And if they miss, realize YOU BOTH missed. It was a TEAM EFFORT.

I also learned how critical it is to properly set expectations with finance and forecasting. ALWAYS BE CONSERVATIVE, BUT HOPEFUL. I knew a guy - recently - who would enter every new opportunity he was scoping out at 50%. Because, his theory was, "it's 50-50 that you'll land it."  True. But what needs to be realized is that businesses forecast off of percentages of where a pitch is at. And if you are at the beginning of the new business development process, you have to be more conservative.  Only allow finance to forecast off of 20% of the total revenue you could potentially earn from the business.

Failure is always a worthy learning process.