Relationships, time & playing the long game


Time in the market, not timing the market is the old investment adage but it could equally apply to building relationships in the superyacht world.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out in the industry, investment in human connections will pay dividends down the line. And sometimes it can be a long line, hence the need for time.

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“I’ve got a guy I’m messaging now that I’ve been messaging since 2011,” Derek Munro, director, Divergent Yachting (pictured bottom right) told Superyacht Investor. “He’s never once paid me a cent and every couple of years I will spend days and hours helping him research yachts he’s interested in buying.”

Munro, who was instrumental in the build of the 106.7m (350ft) sailing yacht Black Pearl, added: “He could be a tire kicker for life, but he’s a nice guy and he wants help and we’re happy to do that. He’ll buy, and he might not even use our services, but he’ll be in the industry, and he’ll be supporting the industry and as far as I’m concerned that’s what benefits us all.”

READ: IYC boss Sauleau on goals, running and the art of the CEO

Last week, Christophe Catoir, the boss of global human resources provider Adecco (pictured top right), said the world is facing a “soft-skills crisis” because of lockdowns due to Covid and the rise of home working.

Leaving aside the whole issue of WFH, his broader point is that “social skills are more important than ever”.

“Empathy, the ability to create a warm relationship, trust, creativity, those things will be more leveraged by companies than ever before,” he said.

It’s a skill the leading superyacht brokers have honed over many years, alongside patience and an eye for the long game.

“There are clients I’ve sold boats to over the years it’s maybe taken 10 years from inception through to actually selling them a boat,” said Burgess partner Henry Craven-Smith (pictured bottom left). “Often when we first get in touch or first go and meet them they don’t know they want to buy a boat at that time. It’s a long process, a very slow burn.

“I would say only 25% of any prospects I’m working on will ever go on and buy a boat so you’ve got to keep building your pipeline business.”

READ: Craven-Smith on painting, prospecting and broking at Burgess 

Another example of this in action is Will Christie’s sale of the 50m explorer yacht Plan B in December.

“The client was someone I’ve been in touch with for a long time over the years,” said the Christie Yachts founder (pictured top centre). “We spoke in the past when he was considering selling the yacht quietly off-market. But when he made the decision to really pull the trigger and go for it properly, he came to me. Our industry is so relationship-driven and it’s about building those relationships over the years. He repaid that by giving us the Central Agency, which was really kind.”

The sales of Ciao and Kismet were other examples where Christie went to work for long-term contacts, tapping into his network and convincing his opposite number in the deal that his client was the best proposition.

“You can only get that with time in the market, not every broker is equal,” he says. “There are probably 20 individual brokers in the market who do over 50% of the value of business each year.”

He adds: “All this marketing is not really what sells boats, what sells a boat is the old-fashioned approach and working hard and getting on the phone and getting the whole market engaged in selling the boat.”

READ: Christie on the strategy of deals, slow burns, bear markets 

Building that trust was key for Chris Cecil-Wright of Cecil Wright & Partners as worked with INEOS petrochemicals boss and Manchester United part owner Jim Ratcliffe first on the 78m (256ft) Feadship Hampshire II in 2012 and then on the 74m (242ft) explorer yacht Sherpa in 2018.

“With Hampshire II I was involved from long before the concept was an idea, chatting to the owner. We went through the whole process and ended up delivering it,” said Cecil Wright (pictured top left).

READ: Cecil-Wright – From a broken back to broking big yachts

Brokers need to take the defeats on the chin too, and Craven-Smith says he spends a lot of time mentoring junior brokers helping them navigate their way through the ups and downs of a deal.

“Speak to any brokers who’ve been in the game 20 years or so and they would say they’ve probably lost more deals than they’ve won, but they’re very good at picking themselves back up,” says Craven-Smith, who sold the 88m (288ft) sailing yacht Maltese Falcon for Tom Perkins.

The key, he says, is to “always keep the door open”.

“It’s a relationship business. Your best client is the one who has been referred to you by someone else, that’s your strongest relationship by far. You then maybe get cold-call clients who contact you about a boat for sale; that’s a good enquiry but then you’ve got to get the transaction and build up a relationship and that takes time.”

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