“Being self confident in meetings and speaking to people from different cultures is certainly something the Army taught me.”

Drinking an inordinate amount of vodka during business meetings is certainly not a prerequisite for Stephen Croft’s job as Sales Manager for Eastern Europe, at TMD Technologies, but an appreciation and understanding of the culture is.

With a background as an attaché and liaison officer in the Army, moving into defence sales was a natural progression for him once he’d left the Services. However, it’s his people skills and building relationships with different cultures that really spurs him on in this role.
From his time in the Services, Stephen built up many contacts within Eastern Europe – from the Balkans, to Poland and Russia, and has a genuine understanding of how they like to do business.

He says: “In Eastern Europe building personal relationships with the individuals you’re working with is extremely important. They need to feel confident they can rely on who’s selling to them. In contrast to the West, people in the East tend to trust the person first, and the product second.”

He adds: “Of course, knowing the product and how it can work is essential, but selling is about listening to people and working with them to find the right solution for their business requirement.”

One to one meetings are indeed an important part of the process. Stephen spends three out of four weeks each month on the road travelling to Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. Yes, some of these meetings may be ‘alcohol-fuelled’- and Stephen has adapted by alternating his vodka with equal amounts of water – but embracing the culture is a large part of creating rapport.

Indeed, in his past Army experiences, Stephen has embraced some ‘appetisers’ that may have the average person’s stomach churning. Snake, crocodile, locust and toucan – just some of the cuisine, Stephen has quaffed down with glee, to assimilate with his surroundings.

He says: “Being self confident in meetings and speaking to people from different cultures is certainly something the Army taught me. My civilian counterparts may be extremely good on the technical or engineering front, but they can lack confidence in talking to people.”

Fluency in languages is not essential but Stephen can speak enough Russian, Polish, Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian to engage in small talk – “I couldn’t explain the technical stuff though!”

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Stephen Croft in the UK Ambassador’s Residence in Moscow

After having the opportunity to take in some interesting historical sites whilst on business trips (recently he had the chance to visit Lenin’s childhood home in Ulyanovsk, central Russia), after every trip Stephen will create a report that summarises and presents how TMD Technologies may be able to help the customer.

The personal touch obviously pays off as TMD Technologies export 85% of what they manufacture.

Since starting with TMD Technologies in 2012, Stephen hasn’t missed the Services at all, though does, on reflection, appreciate the slower pace of change in the Services. He says: “In the Armed Forces, change is planned in advance. In the commercial sector, a company needs to make a profit, it’s as simple as that, so redundancies can often be announced at the last minute.”

For more information, do not hesitate to contact Stephen on 07887457502, or stephen.croft@tmd.co.uk .