Day-to-day with… James Craig, Head of Commercial at British Fencing

11th January 2021

James Craig headshot

James Craig is Head of Commercial at British Fencing, the National Governing Body for the Olympic Sport of Fencing, an all-round nice guy and quite possibly one of our favourite clients (that’s strictly between us though).

We first met James when British Fencing approached Telescopic looking for help with their app.

The app aimed to help increase people’s knowledge of Fencing and its rules, from complete novices to coaches. After some initial issues getting it off the ground, Telescopic stepped in and took control of the technical project.

Now it can be used as a working tool to increase their partnerships with other sports organisations across the globe. We continue to work with James and British Fencing to further improve the app and provide ongoing support to his team.

So let’s meet James and learn about the work he and British Fencing do on a day-to-day basis.

Hi James. Can you start by telling us what you do?

I am Head of Commercial at British Fencing and I try my best to efficiently and effectively solve problems. I support British Fencing’s sustainability agenda and part of that is to have a commercial strategy that makes BF less reliant on public funding investment.

The three main areas of my work are around licensing, education and partnerships.

fencers battle at international competition

How did you get to where you are now?

Aspirations, grit, and an ability to openly communicate. I was fortunate to have great role models and mentors growing up. They were inspirational and made me believe in my dreams.

I have the grit to keep going, thrive off feedback in all the various forms it can take and know that it will help me push forward.

It’s also important that I always try to take a non-dogmatic view as well as challenge the status quo, at the right time and in the right way. These qualities certainly have their challenges, but they can also bring great conversations.

What do you enjoy about your work at British Fencing?

The end-to-end nature of the work programme means I have to do the whole customer journey which means I learn each day and get to experience all dimensions of the job.

The limited resources have meant that I have had to brief and draft master commercial agreements, then negotiate within them, get them over the line and most importantly ensure they have a great onboarding with us as a partner and they see value from the get-go.

I have also enjoyed building a department from the ground up and welcoming people into a small team, working cross-departmentally to share the vision for the commercial department as well as multiple external suppliers, agencies and partners.

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement there?

We developed a way of working with a partner that was commercially win-win but the biggest success story for me was that the business was then able to offer significantly more fencing experiences year on year, from delivering 76k to 97.5k unique fencing participants in three years.

laughing children sitting down with fencing equipment

And your greatest challenge?

Organisationally, the greatest challenge is ensuring we are financially resilient to support the fencing community in the UK and re-invest into our core services and products that support it.

What are your favourite tools for getting your job done?

Great question and I could talk for a long time on this.

We actually had to refine our tools and clearly articulate what purpose they all serve.

My personal favourite is Smartsheets as its core collaborative project management product is great. We have really grown to become adept users across the whole team. We do our risk management and objectives planning on it so overall it drives many efficiencies for us.

The automation of tasks and workflows is great and we use it for team selections, fulfilling orders with suppliers.

Also loving its relatively new proofing tool too. Other tools have a modern user experience but lack the integrations and flexibility we have found with Smartsheets.

What do you consider to be your best business learnings?

Consistency in language and approach is vital when working with multiple-stakeholders, especially when articulating new ideas or programmes.

Add value or give value to customers before any ask. I heard Grant Leboff, who is a leading sales expert, speak recently and he spoke of there is no such thing as a “blow-out”, which I agree with, but then framed it as every encounter should be viewed as a “commitment” where you have the opportunity to add value.

Take time, be authentic, be genuinely curious and diligent when working with prospective and current partners.

How do you see technology evolving in 2021?

I hope we can see that technology continues to take leaps forward to accommodate any step back in the fast-paced commuter world we lived in pre-covid.

Face to face is needed, I need it, but perhaps a more blended and considerate way of living may be on the horizon.

And finally, what are your hopes for 2021?

Personally, my hopes are for my children, seeing them grow nourishes my own development ambitions. I hope my youngest continues to build her positivity and resilience ready for school, and see my oldest continue his love of learning and being proud of his achievements.

Professionally, I hope for restrictions to lift in a measured and considered way from the government and that when they do, existing and new fencers can see that we are ready to welcome them back and that they can see we have developed many resources, programmes and products during the pandemic period.

I also hope that the opportunities that are present internationally come to fruition and that 2021 sees us do more overseas with exporting our training and education programmes and products.

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