Warning: Event Launch Disaster Ahead 1


I recently read an article in Convene which captured the mistakes that were made during a two-year effort to launch a content marketing event in Europe.  For those who have not read the story, the conference manager of LavaCon – a successful, though relatively niche, US-based event – had been urged by a number of his exhibitors to try to replicate that success in Europe, where it was assumed that it could attract a new set of attendees.


In 2016, the conference manager tried to do so in Dublin, but failed. Undaunted, but presumably having learned from that first year’s experiences, he ran the event again this past May (again in Dublin, but in a different venue) only to falter a second time. Why did two successive efforts fall short of expectations? Simply put, he had some bad luck with an unexpected competitive event, but compounded the problem with some rookie mistakes.


Despite the lack of success, I still take my hat off to him. First, he had the courage to launch something new. Second, though it didn’t work, he still agreed to share his experiences in ways that could benefit others. How many of you would be willing to do that?


What factors contributed to the poor results?

  1. A lack of local market knowledge, such as an understanding that “bank” holidays in that region are not exclusive to banks, so should be avoided when scheduling a conference.
  2. The fact that a significant presence of target companies situated close to a conference location does not ensure that the right level of employee – senior decision-makers – work at those offices and are likely to attend.
  3. A misjudgment about the price potential attendees in Dublin would be willing to pay.


Why did those factors hurt his event?  In his own words, “because of the market research I didn’t do, and still haven’t done yet.” I believe that he’s correctly identified most of the problems and he has my congratulations for finally getting it – after two white knuckle rides. There is nothing worse than suffering the stress of a launch, then failing, and then suffering the same fate the following year.


Are there lessons you can learn from this?

  1. Hire someone from the target market area (or who knows it) for initial and ongoing advice about the feasibility of launching and sustaining an event. For example, Ireland is not Europe. Effectively there is no “Europe” as far as events are concerned; events are, if not local, then certainly regional.  That should guide decisions about location – and expectations about attendance.
  2. Ensure you do market testing and P&L analysis to understand the financial risk involved and the likely outcomes, given the many contributing factors. Approach any opportunity with a model that includes an understanding of what “success” is.


In addition, other questions I would ask to qualify an event opportunity are:

  1. In terms of attendee research, has any testing been done to see whether you can draw an audience to make the numbers work?
  2. What is the size of the target email audience on the attendee side and can it be expected to support the paid attendee number in your model? For example, I believe you need 100 names for each expected paid attendee, all other variables being accounted for.
  3. Were speakers and exhibitors engaged early on to help get attendees?
  4. Was there a budget with best- and worst-case P&L’s scenarios established prior to the decision to launch?


As I mentioned, this particular event manager is courageous and honest; I salute him for that.  But the things that I reference above seem common sense guidelines to me and reflect the advice I give my clients prior to a launch.


Are you equipped on your next launch or are you heading down a potentially rocky road?

The Traits of an Indispensable Event Person

There’s been considerable discussion in recent years regarding the imminent replacement of many elements of the labor force with robots. The proposition got me thinking about times in the past when I managed a staff of seventeen people who executed four reasonably-sized events in a year. Now, I would have to do the same number of events with just half that size staff.


Phil Fersht, in this recent blog posting on Horses for Sources, writes about the trend of businesses within the IT market to proactively downsize – with no urgent, imminent need. Automation is conspiring to make people less and less necessary. It’s a trend that used to be concentrated in manufacturing and other “blue collar” industries, but now is making inroads within the service sector.


Given the threat of this new paradigm, what attributes are needed to become indispensable at work? Or, should things happen and you were to end up out on the street, what’s needed to get back into the game?


Here are my thoughts:


  1. Project the right attitude. In my mind, this is the number one asset any person can have. What’s the personality and style that will convey that you can get things done: Eeyore (from Winnie the Pooh) or John McLane (from Die Hard)?


  1. Have an eye for the numbers. Do you know what it takes to make a profit? Can you create revenue? Can you build something from scratch? Do you know how to spend just enough to make something great while not wasting money?


  1. Be someone who listens. Do you have your head down, oblivious to what’s happening, or are you alert so that you can pivot in response to outside feedback or changes in the market?


  1. Persist – and adjust – in the face of difficult circumstances. Can you change direction midstream? When things are going badly, can you positively influence others and alter the dynamic? Are you aware enough to know what must be changed – or stopped altogether – when the numbers are bad and flexible enough to take the requisite action?


  1. Be attuned to the inevitable politics. Can you avoid the pitfalls, while dealing with the inevitable challenges that are found in every company? Or do you risk being the fall guy because your focus is exclusively on the work and not other influences?


  1. Act with a sense of urgency. Can you accelerate the pace of activity and deliver results more quickly, as needed? Can you close a sale today, thus freeing up tomorrow to sell to someone new? Can you get the ‘meat and potatoes’ stuff done early, so you can develop something new?


  1. Have the network. Have you mustered the resources to ‘break your fall’ if such a fall looms ahead of you? Could you secure another position, one with comparable compensation, were you to be let go today?


  1. Know the value you deliver. Do you know the financial value of your contribution to the company? This should be easy for sales people. Are your calculations based upon past success or do they reflect what you are delivering today? Can you make your case clearly and confidently?


I’m sure that all of us can find something in the above list deserves attention. I know I can. If you want to stem the tide of obsolescence and ensure you do not become dispensable, consider focusing on the areas where you are weak.


Or await your fate.

Six Factors That Will Kill Your Event

During my time in the events business I’ve seen a fair number of successful events, as well as witnessed some failures. In my experience, there are some key factors that, in some combination, will guarantee the failure of your event. Here’s what I believe are the critical mistakes that event organizers make.


1) Taking attendees for granted

This can mean that you don’t seek their feedback or, even worse, if you do solicit it, you fail to take any action in response. If you are not paying attention to your customers you are also not likely to be paying close attention to the direction your market is heading in either. You are likely not that attentive to the attendees’ onsite experience as long as you succeed in getting them onto the exhibit floor. And you have probably never picked up the phone and spoken to an attendee with the intent of engaging with them vs. responding to a problem that they bring to your attention.

This is the ‘build it and they will come’ factor.


2) Taking exhibitors for granted

You fail to go the extra mile for exhibitors when something is needed onsite or you ignore them until it’s time to rebook. You raise prices without good supporting reasons. You have no idea what creates the ROI that will attract exhibitors to return to your event. You don’t have personal connections with any of CMO’s or VP’s of Marketing that make the decisions about coming to your event.

This is the ‘my show is more important than you’ factor.


3) Hiring the wrong people

I’ve hired many people and the best were those with a “can do”, rather than “9-5” attitude – regardless of their skill or experience level. These are the staff members who will dig in when things are hard and will find the answer when it’s not obvious. The good ones are those who allow you to sleep at night because you know they have your back. In contrast, the wrong people are ‘the throw you under the bus’, the ‘it’s not my job’, or ‘it’s not possible’ people. They will fold under pressure and disappear when their effort is needed.

This is the ‘not my problem’ factor.


4) Not doing your homework

When doing your annual forecasts, do you understand the market conditions or the state of the competition? Are you able to react when something changes or are you unaware of what is really going on?  Do you know the strengths and weakness of your show and are you in a position to do anything about them?

This is the ‘what me, worry?’ factor


5) Not building and tapping into your network

Most people only tap into their network when they need something, often then finding that the network is not extensive enough to address what’s needed. There is enough expertise in this business such that you should be able to find expertise within or outside of your network and gain assistance quickly. If this is not the case, get out of the office and meet some people not just sit behind the computer.

This is the ’Me Myself and I’ factor


6) Not taking care of your database

Do you know what the bounce rate of your attendee base is? The opt out rate? Have you segmented your database so that you can easily send out targeted messaging to your top personas? If the answer to any one of these questions is “no”, then you have some back office work to do. If you don’t understand the numbers, or the content of one of your prized assets, your event will suffer.

This is the ‘my tools don’t need cleaning’ factor.


Having any one of these factors will damage your event, but two or more in combination will eventually kill it. Beware and act so that your event does not become one of the victims….

The Four “Forks in the Road” of an Event

Recently a client asked how I would describe the lifecycle of an event. The question prompted me to ruminate that an event involves decisions that must be made at various stages, with its ongoing viability governed by those decisions.
What are those stages?


1) Do you launch the event?

You’ve got an idea and think it could make a good event, one that can make money. Do you move forward?


Yes, if you have the right database, the financial viability in terms of prospective exhibitors/sponsors, content that can fill an agenda, and support from experts whose knowledge can help ensure that your event’s theme and messaging provide the right – as in audience attracting – perspective on the topic. Additionally, you’ve done the due diligence of testing your proposition with an ‘event resume’ to determine whether attendees/visitors will come. Lastly, you’re able to assign execution to someone who can manage the many challenges involved with launching an event. You are aiming high but could afford to break even financially.

No, if you have not done your homework. It may be that you’ve skimped on the requisite testing and are unable to capture the essence of the event – and who will benefit – on a single sheet of paper. Or you have not analyzed your database such that you can distinguish the ‘buyers’ from the ‘sellers.’ In fact, you may not have figured out the buy-sell relationship of the event which means you could lose a lot of money

For more reference on launching an event, check out this past article: Launching New Events Without Losing Your Shirt



2) Do you continue the event?

You’ve launched the event and it went reasonably well. At least, you didn’t lose your shirt. Do you continue on?


Yes, if you know how to identify and repeat what went well and eliminate/improve what didn’t. You can see areas where you could expand your offering (and perhaps charging more) and improve the bottom line. You have people who’ve expressed interest in future participation and exhibitors who are enthused to sign up.

No,  if the opportunity cost (relative to other things in which you could invest your time) proved to be negative and you don’t see that changing. Or if you anticipate continued or even greater struggles, perhaps from competitors who are introducing alternatives that would threaten your event. Another signal is wavering commitment from your Top 5 sponsors/exhibitors. Lastly, if the profits weren’t there and you cannot forecast that the situation will improve so that it matches the original three-year projection that prompted you to pursue the event.

An article on competitors moving in on your space: Stop New Agile Competitors From ‘Eating Your Lunch’




3) Do you enhance it?

At this point your event has been around for some years and is earning nicely, no longer a fledgling novice in the market. Perhaps, it’s not the top show, but it’s doing well.  Should you “double down” and commit more effort or be content to let it cruise on as it has?


Yes, make the commitment if you can see the potential for the event to become the industry leader, were it supported with investments in cutting edge content or an evolution/expansion into a new area. You may find validation of that decision in expanded commitments from existing sponsors that could put you over the top.

No, if your sense is that the event is “good enough” – perhaps as good as it will be. You may choose to treat it as a ‘cash cow’ until the market changes, at which point you will likely need to start from scratch. Or your competition is upping their efforts and you lack the will or the capital to do battle. Or perhaps you believe that your will and capital are best committed to other events with better returns on your investment. This might well be the point at which a sale of the event is a wise decision, particularly if the financials are solid and the forecast is good.


Some past article with perspective on enhancing your event:

How To Make Event Profits When Creativity Is Hard To Find- The Blue Ocean Way,

How To Create Profit in Tired Events



4) Do you kill it?

It’s a hard thing to do, particularly when your event has been around awhile. But sometimes the old must make way for the new. Do you end the show?


Yes, if you’ve lost momentum and, though different tactics have been tried, your event’s excitement and profitability are declining. It’s become harder to run the show every year and your important customers are moving on to other things.

No, if something or someone can refresh your event in ways that bring you renewed optimism with new topics, sponsors, or a twist on running the event(see item 3 above)


These ‘forks in the road’ represent the four most important decisions you will have to make during the life of your events. Make the right decisions, and profitability and success are yours. But choose otherwise and misery and lost opportunities could be your fate.


Past articles on killing your event: To Cancel Or Not Cancel Your Struggling Event: That is the Question


Choose wisely…

No One Wants to Exhibit at Your Event

No one cares what you have to say

It’s funny that in my 25+ years of working in this industry, I’ve come to anticipate that frequent demand that “you’ve got to get [fill in the blank exhibitor] to sign up. They must be there.” And for many years my quest was to find the perfect email to write or the phone script to recite that would get these targets to buy. Was there some word or phrase that could make it happen?


The internet changes everything

Over time, it became apparent that on the other side of the computer screen or phone, out of my sight, something had happened. While I focused on my message, my prospect was making evaluations of me based on different factors whether I knew it or not.. Through the Internet, the prospect now had access to all the information they needed to make their own buying decisions and could do it without my assistance.


Listen and qualify your prospect

Given that situation, my challenge was not to push my message, but rather to gain my prospect’s attention and then listen carefully, asking the right questions such that I might elicit enough information to continue the conversation. I learned that what I was selling wasn’t as important as understanding what motivated my prospect. This was a conversation with someone who didn’t know me, nor didn’t care about the event I was selling. And unless I could make the connection between their needs and my offer, they would never care(or pick up my phone call again).


A light shines on Expo! Expo!

Given my understanding of this new reality, I was thrilled to attend Rick Farrell’s session at “Expo! Expo!” this past December. His session, “Selling Has Nothing to Do With Selling,” was easily the best one I attended.. Rick’s presentation reminded me that rather than focus on what I was selling, the important thing was that I understand the fears and drivers of my prospect. That meant understanding my prospects’ concerns about “how am I going to pull in my lead numbers for the quarter,” or “how am I going to get all my work done so I can go on vacation,” or “how am I going to look good in front of my boss so I can get a raise.” Before, such questions were not part of my thinking; yet if I am going to understand my prospect’s side of the interaction, they are crucial to know.


No one cares what you have to say

A traditional selling situation often forces the customer to knit together all the pieces of what you are saying in a way that makes sense to address their needs. But they may not be interested or willing to make that effort. That’s why many ‘deals’ fall through; the burden is placed on the prospect and they are not willing to assume that burden.


Can you pick out the buyer?

But if you listen closely to the prospect, you may find out what they need and then determine whether what you offer is a match. Also, whether they are in a position to buy. After all, there is no assurance that the person with whom you are speaking is either a recommender or a decision maker. Or the dynamics might be such that that they will never buy from you. Separating out those who might buy from those who never will is crucial to not spinning your wheels


Unfortunately, the truth is that no one wants to buy what you are selling, unless you can serve it up for them in the right way, at the right time, to the right person, and for the right reasons.
Do you have the discipline to change your approach?


Here’s more about Rick’s philosophy:


Five Elements of a Successful Event

I have been thinking about the elements that would, if all were present, make up a perfect event. Such speculation recognizes that only 5% of all events would ever fit within this category. So perhaps these events are more elusive ghosts than reality for most of us.

Here are what come to mind:


1) The amount of money you make is far greater than your opportunity cost
Your return far surpasses what you could attain by pursuing other projects. Thus, you’re glad to put in the effort (regardless of the amount) for this event, because it is profitable and successful enough to want to do it again.


2) It’s not hard to attract attendees
Examples are TED, SXSW, perhaps CES or NAB. Despite the many hassles (hotels, travel, crowds, and costs), registrations pour in as soon as these events are announced. For me, Macworld fit this model. Regardless of obstacles, everyone wants to be at these events because they are magical.


3)People line up to speak
When you issue the call for presentations, you receive proposals that overwhelm the available slots, perhaps by many multiples. Your event has a ‘Good Housekeeping Sign of Approval’ and a spot at the podium is recognized as delivering business to the speaker.


4) Your exhibit sales staff operate as order takers
Perhaps controversially, in a talk once given to folks in the industry, I said that only one of every ten members of a sales staff was truly a sales person, with the rest serving as order takers and account service reps. I think my comment even prompted boos from the audience. But I stand by my estimate. The good news for these events is that the orders roll in and your numbers can be achieved, regardless of the composition of your sales staff.


5) You can run the event in another region and not detract from the original
You can clone the event and not affect the original event’s attendee, delegate, or sales numbers. This sounds easy, but many a clone has damaged the primary event. Have you done your homework on this one?


You might consider other attributes that I’ve not mentioned as key to a successful event. So, let me know if you think I’ve missed anything important. But if you have all five of the above, I salute you!


To Cancel or Not Cancel Your Struggling Event: That is the Question

Recently a number of my industry colleagues have had to make decisions about whether or not to cancel their events which were struggling. In my twenty-six years in this industry, I can count on one hand the events that I’ve had to cancel after launch, so I count myself lucky on mostly avoiding the scenario.

What are the factors that should determine whether you should cancel event, once you are rolling?


1) Have you done your research?

The biggest reason to prompt an event’s cancellation is not hitting your numbers.  If you foresee a financial loss that could not be tolerated or if running an event risks a greater loss than what would be incurred in terminating it, a decision must be made.  This situation usually stems from the absence of detailed surveys of both potential sponsors/exhibitors that gauge whether they will support your show financially. If you can’t accurately forecast your exhibit revenue before launch, you’re in for a harrowing, white knuckle ride.

Likewise, on the attendee side, have you done response testing to see the interest level? Are you right about conference/expo fees to charge – or not?  Do you have an ‘event resume’ that summarizes the event and its value on a single page? Do you know the acquisition cost of each attendee and established the appropriate marketing budget?

These are just a few of the things to consider. Check out a past article, inspired by Sean Guerre, for more insights on this area.


2) What is your rebook rate?

At a former company, we achieved a 100% rebook rate on most large events, primarily because we were selling many shows 24 months in advance.  Rebooking was our metric of success. But if your rebook rate is below 50% it‘s that your event is churning and burning exhibitors. Do you know why this is happening? Remember that rebooking current customers frees your time during the year to focus on getting new ones.


3) What do your analytics say?

Are you getting between 10-20% open rates on each event email you send out? If not it could a lack of interest in what you’re doing. What do your website page views look like? If your analytics are on the downswing, it may be a sign it’s time to pull the plug.


4) How many financial milestones have you missed?

This is a hard and fast rule for Sean, as noted in the mentioned article. You must be tough on yourself. Once you’ve missed three or more important financial milestones, it’s time to look carefully whether to pull the plug on your event.


5) How many attendee milestones have you missed?

What is the ‘tipping point’ in terms of the number of attendees needed to satisfy your sponsors and your financial expectations? If your goal is to get 400 buyers to your event, will you be OK with just 250? If you think you can hit your tipping point number, it may be best to keep on going.


6) Can you absorb the financial costs of cancellation?

Is there a large hotel or facility contract that you must swallow if you cancel? Do you have labor or other fixed costs that you can’t recover? Or have you bootstrapped things in a way that allows you to back out gracefully without losing your shirt?


7) Can you afford reputationally to cancel or not the event?

Once you cancel an event, it’s quite hard, if not impossible, to resuscitate it. That said, consider your reputation if you run an event with sparse traffic in the exhibit hall and empty seats at the keynote?  You must consider your relationships with key stakeholders if you do or don’t cancel.


8) What is the opportunity cost in continuing the event?

Sometimes the best reason to cancel an event is that it frees you to pursue other opportunities or invest more effort on the healthier events in your portfolio. What is the best decision?


Canceling an event is something I hope you never have to do. It’s extremely painful and the fallout can last for months, particularly if it’s handled poorly. The best antidote to canceling an event is doing your homework beforehand. Before a new event kicks off, do pre-launch attendee and exhibitor tests and think seriously about the opportunity costs and the upside/downside of moving forward. On an existing event, do the evaluation – financially and otherwise – before deciding to continue.

Let me close with a tip of my hat to those who have cancelled an event for the right reasons: when it saves the time and money of speakers, sponsors, attendees and others who will pay the price if you continue with something that is just going to be bad….


For extra credit reading from Lawrence Dvorchik on this subject:

and a few from me:


How to Kill Your Competitor

For many of the events that I am brought in to launch, a key challenge is to create something that does not mimic others in that market segment.  If you create a ‘me-too’ event – one that is not differentiated from everyone else in a substantive way – you are destined to fail.

But how can you become the top event in your marketplace? Here’s handy list of eight things that can help you kill your competitor:


1) Have a better relationship with your buyers than other events do.

Do you regularly call up your buyers to maintain an ongoing conversation about the challenges they are having? Do you engage with your on-site attendees? Does your staff telemarket attendees as part of their duties (there are multiple benefits for doing this)? Taking these actions will help gather data that improves your event, as well as demonstrating that you care about those constituencies who will determine your success. Events with a plan to do this regularly are the top events, whether they are big or small. And whether your attendees take your call is a test to how loyal your attendees are.


2) Make sure the decision makers of your top 10 exhibitors will take your call.

How? If they believe you have their best interests at heart, they will. Otherwise, you have some work to do. But if you happen to be someone who takes your clients out on the golf course, I’m betting your calls to them  get answered.


3) Make sure you have a tighter P&L discipline than your competitors.

When starting an event, I ensure that an expert is quick to negotiate with the event venue (e.g. the hosting hotel) to eliminate any surprises and keep F&B on a short leash. Could your staff manage receivables as part of their responsibilities?  At my first events job, I began by making collection calls to both attendees and exhibitors. I now have a good understanding of the value of cash flow and how it drives the event.


4) Consider this Litmus test: Does your staff enjoy what they do?

All events have an element of stress and grind, but, even with this consideration, does your staff enjoy ‘delighting the customer’? And not just in the customer-facing areas, but also with the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that eventually makes its way into the event ‘product’?

I had a period early in my career during which the entire year seemed a grind. But I remember getting a wakeup call from a particular onsite incident, after which I learned to enjoy both the product of all my work, as well as the process. The work became much easier thereafter. And even if not always successful, at the very least, I have some great ‘disaster’ stories to tell!


5) Don’t copy your competitors on format, location, content – forge your own path.

The certain way to become a ‘me too’ event is to copy a competitor in terms of venue, content, location, speakers, etc. This is a sure way to kill your event at its inception, since it’s almost impossible to position yourself as better when you behave the same as everyone else. Take a chance and try something new!


6) Understand your market – have better market friends than your competitors.

Frequently, you find organizers who are already in a market (associations, media companies, etc.) and others who ‘serve’ the market, but are neither native to it nor understand it initially. The first type of company has the advantage, as they may inherently know what’s happening when things change. If you are in the latter category, what do you do? Get (or hire) the experts and make the friends necessary that will allow you to take advantage of opportunities before your competition can.


7) Develop useful content outside of your event.

Being a media company or association gives you an advantage here, since you can repurpose all kinds of content throughout the year, thus sustaining interest in your event. But I’m quite happy to report the death of the notion that you need to have year-round 24/7 content about your event and push it to your prospects though. If anyone is still contemplating such nonsense, just stop.


8) Understand the ROI that your attendees and exhibitors want – and deliver it.

This has been mentioned directly and indirectly in points 1) and 2). But do you know how many leads your exhibitors expect? Or what value your attendees expect to get? If you don’t know, how can you correctly market to these folks?


Here’s the ugly truth: Most events are lazy copies of the events they did the prior year. Don’t fall into that trap! It’s far better to be the hunter, not the hunted.


So, which are you?


The Grit That’s Needed When Things Are Unknown

The recent completion of the launch of a client’s new event has given me the opportunity to reflect a bit.  As with any new project, there was plenty of uncertainty that required educated guesses, as supported by the best possible research done prior to the launch.


The Launch
At first, there’s the excitement of the planning and scheduling, together with the sobering commitments in terms of hotel contracts, staff hires, etc. Then, you begin to execute the first parts of the plan.  At this point – before the ‘rubber hits the road’ – everyone’s on board.

The “Rubber Hits The Road”

But inevitably things begin to slow down. Perhaps there’s a missed milestone or two that prompts your staff to look to you for a smile and encouraging word that will keep the momentum going. The conference program is completed and you begin the marketing effort. In my case, that took place in the darkness of winter.
At some point, doubts emerge when it becomes clear that you’re not going to hit your stretch goal. You wonder whether you’ll even hit the key point of demarcation that distinguishes a good event from a bad one.  It’s not the first time you’ve seen how the sausage is made, but familiarity and experience do not make it a comfortable situation.


What to Do Now?

You trust yourself. After all you did the research and the research indicated that you would be successful. It projected that you could attract an audience, even in a crowded field, and make some money. You have complemented that research by hiring an experienced staff that’s better at their jobs than you.  You trust them and yourself, given your 20+ years of addressing challenges, regardless of the situation.

You have to stay the course with your plan, but also be attentive to whether things really are not working.  If so, you need to be smart enough to make the right adjustments in the right places.

As the leader, you must smile in public, although that does not prevent you from venting in private. You offer reassurance to everyone that success is achievable.  And you offer the necessary energy to ensure that everyone continues to make their best efforts in pursuit of that success.

In times of distress, I return to the famous Tom Peters blog about the recession of 2008. It’s as applicable as how to behave when things with an event as it was to surviving a major economic downturn.  I encourage you to read it.

Just remember: never give up.


The Outcome

Oh, by the way – the event went great!


Reversing Poor Event Sales

One of my favorite speakers in the industry is Dan Cole. On several occasions, I have had the pleasure of speaking with Dan, who is the Senior Vice President of Trade Shows and Exhibits Sales for Hargrove Inc. Perhaps one topic we’ve discussed that sticks with me the most concerns his views as to how to transform any sales force so that it can reach its greatest potential. Dan has had considerable experience transforming sales departments during a career that includes, in addition to Hargrove, the Consumer Electronics Show and events for Advanstar Communications.  We’ve chatted on and off throughout the years about his philosophy of selling.


Dan and I agree that when a sales force is not performing to its fullest potential, the problem is attributable to some or all of following reasons:

  • The leadership is weak;
  • Management is not rewarding the right behaviors, nor punishing the wrong ones;
  • Staff are not working on the right things and/or not accountable;
  • The environment of the company is not revenue-driven.


So how do you turn this around? Simply put, reverse the above with the following tactics:

  • Develop and enforce a definitive direction with an approach that is assertive, but reasonable. Focus on the fundamentals and incentivize the behaviors you want;
  • Assess your current staff, confirming that they are coachable, flexible, and entrepreneurial.
  • Determine whether your company has the appropriate revenue-centric environment;
  • Hire the perfect rep by identifying the above behaviors before you make the hire;
  • Enshrine TRACER as a way to keep a positive sales culture locked in.


What is TRACER? It’s Dan’s way to ensure the sales team hits its long and short term goals. The components are:

  • Training skills, industry knowledge that focuses on the fundamentals, and knowledge of the customers’ market sector(s);
  • Revenue focus that is organization-wide, from the CEO on down;
  • Activity and accountability that is measured by phone and face-to-face appointments, not on ‘smiling and dialing’;
  • Customer focus that involves getting in front of both customers and prospects regularly, not just prospects;
  • Environment that gets rid of ‘bad apples’ and encourages teamwork and healthy cooperation;
  • Recruiting the right people, with a focus on attitude first, then sales competence next.


In the end, what does a profitable team look like? They:

  • Are paid well, because they earn when revenue goals are met;
  • Are empowered to make decisions that serve the company and the customer;
  • Have a camaraderie that reflects a healthy competition between the sales reps;
  • Are members of a revenue-focused organization.


If you can pull all of this off, you are indeed ‘cutting edge’ in my book. I certainly can see why Hargrove goes from strength to strength….