Personal Development

Have Conversations with 100% of Your Sales Prospects

Most event salespeople are transactional. Their outbound phone calls and emails, whether to sell a booth or a sponsorship, tend to approach the sale as a transaction – a one-time thing. And then they wonder when these attempts don’t generate the successes they desire. Why? One key factor is that the salesperson is choosing the time, the product offered, and all the terms that govern the transaction. But many prospects aren’t ready to buy, particularly at a time chosen by the salesperson.
What can you do to change this dynamic? Wouldn’t it be great to have prospects calling you rather than putting them on the spot simply because YOU have a sales quota to meet?
The way to achieve this is to become a resource to your customers, transitioning from tactical salesperson to a consultant who offers more to customers than just “stuff” they can buy. That helps to change the context of your interactions, since success is not always defined by your ability to close a sale. As an example, a consultative salesperson should try to have at least an annual strategic conversation with at least 20% of their customers. The goal of this conversation is not only an order, but also a chance to understand your customers challenges, and to see if you can assist them in these. You might consider 20% a conservative target, but customers may well be wary of this consultative approach, considering it merely another sales tactic (which is what it shouldn’t be). The proof will be in your ability to offer value that is not tied to exhibit space or sponsorships.
Have I convinced you yet? Some may respond, “Warwick I already do this. I offer pre-show sales training for my customers on the event floor.” Some event managers may consider this an attractive benefit, but my own experience is that the last thing exhibitors want when prepping for a show – with all the last-minute tasks they need to complete – is to spend time with event management staff on training. And for experienced exhibitor staff, such offers might even be considered a bit presumptuous.

The key is to offer services that your customers could use WITHOUT your product. Examples are:
1) Education that helps your customer better market to their customers: perhaps a webinar or a luncheon briefing at a time and place the customer selects. If the information is valuable, it positions you as an expert and differentiates you from competitors. If you’re knowledgeable about the markets you serve and you invest some time developing compelling content, wouldn’t you want to have such an offering?

2) Industry education that helps your customers 1) better understand the characteristics of the buyers in their markets, 2) develop ‘buyer journey’ information for helps design their sales processes, and 3) tactics that help promote actions at each journey milestone to move things forward or, if appropriate, to disengage because a prospect is not ready or perhaps not right for the offer.

3) An invitation to a digital hub that fosters information exchange, which could include customers, industry experts, buyers, even competitors.
Your goal should be to think holistically about your customer’s long-term needs and offer a portfolio of capabilities that help them address those needs. If you can position yourself as a market expert who is a resource to your customers – rather than a sales pest – I believe your influence – and your sales – will increase.
Wouldn’t YOU like a leg up on your competitors? This is a way. Give it a shot.
The inspiration for this post is from Chet Holmes and his book The Ultimate Sales Machine, a book with a lot of good ideas. Check it out here.

Why you should replace 20% of your sales staff – NOW

I have strong opinions about sales staffs, having managed them in some shape or form since 1996.  As I’ve previously written, I believe only 20% of salespeople are more than order takers.  Given that assertion, I was asked recently, “What about the other 80% of our sales staff?  How should I manage them so that I can hit my sales targets?”
To answer that question and to understand the needs of your sale staff, I’d plot the entire sales organization on a bell curve.  If we look at such a standard distribution and assume that only 20% of your sales force are getting it done, as stated in the above-referenced article, then I would also suggest there are two remaining categories, both of which are underperforming.  They represent 60% and 20% of the sales staff, with the larger number those that may have potential, while the smaller number represents those who won’t ever improve sufficiently.
How can one manage an organization composed of these three different groups?
The Top 20%
Give them aggressive quotas and get out of their way.  Give them a sense of ownership – that what they work on is theirs.  Effectively it’s their business to make successful.  Make sure they are hitting their monthly quotas and be available with resources if and as they need them.  Otherwise, let them do their thing.  They will exceed their goals with minimal help.  These folks are your rainmakers.
The Middle 60%
The difference between this group and the one above is skills and results, while what distinguishes them from those below is attitude.  These folks need help and guidance, but they are willing to learn.  If guided properly they can be ‘fixed’.  You should ensure they have monthly goals and are doing the requisite outreach to prospects.  Perhaps include roleplay exercises, either with you or one of your top 20% performers.  When they show signs of making headway, offer rewards of formal training classes that can help fill in the gaps in their skillset.  Make the investments that can enable their growth into your top-tier category, as there always will be turnover in that group that requires replenishment.
The Lagging 20%
Unfortunately, you must get rid your organization of those who fall into this category.  Some of your best sales performers can drop into this category, becoming lazy and entitled and lacking the effort that previously drove their success.  They may try to game the system so that they can generate a solid income without having to do much.  Their negative attitude may attributable to missed promotions or the loss of juicy territories to others, but they won’t respond to encouragement or direction.  Furthermore, they will disrupt your efforts to make changes that require their effort and improvement.  That response will be negative motivation for others, who will see them resisting your efforts to make changes, which will hinder your effort to improve the middle 60% group.
When I have been called upon to consult with event companies with sales generation problems, the root of the issues frequently concerns staff in the last category who are trying to maintain the status quo despite the need for changes to be made.  As I said, for the sake of your own goals, you must dispense with them, as there is no ‘saving’ to be done.
Beyond addressing the bottom 20%, these are other steps I would take to both retain the top 20% and incent the other 60% to get there.
  • Pay well beyond what is available from your competitors. Your top salespeople are well aware of the options they have to make money.  Preempt their wandering elsewhere.

  • Pay for performance. You’d be surprised how many salespeople have more guaranteed income from salary than incentive from commission/bonuses.

  • Allow them to share their opinions about matters beyond what they are working on. Salespeople are on the front line and may know more of what’s going on than you do.

  • Give them guidance. Most people never have had mentors and their careers suffer as a result.  Either build this support within your own company or allow your salespeople to find mentors outside the company.

  • Hold each salesperson accountable monthly for effort and results.
When approaching the subject of letting poor performers go, I’ve heard comments along the lines of “I know I need to get rid of him, but I worry I find an immediate replacement who’s better.” Though making a change is difficult, when you let someone go, the vacancy hastens the effort to get a replacement. It also creates opportunity for others who remain to expand responsibilities (temporary territory assignment, increased commission). Though it’s not easy, removing underperformers is the right way to go.
Unfortunately, the people who have slowed my own performance are those that I didn’t replace when I knew it was needed.  I certainly have learned that lesson. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Will your lack of respect for your customers come back to bite you?

A colleague advised me when I started in the business that I should “do as little as possible while trying to get the maximum out of others.” Left unsaid, but understood, was the presumption that as long as I got mine, making the minimum effort was OK.
Fortunately for my bosses and my clients, I rejected that advice.
But it got me thinking about how much we actually do for our customers. Often the rationale that underlies the operation of many events is that if you just put up a tent, “they” (the sponsors/exhibitors, speakers, and attendees) will come. Much of the time that works – at least for the short term. But without an insider’s understanding of the interests of our customers, we’re just guessing – and successful guessing is a matter of luck. Perhaps you believe that hitting the repeat button and, as long as you get yours and what you deliver is ‘good enough,’ who cares? Eventually, luck runs out.
The good news is that with all the digital marketing and analytics now available, the behavior of our customers can now be tracked and analyzed. That makes it easier to push a button and ‘know’ who our customers are and what they want. Sort of. The nature of most analytics is that it captures the past far better than it offers guidance for the future and gives you no visceral idea of what the actual minute by minute experience is.
Throughout my career, I have often found that show organizers have an aversion to meeting with attendees and visitors to really get to know them. Instead, they choose to make decisions based solely on generalized archetypes/personas and spreadsheet analytics. That only takes you so far.
When you go to a restaurant, you expect courtesy and service from the staff that’s grounded in respect for you as the customer. What do you do when you don’t feel that you’ve not been accorded that respect? You walk out. It’s the response to be expected from a person who’s real and not an archetype.
Are we getting too complacent about how we put our events together? Would your attendees and visitors say that you respected them individually? Or have you become too big or too successful to care what the individual thinks because you’re confident that someone else will fill the seat or walk the floor?
The colleague’s guidance that I cited at the beginning of this piece did not serve him well. Though he went independent and initially was successful, the opportunities dried up and he ended up retiring. Remember, the market always decides who wins or loses. And that’s often determined by what people choose to do and, correspondingly, what they opt not to do.
Perhaps you are fortunate right now to be on a hot streak and if you can keep it going, my hat’s off to you. Hopefully, you are well aware of what’s driving your success and you’re still willing and able to provide it. For most, that’s a matter of understanding what provides value to your customers and working to deliver that value on an ongoing basis, not just doing it once because you found a way to maximize results through minimum effort. In this business, success is not a matter of “rinse and repeat.”
The bottom line is that you will get “yours” if you can walk the path that your customers walk and bring that insight into your planning and execution. It means you’ll have to work harder, change faster, and produce events that people actively want to attend.
Do you really respect your customers?

Only 20% of Sales Staff are Truly Salespeople.
The Rest? Order-Takers

At SuperNiche in Washington DC last week, I attended a session by Ryan Dohrn during which he asserted that prospects that contact you are already 2/3 of the way through the buying process. They’ve already researched who you are, have looked at the prospectus for your event, and know what they want to buy. Given that scenario, do you really need salespeople to close these deals, or could you just hire staff that can finalize the details and get the order, doing so without any other “specialized sales skills”?

My contention is that true salespeople can do things that order-takers cannot. Among them are:

  • Turn around a failing situation (e.g., recover from a bad show).
  • Convince customers not to buy the ‘wrong’ things (that don’t fit their needs).
  • Get exhibitors for a new event for which there are no previous customers.
  • Prospect and successfully get new business from ‘suspects’.
  • Organize their time and activities without supervision.
  • Upsell as necessary.
  • Consistently exceed their numbers.

In my opinion, only 20% of event salespeople can successfully do the above. That certainly shrinks the pool of prospects for your sales team.

At a different SuperNiche session, a panelist lamented the inability to find decent sales candidates after placing job descriptions on various job boards. No wonder, given that only one-fifth of the prospective targets are true salespeople, and they are not looking for new jobs on such boards! Everyone in your industry knows who the best salespeople are and trust me, these salespeople have already found the most lucrative opportunities for themselves. Any new job must be pretty damn special to pry them away from their current position.

For the record, I would rarely hire a sales rep via a job board. I’d much prefer to get a referral and recommendation from someone that I trust. That gets me some ‘skin in the game’, both from the recommender and the candidate, providing some degree of confidence in the selection. When I’m putting together an event team on behalf of a client, the sales staff are always the hardest roles to fill. The best candidates are likely to already be working on good opportunities and it takes all my skills to recruit one for the event that I am supporting.

So, given the smaller pool of true sales staff, what is to be done with the other 80% that we are now calling order-takers? Can they be transformed into true salespeople? The answer is yes, if they have the attitude and determination to get to this higher level. You’ll need to offer them some level of training and mentoring, and then see what happens. If they don’t raise their performance, you’ll need to cut them.

For the moment though, if you have one of the 20%, make sure you are paying them well, and they have work they are proud to do.

Eliminating Distraction: Keeping Your Eye on the Ball When the Chips are Down

One of the things that really has helped me in life is keeping calm when all around is going wrong. This is especially helpful at events where I must solve problems in real time and it’s not always evident that there’s a solution readily available. I have seen a real difference between those times when my response has reflected panic versus those when I remained calm. A panicked reaction is not conducive to a positive result. Frequently your clients depend on you, as the expert, to be the one who is calm and provide the assurance that “Everything will be fine!”

I recently attended a complicated event (i.e. one with lots of moving parts) where the staff was calm and collected on the outside. But on the inside? Probably not so much. Though it’s likely that there were lots of minor things going wrong, you couldn’t tell from either their actions or their demeanor.

One way I have found to master this kind of situation is eliminate the extraneous elements and focus on the goal. In a crisis, you need to be able to appraise the circumstances, receive input from others, and determine an immediate path of action. Peripheral details are distractions; I believe that keeping your focus depends on ridding your mind of the stuff that doesn’t matter.

From Rudyard Kipling’s “If”:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

Learning to Eliminate Distraction is just another skill that will help you rise above your competition.  

Actually, You Should be Judgmental

Since our early years, most of us have been taught that we shouldn’t be judgmental about others or situations.

According to Derek Doepker, writing on, “If we refer to the definition of judgmental as simply exercising judgment as opposed to exercising criticism, then you’re supposed to be judgmental. It’s impossible for your brain not to form judgments. Without this ability, how would you ever discern truth from lies?”

What makes us judgmental?
  • Our experience
  • Our intuition
  • Our DNA
  • Our prejudices
  • Our values
In his book Strategic Acceleration, Tony Jeary argues that the act of being judgmental is framed by what he terms the ‘belief window.’ The belief window “contains everything you believe to be true, false, correct, incorrect, appropriate, inappropriate, possible and impossible:
  • It is framing all of your views of people, places and things, and creating the perceptions and feeling you have about everything.
  • It is influencing the actions you take regarding those same people places and things.”
Tony might argue that being judgmental is neither good nor bad, although it is important to know whether your judgements are conscious or not, and whether based upon filtered observations that may include a likelihood for self-deception. Such deception would of course be bad since you would be making judgements from a skewed point of view.
However, I’d like to reassert that it’s not only natural to be judgmental, but also that it’s in your best interests to be so. It serves as a safety mechanism against physical and other kinds of danger and can give you a way of making decisions more quickly. But I would caution you to ensure that:
  • Your judgement will result in an outcome that is in your best interest.
  • The basis of that judgement is reason, not self-deception.
  • You learn from past ‘bad’ judgements.
I’d like to assert that being judgmental will make your life better given that
1)     you will make decisions faster,
2)     get more done, and
3)     be more successful overall.
Just make sure you consciously conquer the self-deceptive notions that can skew your path.

Risk and Reward

I’ve worked for myself since 2005. During that time, people have asked me how they can make more money, do interesting things, work on fun projects, etc. It has always been an interesting question, and my answer has changed over the years.
From the perspective of having a safe and secure career, having a job working for someone else is probably the best option. However, in exchange for that security, you must accept a ceiling on your potential income. Your compensation will likely be limited to your salary, unless you are in a sales role, can count on tips, or will receive wonderful bonuses based on certain achievements. Otherwise, your total compensation is unlikely to exceed your salary. But that’s a good trade-off for many.
For those who aspire to earn more, you must be willing to assume more risk or have (or be willing to develop) a clearly superior skillset, particularly if those skills are focused on generating revenue. One avenue is to start your own company, build out a product or a set of products, hire staff, and handle all the tasks associated with ownership. If you’re so inclined, your income potential and your profitability will be governed by the decisions you make, the money you save, the efficiencies you achieve, etc. But the risk is massive.
An alternative approach is to operate a one-person company, as I have done with The Event Mechanic! This ‘scrappy’ option requires rolling up your sleeves and dragging the business in. If you are not prepared to take this on or cannot do it effectively, then short of recruiting a ‘rainmaker’ (see my post on rainmakers) for the business, you are better off working for someone else and accepting the limits of a salary. I write this with a smile, remembering a business acquaintance who recently called me an opportunist, which I considered to be a positive comment. Indeed, you must be able to spot an opportunity and then create and market value to win deals. With those deals and the revenue that you build from them, you can make a living. In terms of my own business, I have earned more year over year than I ever made working for someone else – even when I was in a sales role.
But I’m on the JV team in terms of creating massive opportunity and income. Alan Weiss, long recognized as a guru on consultants, has written a book called Million Dollar Marketing. I’d suggest you read it because the alchemy of building revenue and wealth is fascinating.
Weiss might rank money-making opportunities in the following order, from least to most lucrative:
  1. Be on call for a retainer – You are available to a limited number of executives for a fixed time period, such as a year. This approach assumes that you have a reservoir of knowledge that is worth a lot of money for your clients to access. Believe it or not, anyone can get to this level with the right skill and effort. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
  1. Fixed project work for a specified amount – This the most common consulting arrangement, where you are hired for a fixed amount of time to achieve a certain outcome. Though these are the “bread and butter” of consulting projects, you are always in danger of scope creep. If you have underestimated the time and resources you will need to reach the objective and are bound to a fixed price for the project, they can be very unprofitable.
  1. Paid by the hour – These engagements can be quite lucrative, particularly if the hourly rate is significant. But you are limited by the number of hours you work, so there is a ceiling.
  1. Commission-based projects – Though these can be quite lucrative, they can also be highly risky. If you can’t close anything, you are investing effort without any payoff. These are the easiest ‘deals’ to get because the risk is mostly your, not the clients.
As far as securing interesting and fun projects, once you are your own boss you get to decide what you work on. That’s something I have found immeasurably uplifting.
If you are looking for higher income then you must invest in yourself and do better self promotion, even if you stay in a salaried position. The benefits and freedom are immeasurable.