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How to Find – and Keep – the Best Salespeople

I am frequently asked if I know any great salespeople who would be interested in a new opportunity. Given the frequency of the question, I thought I would outline what I feel are the common elements for a successful effort to hire (and keep) a great salesperson. When speaking at the SuperNiche Conference last April I stated I would only ever hire a salesperson who was recommended to me and would not hire anyone any other way.

And I still think that’s the right approach. However, if that’s not possible, I recommend the following:
 
WHEN YOU REVIEW CANDIDATES
 
1) Forget about past work in the business.

Most people hire by resumé when they don’t have a recommendation. This often is a trap, as people can accentuate the positive and minimize the negative in that document. Here’s what I suggest your focus should be when you meet the candidate: do they have the innate confidence, the assertiveness, needed to sell? Identifying raw talent over experience can give you an advantage over other companies that tend to look for people who fit a certain profile.

2) Hire at any age- if they have the stones.

Look beyond the candidate’s age. Five years ago, I hired a 70+-year-old who still works with me to this day. He has the chops, the customer service, the doggedness, and the closing ability that many other employers probably didn’t recognize because of his age. Similarly, I would hire (and train) a younger person who didn’t have the experience typically expected for the role. My first conference company, DCI, staffed their team with salespeople who were a mere two years out of college. In the 90s DCI rejected many acquisition offers that were attributable to how the company was engineered. The quality of the sales staff was a cornerstone of its value.
 
WHEN YOU INTERVIEW CANDIDATES

3) Challenge them.

Once you’ve gotten through the introductory chat and feel comfortable with the discussion, question their ability to do the job and wait for the response. If they agree with you or give you a weak answer, you successfully have disqualified a ‘poser.’ You want them to qualify themselves as the best of the bunch and well-positioned to do the job. Sales is no place for wallflowers, so do your best to filter them out with tough questions.

4) Do they exhibit dominance and influence?

Do they naturally try to take control of the interview? Do you see yourself positively influenced by their style, presentation, preparation, knowledge of your company, and the challenges of the position? If so, you may be on to a winner. If not, how will they perform when you’re not with them?

WHEN MAKING THE OFFER
5)  Offer them a piece of the action

The worst mistake a sales manager can make is to give a salesperson a big base relative to their commissions. The best decision a sales manager can make is to pay for performance. There’s no hiding if you can’t sell, so why not pay for stellar performance even it might result in a higher commission rate or paycheck for them than you originally intended? You should have scenarios that lay out what the salesperson can earn that you can show the candidate. Even better, include such details in the advertisements you use to recruit candidates. Emphasizing performance will identify those who don’t plan to ‘mail it in.’
 
 
HOW TO RETAIN THEM ONCE HIRED

6) Make sure they are trained.

When I looked around to see what kind of official sales training exists, I was shocked at how few options exist, particularly for event sales. I even considered starting my own sales training program to fill the gap. Therefore, I would suggest that your company commit to a minimum of quarterly sales training for your staff- whether it be internally managed, involving external consultants, or best yet, leveraging your own salespeople. In the third option, your staff can use their experience within your company to recommend areas of improvement and ways to overcome common roadblocks that can be formulated into regular training. Most companies do not commit to periodic sales training; identify your organization as ahead of the pack and this will give you a big advantage in acquiring and retaining the best sales staff.

7)  Be a sales-driven company.

In 2021, I wrote a post that identified five types of companies. If you have a sales-driven company, congratulations, you have the best environment to attract great salespeople. In such a company, they are the stars, and there’s no hiding from poor sales when the organization’s spotlight is on you. The best sales staff are driven by ego and highlighting the winners will help your company foster success.
 
8)     Make sure they are well incentivized.
Note I didn’t say, well paid irrespective of results. As I wrote earlier, the larger the percentage of total compensation that is a base salary, the greater the likelihood you will have problems with performance. Let the ‘cherry’ be a little hard to reach, but ensure your best people get the best rewards, even if it costs you a little more.

Your salespeople should never be completely comfortable. They should also be rewarded for their performance, particularly when the company is doing well based on their efforts.

Plan to change the way you source.Interview, hire, compensate, and retain your sales staff and watch your company’s revenues take off. And have fun doing it!
 
This post gets its inspiration from The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes.
 
 

How to Get More Revenue When Your Customer Budgets Are Shrinking

Times are tight. Even though ‘events are back’ your exhibitors are cutting back, as evidenced by their smaller budgets. They are returning neither your calls nor your emails. How do you reverse this trend and accelerate the process needed to increase your sales?

You CAN increase sales year over year, even though times remain tough.

As always, the fundamentals are still necessary for my guidance to work. You must have developed strong relationships with your customers and have ROI-driven events that can draw both the quantity and quality of attendees that your customers seek. You also need a proven commitment to customer service and a record of smooth event operation.

But given that foundation, there are things you should do immediately to [what I would call] ‘train’ your customers to understand that by choosing to work with you in the way that you propose, it will be to their benefit. And it will increase your revenue.                                                            

 

1) Always have an annual plan to offer each of your Top 10 (or more) exhibitors.

First, you need to understand the customer’s decision-making timetable to ensure that your proposal has an opportunity to be fully considered in advance of budget decisions. Next, you should look at the prior history of a customer’s purchases with you to identify when items were acquired throughout the year. Assuming your interest in bundling multiple purchases within a single contract, you should be able to create incentives (e.g., volume discounts of some type, free or discounted service add-ons, etc.) that the customer can acquire within that contractual relationship. Then, with such a baseline established, you may also have the opportunity to make additional offers during the year. The result should be increased year-over-year revenue from any customer who participates.

 
2) Ensure you have a champion within the exhibitor organization who A) understands what you are offering and why, and B) has the power to influence decisions regarding that offering.

This is of course critical. For your plan to work, you need someone on the customer side who is an advocate for your plan. This must be someone who likes and trusts you and has influence within their company. Someone who merely gathers information is unlikely to spend the time to understand the details of why a plan such as yours is beneficial for their company. Even if they did, they’d not have the authority to act on that understanding. So, avoid the information gatherer and find the decision-maker or -influencer.

3) Find out whether an exhibitor wants to “Dominate”, “Compete”, or “Be Present.”

Thanks to Ryan Dohrn for this one. Find out if your customer wants to “Dominate”, “Compete”, or just “Be Present” at your events and, more broadly, what are their goals for their market. Perhaps this is a question that you’ve never previously asked a customer. If that’s true, and you choose to do nothing else that I am recommending here, please remember this guidance. Understanding your customer’s goals will help you understand their spending focus and, accordingly, help you construct and position your offer.

“Dominate” customers should want the biggest presence at your events, as they are seeking to be more influential than ANY of their competitors. That means they’ll be incented to spend to achieve that goal – a huge green light for your plan. Customers who aspire to “Compete” will want to be on an equal level with their competitors – neither more nor less. Those who choose to “Be Present” will want to do the minimum, but they’ll need to ensure it is sufficient enough to be visible.

Your Top 10 customers (with a prior history of investing in your events) will likely fit in the first two categories, as there will be a strong correlation between their past spending on events and their broader goals for the market. But you’ll need to calibrate your package offers accordingly. If you have put together an exhibitor package that fits a customer with a Compete goal, but the customer tells you they want to Dominate, that’s a signal that you should add more to the package to accommodate the greater ambition. But if you presumed a customer has Dominate aspirations (with the appropriate package for that goal) and they indicate they’re intent is to Compete, I would recommend that you not adjust your offering, but rather leave the proposal as is, for reasons I will explain below.

4) Always propose a package to an exhibitor based on your research as to what is right for them.

Don’t look to have a detailed discussion about the elements of a proposal before you send it – unless the customer requests it. If you have done your homework, you’ve already picked the items they should want, and you’ve been insightful about presenting a package that fits their goals and is comparable to what they have bought previously. 

5) Give them the best deal possible without compromising existing pricing arrangements.

Make sure you’ve given the appropriate discounts – based on a presumed annual commitment – but don’t be more aggressive than that with your pricing offer. When you get the inevitable discount requests, you’ll have the defensible position that that no-one else – with similar dollar spend – is getting a better deal, thus helping you ensure your goal of a revenue lift from each customer.

6) Go for the close, asking when the deal will be signed and what their process will be.

Present the package and ask what the next steps will be. Put pressure on getting a decision if there is anything in the package that has a limited inventory. Have an agreed timeline for moving the deal forward. Surprisingly, the last few times I have done this, the deal has sailed through with the customer signing off on a package with the components, conditions, and payment schedules that were in the original proposal; all just by asking when the deal will be signed. This is why I recommend NOT adjusting a Dominate package if you find they are more likely to be a Compete customer. There’s always a chance that a customer might opt for your bigger proposal because it’s what was presented to them.

7) Repeat this process for all your Top 10 Clients.

Sounds easy, right? It is easier than you might think if you follow the guidelines above. If you can do this for all your key customers, you will increase their revenue contribution. In addition, you will ‘up the ante’ for other companies who want to Dominate or Compete, since their competitors will be investing more. Given that budgets are shrinking, you will also be taking marketing investment that would otherwise go to competing events. At least you will be taking money from the event competitors that are not pursuing similar customer strategies themselves. Perhaps you’ve noticed such activity from your competitors? If so, you’re late to the party, but you can recover by acting.

 
 
Good luck in getting more sales when budgets are shrinking. It’s eminently doable!

Event Marketers Who Focus Exclusively on Spreadsheets and Analytics Will Kill Their Events

Attendee profiles are constantly changing. Those who attended our events in the past may no longer be candidates as they are changing jobs within their current industry, retiring, or have taken new jobs in other industries. Given such changes, can we really know who next year’s attendees will be with any degree of confidence?

When I ask event marketing people what they are doing differently given these dynamics, the answer I get back is usually is an answer which includes some combination of tools, technologies, analytics, market segmentation, ad targeting, and social media outreach. The answer rarely includes telephone outreach with one on one conversations with members of key constituencies or meeting attendees walking the aisles of our tradeshows and conference rooms and engaging in face-to-face conversations. Indeed, why are so many staff members in the staff office the majority of their events talking to each other? I think that the failure to personally connect with live attendees is a huge mistake.

 
Since anticipation of the needs of and personally getting to know event audiences is something I’ve long prioritized,– as far back as when I opened for business in 2005 – I was inspired by my interview with Nicole Peck earlier this month. I particularly noted what she identified as the essential skill set for a successful event marketer
 

“The event marketer of the future will be a jack of all trades and master of many. They must be an experience curator, an expert in their community and use the data of their marketing campaigns to refine and optimize. Marketing teams will have sub-specialists or experts in data analytics. Key to the event marketer of the future remains an ability to write copy, understand how to communicate value proposition and excitement. I have said for many years, that your strongest marketers should be easily able to switch places with your best salespeople. They also must have a sense of humor and adventure. You never can fully know what will be thrown your way and must be able to flex where and when needed.” (The bolding is mine).

 

How far away is the typical event marketer from this ideal? A considerable distance. And the lack of personal insight about your attendees could well prove a mortal wound for your events. How can you create marketing plans, project milestones, production plans, and budgets solely by sitting behind a computer screen looking at analytics and click through rates? When I hear about event companies who bemoan the challenges in acquiring attendees, I am shocked when they have no plans to contact or meet their prospects. How can we talk about face-to-face events as being essential, when we ourselves don’t practice what we preach in our own marketing efforts?

 

What’s getting in the way? Perhaps it’s the nature of the typical event marketer. How many of your marketing staff could switch places with your best sales reps? Very few, I am guessing. And why is that? Because a marketer is often an introverted person, whereas a sales rep is generally an extrovert. A good salesperson is comfortable and confident in engaging with the prospect to understand what they need. For a marketer, that engagement might not come as naturally. Though there’s been considerable advancement in the quantitative elements of modern marketing, numbers and the analysis of those numbers can only take you so far. After all, numbers are merely the numerical aggregation of many individuals. Numbers don’t make decisions – people do. And those numbers rarely can capture the nuances inherent in human decision-making. The real risk is that marketers can “hide” amongst the numbers and fail to understand the true motivation behind decisions, it is ironic that those most responsible for getting attendees to an event may be the furthest away from the customer.

 

 

Don’t be resigned to the status quo. You must press your marketers to get to know your attendees personally, whether it be via focus groups, communities, walking the show floor, or otherwise being physically present where the attendees are.

 

 
If you are having problems getting attendees, please start there. Ensure that those who are tasked with setting the strategy and developing the tactics are taking the necessary steps to ‘get up close and personal’ with your attendees. Failure to do so could mean the end of your event.

Are You a Leader or a ‘Knob Twiddler’?

The definition of a knob-twiddler (according to the online dictionary, Wiktionary) is “a technician whose job entails adjusting electronic devices via knobs.” More broadly, the term characterizes someone who operates the ‘machine’, i.e., someone who has a part in running things, but does not contribute to establishing the strategic direction nor is a leader in any way. This person is reactive, not proactive.
 
If you consider yourself proud to be a knob-twiddler, am I telling you to change? Yes, I am. Having endured two years of battering from COVID requires each of us to be a leader who can weather the remainder of this storm and those of the future. Furthermore, I believe it makes great sense to broaden the appeal, skillset, and value that you can provide to an organization. If you lack the perspective to understand the big picture, it’s incumbent that you 1) devise a way to understand that picture, 2) determine where you currently fit, and 3) figure out how you can expand your role and make substantive contributions. Knowing how, and ensuring that others know, is now crucial.

 

TIMES ARE TOUGH NOW

As an example, consider the experience of event companies whose success can rise and fall due to circumstances beyond their control. I remember working for a company whose fortunes turned downward after 9/11. When cuts had to be made, some of the operations and IT staff were the first to be let go. In time, they were followed by those in marketing, the content staff, and mid-level management. Last in this succession of departures were members of the sales team. More recently, of course, many of us have seen how COVID’s impact has decimated the industry. Given that, I’ve no doubt that you have stories that match mine.
 
Does the sequence of departures that I cited mean that operations and marketing people were the least valuable? No, but the common trait of everyone laid off, regardless of the role, was the perception that their skills were limited to the department within which they worked. Those who remained were considered able to perform multiple tasks, both within their specific department and in others. For example, there were those who, though not in sales, had sales skills that could be leveraged. One operations person, having worked previously in marketing, could contribute to that effort. There are other examples, as well.
 

ARE YOU PREPARED TO SURVIVE, TO THRIVE?

The value of possessing a variety of skills is not merely survival during a business downturn. Advancement of one’s career is enhanced by breadth of ability. You are far more promotable if your background reflects experience performing multiple functions. And, when that experience is within your current company, it’s gold.
 
If you are a good knob-twiddler, I commend you for doing a job that needs to be done and for doing it well. But you should consider broadening your appeal beyond just doing what’s asked of your current role. That way, you can prove your value when times again get tough – as they most assuredly will.
 
For companies to survive, all of us will need to find ways to lead.

There’s No Such Thing as a Hybrid Event

Have you ever heard an attendee say, “I just attended this great hybrid event?” You probably have not. And you never will.
 
Why? Because attendees view an event through the lens of their own experience. Face-to-face attendees don’t care about who’s online at the same show. Their participation in an event is grounded in the face-to-face experience they get. Likewise, online attendees aren’t that interested in who’s attending the event in person – with the possible exception of the speakers and exhibitors. The online attendees are having their own experience, and while they may wonder somewhat about what is happening onsite, it’s only if it relates to their online experience.
 
The term “hybrid” (in terms of events) is a marketing expression employed by technology companies to describe software that allows event organizers to gain efficiencies and expand their reach by delivering content to multiple channels (both in-person and online) simultaneously. But it’s not something which you should use if you plan to present an event to an attendee-they only care about the channel they choose to experience.
 
A “hybrid” event, however, still requires the organizer to create a unique experience for each kind of audience. It’s two projects, with the easy one being the creation of an experience for face-to-face attendees. More difficult, with the requirement for additional, specialized staff with expertise in delivering an online experience, is the virtual event.
 
As you should realize, despite the single term “hybrid”, two different events are happening within the same timeframe, albeit with some similar types of content (aided online by streaming, etc.). But a shared use of content does not change the fact that attendees get a different experience. Why are we projecting otherwise?
 
A further challenge is how exhibitors must organize themselves for a hybrid event. They need two different staffs to support both their onsite and online presence. What does an exhibitor do if they can only staff an onsite booth, yet want to connect with an online audience? Who are the best attendees with whom to connect, those online or onsite? What if an exhibitor can’t manage both effectively in those critical initial stages of prospect engagement?
 
The only way to do a true “hybrid” event is to treat each event uniquely, with each requiring its distinct strategy, staff, and execution plan, and market them to the audience the individual channel is intended to serve. You can use the economies available from shared content between the onsite and online sessions, but the timeframes, engagement expectations, and pricing are going to be different.
 
I might further argue, you should consider doing either an online event or a face-to-face event, but not attempt both in a single effort. Attempting to do both risks creating winners or losers, especially on the exhibitor side. And the style of an event should not be the arbiter of which exhibitor wins or loses – the exhibitor and their offerings should be the determining factors.
 
So, my advice is to tread lightly before embarking on a “hybrid” event and start in the shoes of your attendees to map out the best experience for them.

Comfort and Fear – How to use one to get more of the other

In the poem, Sad Cure, Graham Greene wrote that “Comfort and Fear – these two alone make Life / But while the Fear too often stood alone…The Comfort always had been mixed with fear.” *

That sentiment characterizes how many now are living: in fear. And because of that fear, they are allowing themselves to settle with what is most comfortable even when there are opportunities available. I must confess some disappointment that, despite the length of time we’ve had to become acclimated to the pandemic, many have failed to grasp the opportunities that have become obvious.

We’ve drifted down the river – rather than steer our own course – paralyzed by television news and social media and hoping for things to return to how they were in the good old days.

In some ways, my industry has acted differently. It has demonstrated a willingness to come together, with competitors collaborating in the hosting of events. There also have been new national advocacy efforts that I hope will champion the power and business value of events as we head into the future. You could also argue that the speed with which many events switched to virtual mode has proven to be a great learning opportunity for the industry.

All the above were spawned by reaction to the pandemic, rather than intentional efforts to innovate and grasp new opportunities. Despite all the positives that have happened, we’ve still tended to retreat due to the fear of failing, taking comfort in waiting until the situation returns to “normal” when we can again do what we did before.

I guess we’ll find out what the new “normal” is when vaccines take hold, the economy opens, and travel and budgets free up.

But rather than just wait, we still have an opportunity to act now. What do I suggest?

To start, I suggest we use the ‘energy’ of fear harness the opportunities of the future. Part of being able to do that will also demand that you:

1) Be friendly and helpful to others, even if you don’t agree with them- this will build future relationships.

2) Continue to listen to and learn from your customers- this will build loyalty and ideas for new products.

3) Constantly test innovation-this will build the business of the future.

4) Trust yourself and your colleagues that despite fear, your gut is usually right- this will build your business


Because of where we are, I see great opportunities available to us. If I am to learn anything from the Graham Greene poem, it’s to use fear as something that fuels an intention to find the next level of accomplishment.


Enjoy the opportunity to do so.

* “Sad Cure” as cited by Norman Sherry in ‘The Life of Graham Greene: Volume One, 1904-1939’