One of my long-term industry friends is Dan Cole, whom I first met in 2007 at a Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) event. Then serving as the Vice President of Sales for the Consumer Electronics Show, Dan moderated a SISO panel about exhibit sales strategies and tactics that wowed me with its insights and recommendations. To this day I believe he is one of the best exhibit sales trainers in the business. Since sales will be one of the primary mechanisms by which events improve profitability as we emerge from the COVID downturn, I was very interested in getting his take on the past 24 months and his recommendations for how sales teams should respond.
Here’s what he had to say:
Warwick Davies (WD): How have you reacted to COVID in the past 24 months? What’s worked? What hasn’t?
Dan Cole (DC): I have made the best of it. It’s a tragic situation, but also a time when industry colleagues have pulled together and exercised a high degree of empathy. This is how I’ve tried to comport myself as well.
WD: How have your strategies in advising clients how to sell their events?
DC: Keep on keeping on. Now is NOT the time to let go of or shirk away from potential or current relationships. “Within every adversity lay a seed of opportunity.” By no means am I advising to exploit the pandemic, but by all means, it’s an important time to continue reaching out to potential and current clients to convince them of the importance of their participation in our events. They’re human beings too, facing the same fight.
WD: Why are pre-COVID sales techniques not working for most event companies these days?
DC: We’ve said this for a long time and, frankly, I think it applies to both before and now as we come out of the pandemic: Don’t expect to be successful with a transactional mentality There’s still a tendency to promote a “smile and dial” approach. You might be smiling, but the person on the other end of the phone (if they even answer) is not. Build a relationship, exude trust and earn your way into a successful sale.
WD: What’s been your success with incorporating digital, other revenue generators?
DC: I cannot speak to this personally, but I have found it to be mixed. I will say that while I understand that it’s a risk to go virtual and that financially it might not be viable at all, big and small shows alike that employed various platforms stayed relevant. Doing so was not easy. Those who had the financial wherewithal to do so made a courageous decision. They found success with digital properties and related assets that sponsors could take advantage of.
WD: What is your view to launching new events in this environment?
DC: Go for it. Our clients need us. The industry has been awakened to identify and utilize best practices and new ideas. I think we can overdeliver on expectations more than ever. Trade Shows and events are important bellwethers for our country and the world. They help jumpstart all industries, and thus make a very important contribution to revenues. Besides this noble cause, there’s no time like now to offer potential exhibitors and attendees a unique, serendipitous, and unique experience.
WD: Has your view on innovation changed?
DC: I think my previous answers might have shed some light on this. Innovative technology is no longer a “nice to have” when it comes to fostering client (both exhibitors and attendees) engagement. It’s a must-have. It’s a differentiator. It’s the difference between long and short-term loyalty. You can’t make clients “work for it” when participating in your event—You have got to make it easy and seamless. They have other choices now (and COVID has proven this). The deadliest choice for us is for them to give up on investing in exhibiting and or attending a show. In some cases, attendees and exhibitors have already made this conclusion, and that puts us behind the 8 ball. It’s going to take a herculean effort to regain their business. Innovation– in whatever form we employ can help us do that.
WD: What are the top 5 things which today’s person needs to have in their satchel?
DC: They are, in no apparent order:
- Incurable optimism
- Constant improvement in one’s selling skills
- A firm, deep grasp of the industry in which one is involved, buyer and attendee personas.
- An understanding of the KPIs that are necessary for personal performance.
- A mentor who can share their perspective on Sales and Business Development success.
Hmm. Dan, it seems to me that many of your tips are things that a well-organized and successful sales rep should already have in his or her arsenal.
Appreciate your input!