Sam Cande, group commercial director at Centaur Media, says no secret sales technique can compete with belief in a product.
What does it take to be successful in sales these days?
It’s been over 15 years since I first entered exhibition sales. It was a small, local wedding exhibition at Alexandra Palace, and we were hit by a huge storm. Trees were in the road, nobody wanted to leave home and the two owners of the event were hiding upstairs in the organiser’s office. I was left to try and manage the uproar from the exhibitors, who understandably were upset at the lack of visitors.
How I got through that weekend I’ll never know, but what I did know was that I couldn’t just leave our exhibitors to stare down the empty aisles on their own.
It was that eureka moment that made me realise exhibitions were my future. And if I could cope with that, then I could cope with anything.
Thankfully, I haven’t quite experienced anything like that again, although the combination of a tube strike, Southern Rail strike, BA strike and Storm Doris could have seen a similar situation return. I have to thank the thousands of visitors, hosted buyers and exhibitors who all turned up to the Business Travel Show and Travel Technology Europe in February, as it was the buzziest event I’ve seen in years (if I do say so myself).
Here’s the thing – and people often ask me this – when I set my sights on an event, how do I manage to grow it, year after year, no matter what?
For me, it’s not the years of sales training, secret selling techniques or expensive marketing technology; it’s passion, drive and belief that we have the best event in our market.
Believe in your product and the rest will come naturally. I’ve met hundreds of sales people in my life and few stick in my mind, but the ones that do greet me with a smile, know my name, know something about me and my business, and have an understanding of what I need to be more successful. It’s not easy selling to someone. Actually, that’s a lie; I don’t think it is difficult. I always say, I don’t sell to people, people buy from me. What is indisputably easy is listening to what your customers want, getting into the minds of your customer’s customer and imagining for just a moment how you could sell their product to their customers.
Once you know that, the world is your oyster. And while you’re at it, be nice, be helpful, be generous with your time and do everything you can to help your customers. This is my motto.
When I shut my eyes and think of my event, I want it to look amazing. I want my exhibitors to be the best exhibitors that they can, so I train them. I make sure they aren’t sitting down on their phones, they aren’t hungover from staying out till 4am, they are asking the buyers opening questions, they are catching as many leads as possible and then, after the event, they are doing the right follow up.
What do I get in return? Appreciative exhibitors, and very successful ones, who trust me when they are making decisions about what they will do next with their budgets.
And there’s something else. I may be the commercial director of four events and have a team of eight people, but I still sell, and I love it. And my team sell and love it too.
We love picking up the phone, we love going to see clients and going to networking events and we love the thrill of that sale, no matter what it is. When I interview people, it’s all about the passion and the hunger to sell. Experience doesn’t matter, but they have to want to be part of a team that wears a T-shirt saying ‘I am a salesperson and proud of it’.
Exhibitions is one of the best businesses for a salesperson. If you get it right, you can prove ROI and, at the end of the day, that’s all our customers want.
I always say to exhibitors, ‘If it works, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t. But I can show you how to make it work, and guide you through the steps to ensure you are successful, and if you take my advice then you will come back year after year and grow your business and come on a journey with us’.
My advice to aspiring sales people is this: Get on the phone. Get out to networking events. Get out to see clients. Don’t be afraid to speak to people and throw yourself into your industry. If you believe in yourself and your product, it’ll shine through.