Originally published in Exhibition News
Everyone knows the old clichés about event sales. ‘It’s all about face to face’. ‘People buy people’.
In fact, it’s almost as much of a cliché to point out that these sayings are so prevalent because they’re true.
One thing that isn’t lauded enough in our industry, though, is our ability to help imagine, create and execute a grand, smooth-running event alongside our clients. So much of what we do is about selling an intangible product: an experience that hasn’t yet happened, but that our clients can visualise when they close their eyes in the weeks, months and even years before the event takes place.
I like to call this ‘selling the dream’. An event salesperson’s success hinges on their ability to forge a partnership with the client, and to weave an event story that gives the client confidence in what is being sold.
So how do we do this? I’ll try to explain without dipping into clichés.
I really believe in being genuine. I want my clients to buy into me before they buy into anything else that I’m offering. It’s not about being a stereotype of a salesperson – not listening, forcing a product down clients’ throats. Instead, you have to talk to somebody on a level that shows that you understand where they’re coming from and what they are looking to achieve.
It’s undoubtedly a different type of sales than any other industry. The first thing you should do is build a relationship with someone, a rapport. How can you give a client confidence in you and your team’s ability if they can’t even have a decent conversation with you?
Because we aren’t selling a tangible product, a salesperson’s ability to connect with their clients becomes the most important tool in their belt. Wouldn’t it be easier to sell a product that clients could touch and feel during the pitch? Yes, of course – but it’s definitely more exciting to feel a genuine emotional connection with our clients and watch the event of their dreams come to life!
That’s also why it’s good to have experience in a lot of areas of the events industry. A lot of people in the industry move around and have worked on all sides of the fence. If you’ve worked for companies up and down the event chain, there is no limit to who you can connect with. It gives you a really well-rounded view; it’s great to have walked in their shoes so that you understand what they’re trying to achieve.
You can travel around the world with events – having been lucky enough to do so myself – and though cultural differences can be difficult to navigate, one thing never changes: clients respond to authenticity.
Now that I’ve said how important it is to know the industry back to front, I’m going to make a slight contradiction. Avoid talking in ‘eventspeak’: the technical language of AV, data capture and stand builds that comes off as too insider-y and will only elicit blank stares from clients who are dipping their toes into the events world for the first time.
I’ve got a friend who recently set up a business and she was talking to me about exhibiting for the first time and not knowing where to begin. When you’ve worked in the industry for so many years, you forget that actually just mentioning ‘event intelligence’ can be a non-starter, because people who haven’t exhibited before don’t know what that means!
Event intelligence is fantastic – GES’ Visit Connect offers tangibles like lead capture and measurement, giving clients more insight and understanding into their event. But when we talk about it, it should be in aid of the foundational partnership that has already been built between salesperson and client.
When you’re selling an experience happening in the future, so much of it depends on your ability to listen and then respond accordingly. By relating to someone and being more personable, you might stand out from your competitors. Most of the big shows that I work on are based on relationships that I have right from the beginning, and them buying into that trust in me.
Understand the industry that your client is in, and tailor solutions that will help them achieve their dream.
It’s not just about me, the salesperson; it’s the team behind me, the team that’s going to be a strategic partner with my client going forward. Most people working on events spend more time with their various teams than they do with their families! Events are full on, and everybody knows that. So if clients don’t trust you, or believe that your team can execute their vision, then you are dead in the water.
Ultimately, as a salesperson, I come in during the early stages of my clients’ event dreams, and it is my job to show them how the team behind me can help make those dreams a reality. And that is all about trust in me as a person. I can provide testimonials and references, but up until the moment that we actually successfully deliver a fabulous event experience, all my client can rely on is that they genuinely believe in me, and what I’ve sold to them.
That calls for a lot of empathy and emotional intelligence – something I’ve alluded to already. It may sound romantic, but we’re selling a dream to our clients, and the only way that that will be successful is if you create an authentic partnership on a person to person level. That’s not a cliché – it’s just the truth.