Tag Archives: face to face sales

B2B Conferences: Essential Marketing Tactic…or Waste of Time and Money?

Regardless of industry, B2B conferences and seminars can be a significant waste of time, money and opportunity. But the conference sponsor is typically not at fault for the lack of return on this marketing investment. It’s often the result of poor planning, lack of creativity, laziness or unrealistic expectations by the companies that participate in them.

Here are three issues you should address, in advance of investing in a conference of any kind:

Do I understand the inherent marketing value of conferences? Before it became a “pay to play” world, there was some brand stature and inherent 3rd party endorsement associated with participation as a keynote speaker or panelist on a conference agenda. Nowadays, however, even if you’re invited to speak, attendees will likely assume that you’ve paid for the privilege, so the brand cachet is diminished.

The real marketing value of participation in any conference agenda is not based on what you say to the 100 attendees during your 15 minutes on the podium. Instead, it’s based on what you do, both before and after the conference, to reach, influence and engage the 1,000+ or 2,000+ decision-makers who were either too busy or too important to attend the event. In many respects, a conference simply provides a legitimate reason to communicate with those individuals who are most important you.

Do I have the internal discipline to make conferences a worthwhile investment? Because conferences are expensive, inefficient, haphazard and difficult to evaluate, you must establish an internal discipline and specific strategies to harness their marketing value. For starters, you need access to a robust, accurate database of your clients, prospects and referral sources. Possessing a list of conference attendees, either before or after the conference, is of lesser importance.

You also need to create a detailed communications strategy – tailored for each event – that addresses how you intend to:

  • Share intellectual capital associated with the event (either generated by you or someone else), and how to
  • Leverage that intellectual capital to drive engagement with your target audiences either before and / or after the conference.

For example, if you’ve given a conference presentation, you can send highlights of your remarks to your database shortly after the event, and offer to send them your complete remarks or PowerPoint slides. Or you can convert your presentation into a bylined article for publication in an appropriate business or trade journal, and then send target audiences the published piece along with a personalized cover note.

If you’re not on the podium, you’ll need to be more creative. For example, you might send your target audiences a “Sorry I missed you…” communication that provides your insights on the conference’s highlights, or expresses a contrarian viewpoint related to its underlying theme. Or you might even consider hi-jacking the conference agenda, by inviting high-value targets to a roundtable discussion / reception at a very exclusive venue near the event. (Conference sponsors do their best to prevent this type of guerilla marketing.)

In all cases, the strategic goal is to amortize the time and money you’ve invested in the conference, in order to reach a wider and sometimes more appropriate audience. By using the conference credibility (or its related topic / theme) to showcase your intellectual capital, drive top-of-mind awareness and foster direct engagement, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of yielding a connection between the event and tangible business metrics, including new client engagements and revenue growth.

Are my expectations for this conference realistic? Sometimes lightning actually does strike: you’ll make a connection at a conference that eventually leads to new business. But most of the time, putting your company’s logo on a lanyard, participating in a panel discussion, or sponsoring a mid-morning coffee break will lead to absolutely nothing. If there were a consistent direct connection between conference participation and business growth, there would be a very long waiting list for sponsorships.

If you understand that conferences will always be a low percentage marketing strategy, then you have a clear choice. You can either:

  1. Avoid conferences altogether, by hosting your own private events or programs.
  2. Leverage your participation to showcase intellectual capital with a wider audience.
  3. Simply enjoy the camaraderie, the golf / tennis / beach, and the nightlife…and hope for the best. In short, conference participation is similar to all other marketing-related tactics. Smart, focused and strategic will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

In short, conference participation is similar to all other marketing-related tactics. Smart, focused and strategic will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

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The Power of Insulting Customers: Confessions of a Vacuum Cleaner Sales Rep

The Rolls Royce of Vacuum Cleaners

My connection with advertising legend David Ogilvy is that, early in our careers, we both sold consumer appliances door-to-door. Long before he founded Ogilvy & Mather in 1949, and following a short-lived career as a chef in Paris, David Ogilvy sold AGA cooking stoves to housewives in Scotland. Long before I founded Highlander Consulting, as a college student seeking money for gas and beer, I sold Fairfax vacuum cleaners to housewives in Connecticut.

Ogilvy claimed his door-to-door sales experience provided insights into the mind of the consumer that earned him acclaim as an advertising wizard. I credit my door-to-door experience with an appreciation for the power of insulting people as a sales tactic.

Created long before Star Wars, Fairfax vacuums looked like R2-D2, were priced at several hundred dollars and equipped with a motor so powerful it could nearly – to borrow a phrase – suck the chrome off a trailer hitch. Although my recollection of how I first became associated with the Fairfax Company remains fuzzy, I can recall every detail of my first home demonstration, given to an unsuspecting housewife by my sales trainer, a seasoned vacuum cleaner salesman straight from Glengarry Glen Ross.

Here’s a replay of our sales visit:

Sales Trainer:    Thank you, Mrs. Jones, for allowing us to demonstrate the power of the Fairfax vacuum. Before I do that, would you kindly show me the vacuum cleaner you’re currently using to clean your beautiful house?

[Mrs. Jones brings her vacuum out of the closet. The Sales Trainer plugs it in and then pulls out a glass jar full of dirt, hair, dust balls and other unpleasant items.]

Mrs. Jones:         Oh, my!

Sales Trainer:      Now I don’t want you to be upset, Mrs. Jones, I assure you that no permanent damage will be done to your rug.

Mrs. Jones:         Well, I’m not sure that…

[The Sales Trainer opens the top of the glass jar, and dumps the entire mess on to a portion of the rug.]

Mrs. Jones:         Oh, my!

[The Sales Trainer smiles at Mrs. Jones while he steps into the pile of dirt and grinds it into her rug with his foot.]

Mrs. Jones:         [Visibly upset.] Oh, my!!! How will I ever get that dirt out…

Sales Trainer:      Let’s see how well your vacuum cleaner handles this mess.

[The Sales Trainer vigorously vacuums the rug for several minutes with Mrs. Jones’ vacuum until no dirt is visible and the rug’s original appearance is restored. Mrs. Jones now appears more relaxed.]

Sales Trainer:      Would you say that this area of your rug is clean now, Mrs. Jones? Why don’t you get down and take a closer look, to check for any dirt?

[Mrs. Jones reluctantly agrees, bends over to take a closer look and runs her hand over the carpet.]

Mrs. Jones:         You seem to have gotten all of the dirt out. You really scared me for a moment.

Sales Trainer:      Well, let me give it a couple more passes with your vacuum, just to be sure it’s clean.

[The Sales Trainer begins to vacuum the area again. Mrs. Jones looks at me.  I look down at the floor until he stops the vacuum…The Sales Trainer sits down and directs Mrs. Jones’ attention to his new Fairfax vacuum which features a clear plastic fitting in the middle of the hose (for demo purposes only) containing a white, porous paper filter designed to collect any dirt before it enters the vacuum canister.]

Sales Trainer:      As you can see Mrs. Jones, my Fairfax vacuum is equipped with a special paper filter that will show us how much dirt is being collected. So let’s go back over that spot we just cleaned with your vacuum.

[With great fanfare, the Sales Trainer begins to vacuum the rug. As he does, he points to the white filter in the hose, which immediately begins to collect debris and turn black in color. Mrs. Jones stares at the filter. She looks quickly at the Sales Trainer, then at me, and begins to mutter something to herself as the Sales Trainer shuts down the Fairfax.]

Mrs. Jones:         That’s amazing…I never…

Sales Trainer:      As you can see, Mrs. Jones, your vacuum appears to have missed quite a bit of dirt and debris that was in your rug.

Mrs. Jones:         It certainly did.

Sales Trainer:      Mrs. Jones…may I ask you a personal question?

Mrs. Jones:         Well, I guess so…

Sales Trainer:      Mrs. Jones…Do you care about the health and safety of your family?

Mrs. Jones:         Why, of course I…

Sales Trainer:      Mr. Jones…Is this really the way you want your family to live…[long pause as he points to the black filter on the hose]…in a dirty, germ-filled house?

[Having just suggested that Mrs. Jones is an unfit housekeeper, she is clearly shaken and unable to respond. She looks at the Sales Trainer, and then at me. Expecting the worst, I shuffle my feet, planning a rapid retreat from the house. The Sales Trainer remains frozen in position, during a very long silence, staring at Mrs. Jones, waiting for her to answer his question.]

Mrs. Jones:         [Clearing her throat.] How much will your Fairfax vacuum cleaner cost me?

[The tension in the room evaporates. The Sales Trainer sits down, pulls out a contract from his valise, and proceeds to sell Mrs. Jones a new Fairfax vacuum.]

My tenure as a Fairfax vacuum sales rep was short-lived and highly unsuccessful, never having found the courage to ask Connecticut housewives the insulting question that would initiate a sale. However, to this day I continue to apply the important lessons in sales craftsmanship taught to me by my Fairfax vacuum sales trainer:

  • Know what’s important to your customer.
  • Be straightforward in pointing out a problem (or opportunity.)
  • Demonstrate a viable solution.

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