Trade Show TalesBlog

Posts Tagged ‘sales’

The Sale That Got Away

September 10th, 2015 10 COMMENTS


Many moons ago, I worked for a high-tech startup in Portland. You know the one. Free food. Massage appointments in the office every Thursday. Stock options. Beer and wine at brainstorming sessions. It was exciting. It was enticing. Best of all, I was going to be fabulously rich.

A year and a half into the gig, after chasing a large media conglomerate for months, I landed an appointment for our CTO and CEO to present the software. We needed the order. The startup was running on fumes and getting additional investor funding depended on a firm contract. Well, a week later, the startup cratered after burning through about $28 million (or so I was told).

From time to time, I wonder what would have happened if I had secured that appointment four weeks earlier. The software was a good fit, but we simply ran out of money. Knowing that… could I have done anything differently that would have changed the outcome?

SalespersonSales are funny that way. We are so conditioned by “sales success” that we tend to ignore “sales failure.” So we congratulate ourselves on what we did right to land the order — Not on what we did wrong that prevented us from getting it. We create excuses. We blame the situation or a person.

As an exhibit account executive who lost a sale, you may not have been able to change the decision. The client may have wanted to work with a vendor 20 miles away rather than 200 miles away. Or, you didn’t have exhibit storage services and your competitor did. As with most decisions or outcomes, it’s nearly always the little things, both said and unsaid, that matter.

Ask Yourself

#1. Homework. Have you done your homework? Have you studied their website? Have you read any recent business articles about the company regarding trends and new products? No one expects you to be an expert, but the moment a potential supplier says to me in my conference room, “What do you do?” I’ve already checked them off my list.

#2. Attention. Does your customer have your full attention with every email, every call, every meeting? In reality, you’re on a business date, hoping to get married and have a couple of kids. [OK, this may be a quickie instead.] Either way, you’ll be successful if you are fully present and not checking out the tall redhead with the plunging neckline that smells like sea breeze and cinnamon. Hmmm… what were we talking about?

#3. Questions. Are you asking the right questions? Seems obvious but asking the right questions means two things:  1. Shutting up and not talking about yourself, and 2. Doing your homework before the meeting and asking the right questions.

Taking Notes#4. Notes. Want to be a sales superstar at your next meeting? Take notes. Then use those notes to ask questions and clarify any points? Even if you think you understand, ask anyway so they know you understand their business and their objectives. You may be impressed by a server who takes your order without writing anything down. In a business meeting, winners tap and scribble. You can quote me on that.

#5. Tactful, Persistent, Professional. You can divide poor salespeople into two camps. Those who drive 50 miles an hour in the left-hand lane when the speed limit is 65 or those who take every corner way too fast. I’m always impressed by the salesperson who can read a person and know exactly how and how often to contact a client. They don’t rely on a formula. They ask, they learn, they persevere, and they are unfailingly polite. They are quite simply the tactful, persistent professional.

So ask yourself, “What could I have done better or different with the one that got away?” Was it really out of your hands or did you hand it to your competitor on a silver platter.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or



“Can I Afford to Be Optimistic?” by Jay Goltz

January 11th, 2013 COMMENTS

Jay Goltz, a contributor to “You’re the Boss: The Art of Running a Small Business” in The New York Times asks himself, “Can I Afford to Be Optimistic?” For anyone working in a small business, you might enjoy his thoughts.

“It is time to complete the budget for 2013. I now have the final numbers from 2012 to help in the planning/forecasting/guessing game that I have been playing for 35 years. My comptroller reminds me that every year, for as long as she can remember, she has had to reduce my projections by midyear. Great. Is it a shortcoming to be optimistic if you own a company? The answer is yes, and no. At the moment, more yes.

This year did not turn out as I had planned, or perhaps as I had hoped. There was no big recovery in either the economy or in my industry (home furnishings). We did make some progress, but I had budgeted and spent money as if we were going to be in a recovery or growth mode: more people, more inventory, more advertising.

I have lived and navigated through many recessions, and I can tell you that this has not been a normal one. In the good, old recessions, you would have a down year and then recuperate slowly over the next one or two. We are now in year five, and while things have clearly gotten better, we are hardly back to where we were in 2008. The unemployment rate is still high, and most small-business owners I know are still struggling.”

Continue to The New York Times article

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or



The Fallacy of Running a Small Business

August 22nd, 2012 1 COMMENT

Sales/Marketing, Finance, and Operations: Choose One

In a former life, I was a small business consultant for start-ups, mostly technology companies and inventors. It was rewarding . . .  and it was brutal. Nearly every day, I worked with entrepreneurs on their financials, marketing plans, and operations. Most were obsessive and deluded. They knew their product or service, but they struggled with long-term planning, raising capital, implementation, and customer service. I loved them for their vision but was exasperated by their inability to tackle all facets of starting and running a business.

Then one day I shared my frustration with a really smart woman named Cheryl. Cheryl had been working with traditional small businesses for 20 years through state and local assistance programs. She had guided them at every stage:  research, business plans, financing, launch, growth, and in many cases, bankruptcy. We’re talking about restaurants, beauty salons, car repair shops, and franchises of every make and model. She was good. And for these types of businesses, there were very few unknowns, except the owner.

Here’s What She Told Me

She said, “Mel, the small business model is flawed. It always has been; yet, we continue to expect it succeed. Read any book on how to start a business or grab a pamphlet from the SBA and you’ll get the same message. To be successful, you must devote equal time to your company’s financials, operations, and sales/marketing. Neglect one and the three-legged stool collapses.”

“How is that flawed?” I said. “I see it all the time. A business owner spends all their time in sales, but doesn’t address operational issues and then the business starts to fall apart.”

“Correct. But, here’s what no one ever tells them. I’ve been doing this for a long time, having worked with several thousand businesses, and during that time, I’ve never seen any business owner, not even one, good at doing more than two of these skills. Most are only good at one. They can sell, but they can’t handle the finances. They love accounting, but hate marketing. They are operational wizards, but are terrible managing people. They want to do all three. They intend to pay bills for instance, but they work on a newspaper ad instead. They do what they like and what they understand.”

“So it’s not really about discipline or time management,” I said. “It’s just human nature. We gravitate to the tasks we enjoy and we avoid those that are unpleasant, hard, or bore us. If that’s true, and knowing that most small businesses have limited resources, what’s the answer?”

“It’s not always easy. Most are unwilling to admit that they can’t do everything. I tell them that there’s a reason that businesses hire a sales manager, an accountant, and an operations manager once they reach a certain size. You may not be able to afford that now, but you can probably afford to offload your day-to-day financials to an independent bookkeeper or task an employee with daily operations or have a local marketing firm or graphic designer create your ads, letterhead, website, etc. Do what you are good at and enjoy. Assign what you don’t to others, but always manage and review the process. It’s still your business.”

I’d love to tell you that all my clients took that advice when I shared it with them. Some did. Most didn’t. Others appreciated the advice much later. I even had one client give me the same speech, never realizing that I’d given him that advice six months before.

There are lots of reasons why small businesses fail, such as poor cash management, too much inventory, not delegating, ignoring customers, or not knowing your costs. But those are only symptoms. We can’t be good at everything. Nor does it does mean that a small business owner has to relinquish control. “It’s still your business,” as Cheryl said. Identify your strengths and admit your weaknesses. Then let others do what they do best.

What do you do best? Worst? Share your experiences as a small business owner.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions and engineered aluminum extrusions (ClassicMODUL). Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100.

Word on the Street — October 19th thru October 23rd

October 22nd, 2009 COMMENTS
Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Selling Value in A Price-Driven Market

This week, I’d like to share an online article. The article struck a chord with me because it addresses “Value.” In nearly every face-to-face meeting I’ve had over the past 12-18 months with distributors, suppliers, and co-workers, they have  asked me how I define and sell value in a market dominated by price.

When apples are being compared to apples, especially in a price-driven market, how do I, as a salesperson, differentiate myself from the competition?

Rather than copying the entire article, here is the link: Give it a read or a listen. 

Everyday, we face many of the same issues. For example, rentals exhibits are huge right now. For those who have rental divisions that’s a good thing. But as a salesperson selling new exhibits, how can you move a prospective renter into a new purchase? In the current economy, the cards are often stacked against you.

But let’s use Bill’s logic from the article and apply it to exhibits . . .

Why not make your “new” exhibit offering so different and include so many additional benefits that the buyer assigns a value that exceeds the cost differential?

So how do you do this? I am not pretending to have all the answers, but for me, it starts with realizing that “Value” is not a concrete thing. It’s a moving target that can mean a million and one different things to different people. It doesn’t always mean the lowest price, and it’s something that cannot always be seen or shown in renderings or on a quote sheet. More often than not, it’s NOT something on the Front Page, but on the inside pages.

In the exhibits we design and manufacturer, value starts on the inside pages:  What happens once the order is placed? Here are some valuable add-ons that I believe sets us (and you) apart from our competition and allows you to succeed in less obvious ways: 

  • Fast and reliable turnaround times. With customers holding on to their money until the last minute that’s often the difference between getting the order and not getting the order.
  • Detailed setup instructions with actual photos showing the more complex components.
  • Setup instructions that are available 24 hours a day for download off the web should they ever get lost, misplaced, or destroyed (just go the home page at Classic and enter your job number).
  • Detailed, level-by-level or slipsheet-by-slipsheet packaging instructions. These details make it much easier to repack the exhibit and extend the life of the exhibit. EVERYONE wants and DESERVES obvious and reusable packaging.
  • A complete preview of every exhibit prior to leaving the shop, including graphics if provided. This allows us to send photos to you either before the exhibit ships or the next morning so you see that the display looked and functioned as designed. It’s immediate peace of mind. 
  • People:  Based on the feedback we receive from distributors, we believe our people are better. Whether they’re in customer service, design, production, or administration, our employees do more, care more, and are more knowledgeable than our competitors.

Finally, when it comes to selling exhibits, don’t get me wrong . . . design sells!! It’s the sizzle! Our designers are expected to hit a  home run on a 30′ x 30′ island for example. There is tremendous value in that. But when it comes to deciding whether to sign that $100,000 check, there better be more on the table than just design.  

How do you add value to the exhibits you sell?

Have a safe and restful weekend.

Be Well!

–Kevin Carty