Sales Q&A With Dan Cole: Building Relationships 24/7

What are some of the best practices for selling to attendees? How are you capturing leads and developing relationships throughout the year? Here, Dan Cole, vice president of sales and business development for the Consumer Electronics Association, which draws more than 3,000 exhibitors to its annual International CES, answers questions from real EXPO magazine readers. To ask Cole your own question, email us at

Q: “I don’t simply want to pitch my clients at a specific time before our next event. I’d like to build more of a year-round relationship, but at the same time, I don’t want them to burn out on me. How do I extend the sales communication to keep our show top of mind throughout the year?”

A: Good for you! You can extend your show’s relevancy by always having something new to talk about! I know it’s become a cliché, but what you refer to above is true: selling is about building and sustaining relationships. Part of this process is maintaining contact along with new and relevant information for your clients and prospects.  This isn’t accomplished just at the time of space selection, nor does it happen by a phone call once every 6 months. It happens on a consistent sustained basis, replete with phone calls, emails and personal visits (if possible).

Let’s look at a few benchmarks that you can use to maintain sincere, genuine relationships with your top prospects and customers:

At the Show

Of course, there is no easier time than at your show to be visiting with your current clients. Regardless if the show is going well or faltering, it is imperative that you’re visible to decision-makers and that they are convinced that you are at their service right then and there. From the moment that we arrive in Las Vegas, our salespeople are on the floor solving problems and encouraging customers. This should be a natural part of the development of the relationship process as we’re just continuing a means of communication that we’ve maintained all year.

Not only is it important that you are out there in front of things, it’s vital that your management is as well.  How often is your CEO available and on the floor? I know that our CEO, Gary Shapiro, can’t wait to get on the show floor and meet with clients. He welcomes feedback and follows through on commitments. Typically, he answers his own phone, particularly after the show when customers may contact him to either praise or criticize. Use your show and the time shortly thereafter to create the foundation for your relationships.

Now that was the easy part, for there’s never a better time to interact with current clients than around show time. Now, what do you do the rest of the year, and how do you sequence the prospecting process?

Throughout the year

One of the most effective things you can do is to set your clients’ expectations. Let them know from the very first call or visit that you make it a practice to keep in touch with your prospects and customers on a regular basis, and then follow through! I advise our salespeople to find reasons to call beyond the need to sell exhibit space. Show your prospect or customer that you care about their business personally by forwarding along material that relates to them.

  • • You might see an article that revolves around their industry, or their company or even their competition.
  • • If you work for an association, there might be a new public policy, membership benefit or educational or networking opportunity of which they might take advantage.
  • • Perhaps there is a new vehicle for them to reach out to show attendees or a way to showcase their product or service on a year round basis.
  • • By all means, if you have the resources, make it your business to visit them at industry shows other than your own, and if possible, at their home offices.
  • • As mentioned above, your top management should be out there with you as a means of support and visibility.

The bottom line: You need to exercise your ability to reach clients and prospects throughout the year on a regular, sustained basis with new material that will attract their attention. Many people have different opinions as to the frequency between each contact, but generally, I look for once every 45 days by phone, as often as possible by email, and at least once a year in person at competitive events or at their offices. If you need to adjust these numbers downward so that contact is more often, then do so.

Also, remember that change occurs rapidly in our business. Decision-makers and marketing objectives change. By maintaining frequent contact and providing important information, you’ll stay ahead of the curve, and on top of your accounts.

Good Selling,

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