Sales Q&A With Dan Cole: Regaining Control of a Difficult Sales Call

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: Sometimes I face difficulty in trying to “re-route” conversations that have gone off track. Ideally, I want to focus on the core opportunity that our event provides: Accessing a specific audience. However, a customer might pressure me for more and more detailed metrics or information that I am unable to provide. Getting them to refocus on the big picture is difficult. Are there ways to prevent the conversation from taking this course and ways to reclaim control if it’s already off track?

Wow, that is a loaded question. No matter how well-equipped we think we are, the potential always exists for our customers and prospects to throw us those proverbial “whammies”—objections for which we simply don’t have immediate answers, or worse, any answers at all. Unless you are a mind reader, you can’t predict or prevent them.
Some examples you may have encountered:

  • •    Can you tell me how many and exactly what types of attendees will be walking daily through
  •      that particular hall?
  • •    Will you reimburse me if I don’t hit our “leads” goal?
  • •    What should I expect my ROI for this to be?
  • •    Can you guarantee me press coverage?
  • •    Our CEO had a bad personal experience at your show last
  •      year. How are you are going to overcome it?
  • •    There are people in our organization who don’t like trade
  •      shows. What do I tell them?

While the questions may be legitimate, it’s important that prospects don’t base their decisions on “one-offs” like these. So, if you’ve got a customer who is inadvertently steering you off the “sales track,” what do you do? You have several options, and the direction you ultimately take can not only separate you from your competition, but just might win you the business.

You want to address the objection and then immediately get the customer to refocus on the “big picture,” as you mention above. Here’s how:

First and foremost, don’t ever lie. If you feel as if you don’t have the information necessary to support an honest and ethical response, simply say so! An acceptable response might be: “I’m just unable to answer that question for you, and here’s why ….” Or, if you need time to get an answer, you might say: “That’s a great question, let me check.” Or, if you need more information, you might ask, “To clarify my thinking, what’s your reason for your inquiry?” This allows your customer to reframe the question and may provide you with further insights to which you can respond. 

But as our question above suggests, this is only part of the battle. As part of handling the objection, you ask how to “reclaim the control of the conversation.” Well, if you’ve done your job correctly, you’ve done two things well, even in the face of this and other objections:

  • •  You have asked a series of questions that have helped you
  •     to identify unmet needs, voids and customer pain points.
  • •   You have custom-tailored your responses to those
  •     challenges with unique features and personalized benefits
  •     that meet and satisfy them. 

It’s precisely because you have done these things well that you can help your customer refocus his attention on those personalized benefits. You can now say something like: “Let’s take a step back and focus on what we agreed would be beneficial to you.” Such as:

  • • You agreed that X feature benefited you by …
  • • You also liked the fact that …
  • • X benefit made sense to you as well … 

You have not dodged their questions—quite the contrary. You’ve either told them that you can’t answer, asked to answer it later or asked for clarification. And then, you have helped them to refocus on how your solution addresses their challenges.

I think one of the most important lessons I have learned through the years is that we can’t avoid objections, but we don’t have to be sidetracked by them either.

Dan Cole is vice president of sales and business development for the Consumer Electronics Association, which draws more than 3,000 exhibitors to its largest annual show, the International Consumer Electronics Show. Cole is a regular speaker on sales-related topics at industry events. In 2005, the International Business Awards named him Best Sales Executive. He can be reached at

*Editor’s Note: This column originally appears in the August 2012 issue of EXPO magazine.