EPISODE 115: Trade Show Analytics Expert Eric Misic Reflects on How Selling Shipping Services Door-to-Door Led to His Sales Success
ERIC’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “You’re going to have times where you’re really in a funk. Take a step back, think about some of the good wins that you’ve had for those days. Take a step back and say, “I’ve done this before, I’ve been in this situation before” from a mentality standpoint and say, “I’m going to really sell my way out of it.” That will work.
Eric Misic is the VP of Business Development at Bear Analytics.
Prior to starting Bear Analytics he held business development leadership role at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization and the Convention Management Group.
Find Eric on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: I’m excited to have you here today. We’ve had some people in the past who are also in the event management space, we had Dan Cole who was at Hargrove, we also had Ryan Brown over at NTP Events and we also talked to Denise Medved over at CES the trade show. We’ve gotten a little bit of a taste to that, I’m looking to get your insights into sales in that space and talk a little bit about some of the challenges that might be facing sales leaders in that space, and how they can continue to grow. Tell us a little bit about what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Eric Misic: Sure. As you mentioned, I started Bear Analytics 5 years ago now, our goal is to sell solutions and services. It’s a bit of a technology meet services business around analytics, specifically the bulk of our business revolves around audience acquisition for trade shows. Clients wanting to understand who their current audience is, how to grow that audience using the power of data to do that, so our solutions revolve around starting to get the data in a place that it can actually be used. Once we do that then we run our analytics engines and then finally get the clients in a position that they can start using that information.
Fred Diamond: Is that a big challenge facing the event industry, that audiences are getting more and more difficult to get to come to trade shows?
Eric Misic: Yes. One of the reasons that we started Bear Analytics because coming out of the recession we saw at our association, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, that exhibit space and sponsorship and advertising type sales definitely swung up fairly quickly after the recession. There was departmental budgets whereas the attendance in terms of that growth didn’t mirror the growth on the exhibit floor. That definitely still remains a challenge for clients as we see there’s some indexes out there in the trade show marketplace that show exhibit floor sales outpacing attendance acquisition pretty much 2 to 1 so it’s a little bit more of a moving target, I’d say.
Fred Diamond: Before we start talking a little bit more about your sales career, tell us more about this particular challenge. Are people not going to shows because of the travel budget or what are some of the top industry trends that you see?
Eric Misic: I think there’s other places that they’re finding knowledge, I think there’s other places they’re finding connections. A new person could come in that’s running a department say, “Let’s nix these street events, these street trade shows, I don’t think we need to go there anymore” or a person saying, “The show is in Nashville this year, I only like going to Orlando” or the challenge is that there’s another competing show that they’re budding up against and they’re having to make a decision. Those are some of the issues that we see. A lot of what we try to figure out is who are our best customers on the attending side from an organizational individual standpoint to then drive that to figure out, “How do we attain more of those types of companies, those types of individuals that we want to grow the event?”
Fred Diamond: I look forward to talking to you more about that as we go, but why don’t you tell us a little more about your specific sales career? Tell us how you first got into sales.
Eric Misic: When I first moved down to Virginia where I’m at now, which was in 2003, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do moving from New York. The goal was, “Could I be a real estate agent? Maybe I can be in sales.” I went to a bunch of career fairs trying to figure out where I wanted to land, I even looked into some banking jobs. Then I felt like I was a pretty extroverted person so I said sales makes sense.
I started doing sales for a company that was a re seller of at the time Airborne Express overnight shipping which then got acquired by DHL at some point. I would go door to door, it was door to door canvasing sales, collecting office manager’s business cards, trying to get them to convert from a well-known entity like a Fed Ex or UPS over to Airborne Express because we were able to show them that we were able to save money. That was definitely boots on the ground sales.
Fred Diamond: We sometimes come across some people we’ve interviewed for the Sales Game Changers podcast that have started their career with things like that, door to door. What are some of the things you learned knocking on doors trying to get people to switch from a well-known entity like a Fed Ex to an Airborne?
Eric Misic: You have a limited time. You’re meeting somebody unexpected, you’re going through their door ringing their bell, whatever it is, and you have a limited window of opportunity to get them to either 1, sit down and listen or 2, take your information and say, “Let’s follow up, let’s schedule a time to talk.” It’s a commodity that they feel like, “Fed Ex guy’s here every day, our UPS guy comes, we’re friends, we given them presents whenever there’s a holiday” whatever the case is, so it’s a real challenge to get them to take a meeting.
What I realized is that if you can get them to understand we can handle all those things whether it’s getting there on time, we have drop boxes around the corner, get that barrier to the sale down a little bit then people are willing to have a conversation but if they think you’re coming in and you’re going to take something away from them, you’re probably not going to have a second conversation. It’s got to be an equal playing field.
Fred Diamond: This is 2003 when you first got started and again, you’re selling that working door to door trying to convert people from Fed Ex and UPS to Airborne. What was your success rate, do you think? 1 out of 100? 1 out of 50?
Eric Misic: I’d say probably 1 out of 100. It was a lot of pounding the pavement, a ton of it. Then once you got a client, the other challenge for me was it was now in the hands of the logistics folks to make sure that yield continued. People can switch back to Fed Ex, back to UPS, there was no long term contract to that. The challenge there was making sure the client was satisfied so continuing to follow up, continue that relationship which really puts me in a place now where I’m at with Bear Analytics and previous companies to put yourself in the client’s shoes, to be a little more empathetic to their needs. Making sure that it’s not just, “Let’s sign a contract” where they said, “We’re going to move on with your product or service” and then just move on to the next sale. Really maintaining that relationship.
Fred Diamond: I want to talk about that for one second for the Sales Game Changers listening across the globe right now. Obviously, if you’re knocking door to door the person doesn’t want to see you. We’ve heard of some previous interviews that we’ve done where people have said that there are literally signs on the door saying, “Go away” and we’ve talked about some people who’ve had to handle that. How have you handled the rejection? Obviously for selling door to door you’re going to get a lot of doors slammed in your face. How did you personally, handle the constant rejection that you must have faced?
Eric Misic: I had folks put their hands on me at certain points, going into properties that there was no solicitation at. In sales, you’ve got to have thick skin and you got to let things run off. That was I learned. There were certain days where it’s raining outside, it’s cloudy or it’s hot, it’s 105, that it’s not fun. You wipe your sweat from your brow and you try to continue but I think it just happened, that thick skin, that resiliency, being able to say, “OK, I’m just going to move on to the next one.” What’s interesting though, is that you can win people over that initially will say no or say, “Don’t come back.”
There are circumstances that can change in a week, so if you just keep on it and come back around there could be a new person in their place, they’re no longer here or you’re coming back and their situation has changed. The Fed Ex guy didn’t deliver, we were dealing with a lot of title companies, didn’t get the titles and the closing on time, whatever the case is. It can be a game changer for them as a company to say, “I think I need to take a second look at another service provider.” You never know with people, circumstances change.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Right now you’re the VP of Business Development for a company called Bear Analytics and you help companies understand better strategies to get audiences to come to trade shows and events. Tell us what you’re an expert in, tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
Eric Misic: I think on the sale side for me is being able to really read people, walking into a room getting a sense by their body language and their expressions. Whether they’re 1, getting what our pitch is, what the solution is that we’re providing. 2, understanding how interested they are in it based on their body language and whether or not we are saying something that is either making them excited or making them irritated is something that I’m good at. Not just from a sales standpoint but then also even dealing with situations where perhaps it’s outside of sales too. I’ve developed that ability to walk into a room and get a sense of whether there’s friction there or it’s a positive feeling which has its pros and cons.
I think that puts me in a good position for sales and when I’m selling perhaps with another part of my team is to get a sense of, “Let’s slow back a little bit here. Is the client or the prospect truly getting what we’re saying?” Give them time to speak up, give them time to ask a question because a lot of times I think in sales we have a tendency to just want to shoot everything out, tell them everything about the product, how great it is in demo and don’t take a breath, not let the client consume, bring that in to understand what’s going on and what the story is being told here.
Fred Diamond: Before we talk about some of your career mentors that you’ve had that have helped you along the way, again, your company’s called Bear Analytics. Obviously you sell analytical solutions and services for your customers. Is it a technical sale or is it more of a business sale? You just talked about the urge to fight showing up and just throwing out specs and features and those types of things. Tell us more about what your sales process looks like from a business perspective.
Eric Misic: Our mantra at Bear is more about strategy, not equal with technology and that strategy comes before technology in our opinion. What is the client trying to accomplish, what are the goals, what are the challenges they have? Then we’ll figure out the technical solution to get them to basically meet those challenges. When we go into a client’s office or a prospect’s office, we really sit down and understand more about what their challenges are, what they’re going through. Some of them are open, some of them don’t share that right away and then we talk through what our approach has been and then what the successes have been, and typically share a case study so they can feel that barrier comes down.
They feel like, “There’s someone else that’s in my shoes” and that’s typically when some of the honest truths come out from the prospects saying, “I felt that way, I heard Larry had that same experience. I’ve had the same problem. Other shows had the same issues?” They’re almost surprised to hear that other events have similar issues whether it’s with not completely understanding certain metrics or perhaps not having the handle on their data they like. Then once they feel as though there are other folks that are living in their shoes, they have more of a sense that seems like the wall comes down and they have more of a sense to feel like, “These guys get the problem, they really understand the issue.”Fred Diamond: Very good. Most of the Sales Game Changers that we’ve interviewed – not most, all of them – have had great experiences with mentors who helped them get to the level where they are, the VP of sales or the VP of Business Development, or Chief Sales Officer, Chief Revenue Officer. Tell us about one or two of the impactful sales career mentors you’ve had and how they’ve impacted your career.
Eric Misic: When I was at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Dan Cole who I know you’ve had on the podcast came in I think just as I was meeting the manager of sales or senior manager of sales, so I had some folks under me that I was managing. He came in for some sales coaching. Initially when you have someone come in that’s going to be a coach, you’re like, “Who’s this guy, where did he come from? Am I doing something wrong?” Over time, meeting with Dan, getting a sense of his style, it really helped me from a sales perspective. Not just to manage people better but then also to understand the empathetic approach, help the client understand you have a solution that’s going to heal their pain. I don’t know if this is the right way of looking at it or not but this is how Dan talks about it, is put people in pain first. Really help them understand what challenges they have whether they’re willing to admit it or not. You can see on their face that, “Yes, I’m in pain. Help me out.”
Then you know you have the solution that can help them and get them there. Once you’re able to talk that through and be methodical about it, the next key is continuing to build that pipeline which is something that Dan really drove home to us. You can have 2, 3 big deals and if these close I’m going to be good but if you don’t have 40 others in the pipeline those 2, 3 don’t fall through and then we’re going to really be in trouble because we don’t have anything else out there on the shelf, so to speak. Continue to build that pipeline even if you and for your team internally is saying, “We can’t handle any more work.” Typically the sales process is pretty long, at least in certain businesses.
Fred Diamond: That’s great advice. One thing that we’ve discovered – it’s pretty obvious – the most important thing to continual sale success is a healthy pipeline, end of the day.
Eric Misic: No doubt about it. Continuing to drive things in the pipe because not everything is going to come out to be a sale. Even if the team internally is saying, “We can’t handle any more work”, the process takes 1, 2, 3 months, 4 months and by that time you could get caught up and then feel like we can slot a few more clients in. That was the key for Dan, the empathetic approach and then also making sure the pipeline was healthy.
Fred Diamond: Very good. As a sales leader what are the two biggest challenges that you face?
Eric Misic: The two biggest are apathy, there’s a challenge there with a lot of folks feeling as though, “I’m pretty good where I’m at. I feel like in our business I know everything I need to know, we’ve been pretty stable in terms of attendance, we grow and we go to certain locations, we’re good. We think we’re OK, we’ve got a handle on the data, IT team is handling that, I don’t need to worry about it as the marketing team or the VP of events.” That’s one, is apathy. People feeling, “Do nothing is better than taking a risk.”
The other thing is that people don’t have a lot of time to sit down, to understand, to take a meeting, to understand what your solution or service is and how it’s different from what they’re doing currently and what other vendors they’ve come across. I don’t think people are being rude, they just don’t have time. There’s a lot of emails coming in, there’s social media, there’s phone calls so it’s a matter of trying to get people to schedule time with you in an easy way. I found some tools that are easy from a calendar stand point as opposed to trying to go back and forth. Do you have an opening on July 16th, or can we meet the week of July 9th? Say, “Here’s my calendar, you pick a time that’s good for you” has been a game changer for us just getting on people’s calendars.
Fred Diamond: What are the apps that you use?
Eric Misic: We went through a few, but the one that we stuck on is called Calendly. It’s amazing where if you just allow people, it’s ease of use, send them the link, say, “Here’s my calendar, take a look, you schedule a time that’s good for you.” I don’t know if it’s because it’s easy or if they think, “This guy is so booked, I have to look at his calendar.” I’m not sure what it is because I haven’t dared to ask but whatever it is, I get calendar invites coming in, I can send it a week ago, an email. People will pick a time a week later so it’s pretty cool and it’s been helpful for us from a sale standpoint.
Fred Diamond: It’s a good tip. We know you’ve worked at some great companies, talked about one of your mentors. Take us back to the #1 specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Take us back to that moment.
Eric Misic: We started Bear Analytics in the summer of 2013 and we were doing some pro bono work trying to get logos on the website, trying to get some clients that we would do free work for. Finally, we got our first contract back in the fall of 2013 and I think that was the biggest – if not one of the biggest, probably I think the biggest for me – because you start a company, you take that leap of faith and you wonder if people are going to be willing to pay for this.
We finally had a contract. Looking back at it now, we didn’t have any paying clients, we didn’t have any real cred out there with other associations. Someone took a leap of faith, a gentleman by the name of Jeremy Figoten who’s continued to be a front to this day with the National Apartment Association, since moved on but he took a leap of faith. We continued to work with him for 3 and a half years after that. The projects grew, the faith in us grew from his team and some of the C level folks internally at his organization as well. That solidified that we did the right thing when we got that first contract.
Fred Diamond: Very good. Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Eric Misic: Sure. I think early on at that world-wide express job selling the overnight shipping with Airborne, I had a situation where I sold a new client and I can’t remember the client specifically but I feel like it was not just a bunch of envelopes but it was a fair amount of boxes, which is good if they’re doing overnight. We had a system that we could log in and make sure the boxes got picked up and they were on their way to, at that time it was a sorting facility in Chantilly, Virginia, I lived in Fair Fax. I went online after work and made sure the client’s boxes got picked up and they didn’t, they were still at the door. I knew the client made labels but they were never tracked by the Airborne express pickup van so I drove down to the client’s door, picked up the packages myself, had to drive them down to the sorting facility. At that point I’m like, “I can make the deal and sell the client, but now I’m relying on someone else to actually fulfill the rest of the agreement.”
That was a challenge for me. Sales, all day long, no problem but I want to make sure that someone’s backing me up and I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore in this environment.” Then I’ve had other situations through the years, even some with Bear Analytics. Founding a company is not for everybody. I think when we started talking about data for events and really for associations back in 2013, there wasn’t a lot of talk about that. Folks were doing surveys, maybe a little data here and there. Now it’s on the tip of everybody’s tongue but we had some figurative doors close in our face, folks saying, “I thought you guys were supposed to be the money ball of whatever and you’re supposed to predict the future.”
That’s not what we do. Missed expectations sometimes can lead you to feeling as though I’m either not a good salesperson or did I make the right decision, question yourself as a salesperson but really it’s just a matter of having that thick skin, letting it roll off and coming into work the next day and saying, “I’m going to close another deal, I’m going to get someone else on the phone that doesn’t know about us and they’re going to be interested in what we do.” Frankly, every time we have someone that says, “It’s not in the budget” or, “I’m using somebody else” or, “We’re going to do this internally” I can count on my hand the times that customers or prospects haven’t come back in a year or two and said, “Can you tell me more about what you’re doing? Remind me about what you’re doing” and then they become a client. It’s just a numbers game and also stay front and center in front of folks, even if they’re not interested in time. As long as they see the other folks are using you or that you have some stories to tell, eventually they’ll come back.
Fred Diamond: Eric, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Eric Misic: You’ve got to stay organized, you’ve got to know where you’re at with your pipeline, know your numbers. Know the things that you want to report on and where you’re ahead or behind and keep on that because the last thing you want to do is for someone that is overseeing sales or that you’re reporting to come to you and say, “Where are we with this client?” or, “How are we comparing to last year’s quarter?” and not have that number.
The key is to really know your numbers, where you’re at with certain prospects and that the best salespeople really have a good sense of the timeline, when the best time is to get someone’s attention. Then also I think they have an innate sense knowing whether a deal is going up, down or sideways. Sometimes to their detriment because they start to make things up, I know I do where I’m like, “I don’t think this is going to work out” or, “This client’s not going to close because I haven’t heard from them in two weeks”, it’s just a timing thing. Keep your head above water staying on top of where you are with all of your folks in the pipeline whether they’re very early on or very close to closing them down.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Eric Misic: For me it’s about networking with other folks, getting a sense of some of the challenges that they’re having whether in sales or just in the marketplace that we provide solutions to. There’s always new vendors popping up, there’s always new solutions popping up, there’s new buzz words popping up that folks are talking about, about what they need and getting a sense of what the pulse is. The marketplace, what they’re talking about, what their challenges might be, what are they hearing that perhaps we want to be able to say that we either do or don’t do.
Sometimes it’s something that we want to get away from, but getting the sense of that. Outside of that, there’s some books out there that have been good to me over time on the sales front. I went to a gentleman’s, his name is escaping me, but to an event where he was talking through The Little Book of Sales. I can’t remember his name.
Fred Diamond: Jeffrey Gitomer.
Eric Misic: Jeffery Gitomer, and he’s a super dynamic sales guy. I wouldn’t say definitely his sales approach is not something that I’m saying, “I’ve got to be Jeffery Gitomer” but just getting a sense of how other people think and how they influence others to make decisions has always been something that I try to at least get a sense of, their style if there’s any little tidbits that perhaps I could bring on.
Fred Diamond: Very good. What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Eric Misic: For us at Bear, recently we went through a transition from one customer relationship management database to another, one CRM to another and with that came some very specific ways we wanted to start reporting our conversions and our activity level. Also making sure that the team had some transparency on the pipeline so our team internally had a good sense of where we were, we wanted to make sure that we were staying ahead of last year’s revenue and close rates.
That’s been a real game changer for us. For me personally to stay organized, I think I knew where things were in the pipeline but for the team to see it, to have that transparency has been a real mindset change for them. I think everybody’s pushing towards the goal, we want to hit the certain quarter number or we want to get the sale through, or working with this client, I have a contact there. Everybody has a hand in the sales, probably not necessarily doing the pitches or doing the proposal building but wanting to make sure that ultimately the company is successful.
Fred Diamond: People don’t return your phone calls, you mentioned before that one of the two biggest challenges is that time is short so they don’t return your calls, they don’t return your emails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Eric Misic: I think it’s the thrill of sales, having that sense of, “I need to make sales in order to prove my worth, prove the value to the organization” whether it was when I was working for Bio or CMG or now, having my own company. It gets me up every day because there’s a thrill of it, there’s a thrill of chasing after folks sometimes to feeling as though I’m beating my head against a wall a little bit, but once you get them to say, “Let’s have a conversation” and get them to say, “OK, I’m interested in proposal. Let’s have a walk through, I want to get my CEO involved here about this because this is really something that we need, something that’s been an itch that we need to scratch or a burning issue internally for a while” is pretty exciting. Once you get people through that conversion you feel as though, “If I didn’t make that call, if I didn’t send that email they wouldn’t be a client.” Then seeing them return, because the rest of the team and the company in total was able to actually make good on that promise of, “Here’s the solution that we’re going to bring and we’re going to help you out” is also really exciting too.
Fred Diamond: Before we ask you for your final thought, you’re an interesting interview that we’ve done in a sense that most people that we interview for the Sales Game Changers podcast are sales VPs or CROs or CSOs at companies and they manage in some cases dozens – if not hundreds – of people. They’ve gone from sales leader job to sales leader job, if you will. You have gone from a sales leader job into owning a business, but you’re a sales guy at heart as we figured out here from today’s podcast. Tell us a little bit for the Sales Game Changers listening across the globe today who may want to own their own business or start their own business how valuable it was having a sales mentality, because the reality of it is you can create a business that might be brilliant but if you don’t sell, there’s no business. Tell us a little bit, Eric Misic, about some of your thoughts on that, how valuable it was for you to be a sales guy like we figured out on today’s podcast, to owning your business and having that sales DNA, if you will.
Eric Misic: I spoke with a lot of friends of mine now after having a company for 4 years, almost 5, that will say, “I’d love to jump out on my own but my problem is I’m not good at BD, I don’t want to do the BD.” I think coming into Bear, Joe Colangelo who’s our other co-founder here is that he was managing the technical side of things. “Here’s the analytical side, here’s the process and here’s what we’re going to build from a analysis standpoint.”
My role was to get people eyeballs on what we’re doing and so from a sales standpoint it’s really making those connections, doing a lot of networking, getting people to understand here’s what we’re doing now, here’s the solutions that we’re offering, bringing people out to lunch, having coffee. You never know where a sale or a lead can come from as long as you’re saying front and center, like I said. Early on with Bear, Joe and I were doing a lot of lunches on our own personal time, we were doing a lot of coffees, going to people’s offices, doing a lot of meetings that perhaps never really turned into anything, some junior level people we were just trying to get meetings with doing things that were unrelatable to the solution that we offer now just to get into doors.
When we started Bear I think what was unique was we had someone that was focused truly on the product and I was focused truly on the sales side of things. I think it takes a unique personality to go out there and try to make a market for your product and then also for your business, in this case.
Fred Diamond: Eric, give us one final thought for the Sales Game Changers listening today around the globe to get them inspired.
Eric Misic: Just keep it up. You’re going to have bad days on the sale side, you’re going to have times where you’re really in a funk. You’ve got to be able to express that to others but not in a way like, “I’m never going to get out of it, I hate this sales thing” but in a way like, “I need a pick-me-up, I’m having a bad week. Can you help me out? Tell me about some of my wins because I forgot about them.” I think the short term mental state of a salesperson usually is that once a sale is there they forgot about it and they’re onto the next one, they don’t take a long time to relish in those wins.
Take a step back, think about some of the good wins that you’ve had for those days that you need a pick-me-up but don’t let yourself get so down that you’re like, “I can’t reach out to folks. Nobody’s interested in my product, no one’s interested in taking my phone call” because assuming that you’re working for an established company or have your own company, you’ve had some wins at some point or you wouldn’t be around anymore, you wouldn’t be relevant. Taking a step back and saying, “I’ve done this before, I’ve been in this situation before” from a mentality standpoint and saying, “I’m going to really sell my way out of it” for a lack of a better term.