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EPISODE 040: Like the Rhinoceros He Admires, Hargrove Sales Leader Dan Cole Charges Down Opportunities with Great Success
With over 28 years of sales leadership experience at companies such as Lanier Worldwide, National Trade Productions, Advanstar, Yellowbrix and the Consumer Electronic Show, Dan Cole is a true sales visionary and leader.
Presently, he is the Senior Vice President, Trade Shows and Events at Hargrove, one of the leading event and management companies in the world. Dan’s passion is to develop an urgently enthusiastic sales environment by focusing on the following: training, revenue generation, activity and analysis, customer focus and recruiting.
His specialties include sales leadership, motivational speaking, sales training, sales and motivational writing.
Find Dan on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: Tell us specifically what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Dan Cole: The two divisions that I oversee from a sales perspective are Trade Shows Division. If you attend a Trade show or you exhibit at a trade show, the general service contractor is the company that works collaboratively with the show owner, typically an association but there are many, many show organizers that are public and we work with them from a look and feel standpoint, from a strategy standpoint in terms of creating the experience, both for attendees and exhibitors, that’s actually an important point. It is not a transactional relationship. It is a collaborative strategic effort.
We can look at a trade show floor, talk about what experience the show owner or the show producer wants to accomplish or what they’re looking for and then we design and build around that and the same goes for our exhibits division as well. It’s not just constructing a booth, and I use that word purposely, that’s going to sit on a concrete floor in a convention center. It is creating an experience, creating an experience that manifests itself into an exhibit space.
The third division here which I do not oversee but work very, very closely with my counterpart is our Events Division and they’ll handle anything from a Presidential Inaugural to NATO Summit to an Activation in Super Bowl, at the Super Bowl and the reason I bring that up is there is a tremendous amount of collaboration between our two divisions because, for instance, if a trade show incorporates a high level keynote or a keynote of any nature and it necessitates staging or a specific look and feel, the events division will come right in, work collaboratively with one another.
We’ll work collaboratively with one another to create that experience. By the same token, we handled the Democratic National Convention which where Secretary Clinton was nominated for President. My particular division handled the media services area so each media company, each network had its own specific area, both within the venue but even outside the venue as well. And so, my team serviced those particular organizations and others that required services of the general contractor. We worked collaboratively with one another.
Fred Diamond: How did you first get into sales as a career?
Dan Cole: My uncle, Dennis Berman, who continues to be to this day a mentor of mine and inspiration, owned a copier company out of St. Louis, Missouri and expanded all over the country. He retired several years ago as a very, very successful entrepreneur and he was the consummate sales person. And so, that was an inspiration.
I remember coming right out of James Madison University, I was a waiter at Ruby Tuesdays at Fair Oaks Mall and back then there was only a few of these outlets around the country and I saw two young guys come in who were studs, if you will and I overheard them talking about their jobs and how they’re selling what have you and I’m a sales guy, I guess, from the day I was born or I’ve been a sales guy and I inquired as to what they did and they told me about the company that they worked for, Harris 3M, which later became Lanier Worldwide and they gave me the name of Barry Ward who I called that day, came in for an interview and that was the jump into the pool of sales from which I’ve never looked back.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessons? Take us back to some of your first sales jobs. What are some of the key lessons you learned from your first few sales jobs that have stayed with you today?
Dan Cole: Well, that’s a great question for me, Fred, and I don’t mean this to sound funny but I am as gullible and as blissfully ignorant as it comes so my lesson that I continue to keep in mind today and also impart to sales people is just to follow directions. When you’re starting off in your career, even in the midst of your career, don’t assume you have the answers. They told me, Steve Galdo, my Manager told me when I took a right out in the field during the interview process, “You know what you do every day, Dan? You make 20 cold calls and 2 presentations, 2 demonstrations in your territory.”
Mine was Old Town, Alexandria which I was to find out later. “If you do that, you’re going to make X amount of income.” Well, coming out of college, the number I heard was extraordinary and this is in the late 80s and I said, “Well, if I get this job and you’re telling me that’s what I need to do, that’s what I’m going to do.” I was fortunate enough to get the job. I would provide a demonstration for the custodian if I had to or a secretary. Not that they’re not important people, they were not the decision makers.
But, I was able to hone my skills, practice, gain referrals, I listened to what they said and I listened to what my Manager said. I listened to what Barry said and by the end of the year I had won the President’s trip to London. I made more money than I expected to and my career in sales had officially begun and took off from there.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more specifically about you and your true area of expertise. What are you specifically brilliant and knowledgeable on?
Dan Cole: Well, I’ll say with all humility, I wouldn’t use the word brilliant, but I can tell you what seems to have been effective for me. I understand and can articulate the fundamentals of sales and I certainly, within my company, hear our sales training focuses upon fundamentals and whether it’s from a qualifying standpoint and research standpoint, asking the right questions or probing, presenting features, advantages and benefits most importantly, benefits, trial closing, closing what have you, I wouldn’t call myself an expert but I’m very familiar with that. But, what I’ve been able to combine, at least the feedback that I receive is from a motivational standpoint to be able to connect those fundamentals with a degree of motivation is what’s been most inspirational to me, what’s been most meaningful to me.
I’ll say to folks on my staff, “Don’t look at me but just listen to what some of the lessons that I might have learned and then go for it yourself. Don’t make this transactional. Have fun at what you’re doing. Live outside your cube or live outside your office for the greater good. Remember what you’re selling for and it should appeal to people that we are in a service profession.
At the end of the day, whether we intended to or not and hopefully we did, we help people. We help people solve part or all of problems. We uncover challenges. We ethically help them solve problems. When you asked me about my area of expertise, I’d say what appeals to me most is connecting to the fundamentals and inspiring others, taking ordinary people, getting extraordinary results, inspiring others to gain results based on the fact of communicating value that we are providing a service that we are in the profession of sales for the greater good, not only for our income but to ultimately help people and that never backfires, frankly.
Fred Diamond: Now, before we did this interview, we were in your office just kind of chatting about your career and preparing for the interview. I noticed a whole bunch of rhino, pictures of rhinoceroses, pictured also some stuffed rhinoceroses and also on your LinkedIn profile there’s this big beautiful picture of a rhino right above your profile. What is that all about? What is the sales rhino and give us a little insight into that?
Dan Cole: It’s one of my favorite parts on my background and I can’t take credit for it but I collect rhinos and I’ll tell you why. In the late ‘80s as I was at Lanier I read a book by Scott Alexander which I would suggest to anybody listening and many of my friends that might be listening now will know exactly what I’m talking about and have read the book, including my good friend, Steve Goldstein, who turned me onto it in the late ‘80s.
It’s a book called Rhinoceros Success. It is a very easy and enjoyable read. Scott put together a very simple novel. He’s got another two books and it’s just about the philosophy of approaching life and I’ll be at sales as well as a rhinoceros. There are two kinds of animals, if you will, or two kinds of sales people in the world. There are two types of folks in the world. You’re driving down a country road and on either side on a summer day you see cows standing on either side and what are the cows doing, they’re just chewing their cud and they’re doing nothing. A rhinoceros on the other hand is in that jungle. When you’re reading the book there’s steam coming out of his or her nostrils. Their ears are perked. Their eyes are alert and they are just waiting for that prey to come about and all of a sudden there it goes and the rhinoceros takes off.
The rhinoceros takes off on that prey which is called opportunity. Charging down opportunities is a core philosophy that I try to remember myself and I try to impart upon sales people, upon my children, upon friends, what have you and that’s turned into a word or a theme or phenomenon that’s become associated with me. I collect rhinoceroses anywhere I go. There’s the Dan Cole rule that if anybody sees anything having to do with a rhino, as long as it’s under $50, to buy it no matter what. I don’t care if it’s a dish towel and I reimburse them. But, that theme has stayed with me. There was a rhino award that was created at Lanier. There were various logos that were created with various sales teams so it’s a very important philosophy that manifests itself in my collection.
Fred Diamond: When I’ve spoken to a lot of the sales game changers as part of this podcast, especially ones who’ve had such a great career, there’s always a mentor. There’s always been someone who they reflect back on, who has been hugely impactful to their career. Dan Cole is the Senior VP of Sales at Hargrove, Trade Shows and Exhibits. Dan Cole, who was an impactful sales career mentor and how did they impact your career?
Dan Cole: Well, there’s two. I mentioned Dennis Berman, my uncle, earlier. And then, there’s Barry Ward, who will be embarrassed as I say this but I’ve told him that even after some 30 years, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and what he taught me and how I carry his philosophy on in my career. I’m either quoting him or referring back to what I learned. Barry would consider himself a very normal person and he hired me at Lanier Worldwide, then Harris 3M in 1988 and inspired me so much. I believe his motivation, his knowledge, his encouragement has informed my entire career and I remember this is from a sales perspective. I’ve had many, many mentors but from a sales career perspective I’m always, I can quote him verbatim and he knows this and so can many of us who worked for Barry in the past.
We always talk about him when we reminisce with one another. A tremendous influence on my life in sales and under his tutelage I learned the basics. I was encouraged to never give up and I didn’t, there was a low point in my career he called me in. He said, “Let me show you a chart of your sales progress, Dan. You started off on fire,” and it’s an Excel spreadsheet chart at that time. “And you plummeted here. Here’s what was happening in your life. We got to get you out of this and I can’t do it. You got to do it.” Well, that was enough for me and I went right back up and I stayed in sales at Lanier. Selling copiers is not an easy profession and it can take years off of your life. I did it for almost 5 years which was a long amount of time for those in sales at that time for selling copiers, not just at Lanier, what have you, and he’s one of the main reasons that I stayed at that company, including in a leadership role.
Fred Diamond: And, you just mentioned a second or two ago, you said that there are challenges that you face along the way as a sales leader. Dan, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Dan Cole: Well, I think there’s a common theme with all of us. We have a whole new set, a whole new generation, one of my children included, that is a new era in terms of the millennials and those before and those after. Recruiting is always going to be a challenge for anybody and it continues to be a good challenge for me. We’re a very successful company so we’re looking to continuously attract the best and brightest. I am willing to give, in many occasions, when I have an opportunity those that are just coming out of school or with a couple of years’ experience, if they’ve got the heart and the attitude.
We call it the ‘will and skill’. If they’ve got the will, I’ll teach them the skill. Recruiting is a challenge but one that I’m happy to face head on. And then, the other challenge which I think is a good one is just reinventing our approach, our philosophy, our value proposition in whatever that we are selling. In this case, at Hargrove, we can take a very, what can be considered a very mundane product but because of the good fortune of the company that I work for, our middle name is experience.
And so, reinventing that experience, reinventing the way we communicate the opportunity to create an experience to transition marketing messages and goals and objectives to an actual experience that at first somebody on the outside could say, “That’s carpeting on a cold start convention center floor” and to create that into an experience using the same people that might have designed the inauguration or a NATO summit or, as I mentioned, some of the other or an activation for Bud Light at the Super Bowl. To reinvent our message and to continuously keeping it fresh is again a positive challenge and it’s a reminder to me that we’ve got to do so every day.
Fred Diamond: Dan, I have a follow up to that point there. You talked about the transformation and that’s something that continues to come up on the Sales Game Changers Podcast. You’ve been doing this for a while. Dan, how has your customer changed in the last couple of years? You talked about how the sales professional needs to be reinventing their approach. Why don’t you give us like a little bit of insights into how your customer has changed over the last, I don’t know, two, three, five years and how have you had to respond to that?
Dan Cole: Well, that’s a good question as it relates to Hargrove and I think even going back to part of my career or my entire career at the Consumer Electronics Show. Buyers these days, in this part of the industry, not that they haven’t been in the past but to their credit are even more savvy, knowledgeable than they have been in the past. Not that they weren’t but they have many more tools, most importantly is the internet. Where has it changed? There has been more of a propensity and with a degree of success in the past to make the sales process a bit more transactional that it should be.
Relationships drive everything. I am sure this is a common theme but the nature of the relationship in terms of trust, in terms of integrity, ethics, loyalty, that’s where I’ve seen the biggest emphasis. I wouldn’t say necessarily the shift is part of it but those who can capture that philosophy and can institute and maintain a sincere relationship, that’s where it’s at in our industry in particular and at CES that is something, I mentioned starting in 1995, the association which is now called the Consumer Technology Association, that has always been a core part of the philosophy, to be able to manifest that philosophy in the sales process for CES was another shift and that started back a while back.
That was something that clients and I think to this day point out that the process in terms of the relationship is not transactional. It is personal where it doesn’t need to be. CES has got a tremendous amount of tailwind but to CES’ credit, the quality of people that work there and I was happy to be a part of it, make it a meaningful experience in terms of that relationship and I find the exact same at Hargrove and that’s why it really is a privilege to be associated with this company in terms of Hargrove.
Fred Diamond: Take us back to the number one specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Dan, take us back to that singular moment.
Dan Cole: Well, without mentioning names, I can tell you this goes way back and this was part of my entry into the or entry in terms of the trade show industry. There was a particular account that we were trying to pursue for a specific tradeshow. We had attempted to do so for many, many years. I came onboard and I’ve got to give my predecessor all the credit in the world on this. He had done all the legwork for three or four years and what I did, if there was anything that I did, I leveraged Mike’s experience with this company. I added my own degree of intensity, philosophy, sales skills to it and for the first time this company participated in that trade show and I would just emphasize that it’s not what I did but it was a huge win for me and goes much in part to Mike.
I can point and you can tell me if I’m off base here. I think what I’m most proud of in my career, in terms of a philosophy in a program that we instituted really came at CES and we called it the SURE program and I believe it’s still in place today and SURE is an acronym that stands for Sense of Urgency Responsiveness and Empathy. And, I thought to myself, “What do customers, this was several years ago, what do they appreciate most in terms of, whether it’s prospects or current customers? What do they appreciate most in terms of relationship?” and what immediately came to mind is working with a sense of urgency, working fast on their behalf and appreciating their world. To respond, not react, but to respond to their challenges, needs, problems.
Again, remember from a prospecting but especially client standpoint, and probably most importantly, the E is Empathy.To apply a sense of empathy, to understand their world, it’s not about us. When we call them, we might be having a great day but they might be having a terrible day. Their challenge might be small to us but it’s huge to them so to be empathetic. And, you combine all those letters and it becomes SURE and you put in an exclamation point at the end and the philosophy is “Sure, I can take care of that. Sure, I can serve you. Sure, I can get you those answers. Sure, I can make that comparison for you.”
And, what was great about that is we incorporated that just in my department’s mission statement. When we gave a sales presentation, we shared that mission statement. We shared this acronym and it was a philosophy that pervaded the entire organization at Gary Shapiro’s credit. He was the President, remains the President of CTA. This is something that he philosophized to the organization internally so if I’m working with the Operations Department, this was a, the law of reciprocity, Laurie would respond to me, I would respond to Laurie.
It became a mantra, internally an organization and a mantra externally and that is something that I remain very proud of and that is definitely part of the sales process. We can cold call close and we can pound our fist on the table and close as hard as we can. But again, I think the SURE philosophy informs our sense of service and proves to prospects and clients alike what our intentions are and that I’ve carried forward wherever I’ve been, whether it’s CES or at Hargrove.
Fred Diamond: That’s very powerful. The E there was empathy, correct?
Dan Cole: Empathy, yes.
Fred Diamond: I have been a customer of the trade show industry many times and at one point of my career I was a Marketing Vice President for companies like Compact Computer and Director of Marketing for companies like Compuware and trade shows were huge and there were so many elements to them and there were so many pieces and you had to make sure that the booth was good. You had to make sure meetings were scheduled. You had to make sure that the sales team was trained. You had to make sure that you were bringing the right number leads, etc. Sales game changers out there listening in, understand what’s important to your customer.
Dan Cole: Well, I’ll tell you. When that thought enters in my mind and I always try to share this with folks on my sales team and those that participate in my sales training. I always try to remember and I encourage others to develop a purpose and this I learned with Barry at Lanier and that is my purpose is that it’s either something or someone that if I had to face them or this situation in defeat would be more painful and punishing than what I do every day. In other words, I can’t let myself fail and I could tell you what my purpose is, for many it’s the same, that’s my family.
I’ve got four kids to send through college and even before that I have a beautiful wife that I wanted to start a life with and before that I’m just a competitor. My purpose is ever-evolving so I’m a human being as is everybody listening to this podcast and sales is the only profession where you can go or one can go from the depths of depression to the heights of bliss in an hour or a day. And so, if I remember that I’ll snap back. I’ll take a mental break. But sales is a, there are countless opportunities in this profession and for that I’m very, very grateful. Sure, does it ever come into mind? Absolutely. I talk myself out of it because it’s the right profession for me.
Fred Diamond: Dan, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to selling professionals to help them improves their careers?
Dan Cole: Why I would speak to those that are starting off in their career first and that is when you’re coming into a sales position, your attitude is everything. There are many, many other components, of course, your aptitude to learn both your product and your industry. But, as a sales leader, I am more attracted to the attitude more than anything else. If you’ve got the right attitude, everything’s going to follow. And, Barry told me at Lanier, he pointed to my heart and he said, excuse me, pointed to my head and he said, “That’s mine. I’ll train you.”
And then, he pointed to his heart and he goes, “This one I can’t control, Dan, and that it has to do with your attitude.” And so, that’s always carried me and that’s what I’ve imparted to sales people, particularly starting off in their career. I’d also encourage anyone to develop the habit of listening and not hearing and that’s where that empathy comes on to. Stephen Covey calls it empathic listening and no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. This profession and what we do in terms of serving people and solving problems is about their world, not our world. We can be as enthusiastic as we want about our product and service and that’s terrific and we have a great attitude but we can’t assume that that is going to conflate with the customer’s goals and objectives.
If we make it about them, that’s where enthusiasm and attitude and knowledge and skills come into play. The habit of listening. And finally, I think we forget to have fun. This can be a nerve wracking business. I get it. It continues to be, to me to stay but that’s part of the territory or part of the process when you, or it comes with the territory I should say. But, there is no rule that says one can’t have fun. Remember that they are furthering their career and engaged in a noble profession for which is that’s very meaningful.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you do to? You’re are the top of your game. What are some of the things that you do to stay fresh and sharpen your saw?
Dan Cole: Well, it’s to remember that I’m not at the top of my game and to get there and hopefully stay there even temporarily as I engage in a lot of reading. I have since I began my sales career, Stephen Covey’s been a huge influence on my life, as Og Mandino and Bob Burg. I listen to podcasts. I’ve got a pretty long commute so I take the time to do that and I do sales training as well with the very little spare time that I have. And, that always, even though I impart the fundamentals, that is always, always, always an informer of my ability to sharpen the saw which intentionally you use that phrase because, again, that’s from Stephen Covey who’s a huge influence to me. Staying fresh and never making the assumption that I’m at the top of my game. It’s great to hear it and I appreciate that but it’s to never assume that I can’t learn more or I can’t be better.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great point and lot of the sales game changers that we’ve interviewed, they are constantly thriving, trying to look for new ways to grow themselves, grow their teams and help their companies be successful. Dan Cole, what’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Dan Cole: Well, I think like a lot of companies, regardless of the industry, we are pursuing and we are, you know I employed something I call the Crow’s Nest and those of you familiar with Pirate Ships, there’s a platform at the top where one of the pirates or the navigator stands with a telescope and he or she is looking ahead to see, getting ready to call land hoe what’s ahead of us, whether it’s an enemy or land or what have you.
I like to also remind people that it’s extraordinarily important and sort of commonsensical to take that telescope and look back. Where have we been successful? Where have we been most effective? That informs our strategy in moving forward with various verticals and opening up new markets. What are we good at? Where do we maybe have some challenges where we can improve upon? What third parties can we work with? To work with areas of expertise and areas of success, again, a bit commonsensical but to spread our powder effectively, that’s where we’re spending the most time and whether it’s a third-party solution provider to the industry, whether it’s folks that are loosely affiliated, gaining those referrals, what have you, that’s a major part of our strategy as it exists right now.
Fred Diamond: You’ve given us some great insights. You also acknowledged along the way, Dan, that there are some challenges that sales professionals face along the way. Sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your e-mails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Dan Cole: Well, I like to win and I like to win not only in gaining the sale but progressing the needle forward. I tell people that we get so caught up on our quota for the month or for the year, we drive ourselves crazy that the end result is the sale. Of course, it is. But, I also like to say that the very most important step in any step of the sales process is to get to the next step and if we break it down to that, that speaks to the challenge that we face on a daily basis.
We get paid to hear the word ‘No’ 95% of our day. The challenge to getting that 5% of ‘Yes’ is so fulfilling especially when we employ integrity and ethics, there’s no comparison to that to me. To keep me going and to help motivate others, it’s that challenge of remembering to remember that all we got to do is move this forward. Sure, sense of urgency is absolutely important. The pipeline is essential getting to the sale, absolutely. But, if we will break it down to, “I just need to make progress and if I don’t make progress on this call, I’ll do it the next one.”
This is all about mining for gold. Somewhere right now someone is waiting to buy your product or your solution or your service. Your job is to go out and find them. You got many more tools than I had or you had back in the day. We didn’t have computers. We had index cards for our territories. We never had phones, not the way they are today. And so, your job is to go out, seek those opportunities and pull your attitude and go make those sales but just get to the next step.
Fred Diamond: Dan Cole, Senior VP of Sales, Trade Shows and Events at Hargrove. You’ve given us some great insights along the way. Let’s wrap it up. Give us one final thought that you’d like to share to inspire the sales game changers listening to today’s podcast.
Dan Cole: You got into sales for a reason. Remember that reason and that can go back to your purpose that I talked about before. There is nothing to feel guilty about in terms of making a lot of money. It’s how you make that money. It’s what about this profession that attracted to you. I hear all the time, “working with people”, “I’m good with people”, “I like people”. What does that actually mean? What is the goal? Is it just to feel good or to feel good because you are helping them? Are you a competitor? More power to you.
Do you like to compete? Is that the reason or one of the reasons you got in sales? Make that part of what informs your confidence on a daily basis. Remember that you’re going to have down days or down hours. It’s natural. But, for those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a long career in sales and me, so far, I can’t believe that it’s been 30 years. I can look back like it was yesterday.
But, I remember why I got into this profession and it’s evolved. Of course, it was to make money at first. I was just coming out of school. Now, it’s going back to that purpose of supporting my family of trying to inspire others of succeeding in general and I’m proud to say that I haven’t switched careers. It could always happen. I don’t intend to. But, no matter where I’ve worked it’s been a privilege and I always remember why I got into this profession.