How the CEO of a $3 Billion Company Works an Expo

Recently, I spent an evening hanging out with the CEO of a $3.6 billion company based in Minneapolis. We were at a conference held by YPO (the Young President’s Organization) at the Trump Hotel in Washington DC.

We walked and talked at an expo held for the construction industry. Really, he talked and I followed along to see how he conducted himself at an industry expo. I wanted to learn the secrets to how top CEO’s get value from an expo since I have always found them to be time bandits.

Spoiler alert!

He does not handle an expo like the rest of us mortals!

When I say “expo,” you all know what I mean. There are tables of vendors set up around the perimeter of the expo hall and the food tables are in the middle of the room. The attendees of the conference are hungry, so they want the food in the middle of the room, but they have to carefully navigate the hall to make sure they don’t accidentally run into one of the salespeople eagerly positioned around the room. It’s kind of like running the Greek gauntlet in Homer’s Odyssey and trying to avoid Scylla and Charybdis (extra credit if you remember this obscure Greek reference from high school).

The expo salespeople stand by their tables and as soon as you come within earshot, they are eagerly reading your name badge, engaging you by asking where you’re from and then launching into a 60 second pitch about their product/service. They give the same pitch over and over hundreds of times per expo.

Well, the difference is that if they don’t get to the point, and fast, the CEO of the $3 billion company interrupts and will say one of two phrases:

  • “Please get to the point”
  • “You’re talking to the wrong guy, do you have any other products/services that might be of interest to me?”

I thought he would be “Minnesota Nice,” but he was quick to interrupt if the salesperson was wasting his time. He often tried to help them understand why and where their pitch was not landing well. Some of the salespeople understood that they were losing him and deftly changed their pitch. Many just got flustered and restarted their pitch with the same or different words. He politely walked away to the next booth. I don’t want to give the impression that he wasn’t nice, just that he was completely intolerant of wasting time. He came to the conference with a shopping list and if what you’re selling doesn’t include what’s on his list, he’s not buying.

When he did get interested in a pitch, he asks good questions. He listens. He asks more good questions.

If there are any salespeople reading this article, please know that the best you can hope for as an expo salesperson is that he will take your info and promise he’ll have one of his management team follow up. As we’re walking, I ask him if he’s sincere about that or if it’s just a line. He assured me that if he says it, he really is planning to have a manager investigate the new product or service. He doesn’t care if they buy it or not, just that they consider the new idea.

In under an hour, we visited all 11 vendors at the expo. He gathered value from the ones that he found interesting. I am sure he’ll have his people call them when he returns to the company. The good ones at least!


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