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Why This Chief Growth Officer Says “The Best Salespeople Don’t Sell”

Terry Campanaro, CGO at experience agency Spiro, speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about how creative selling has evolved and shares her most valuable lessons

Fluent in marketing as well as leading large teams in major US markets, Terry Campanaro has played a key part in developing the sales and service teams at global brand experience agency Spiro, which is part of the GES Collective. She has been instrumental in helping GES transition from a design, marketing and manufacturing company to its current status as one of the globe’s leading trade show, exhibition and event management agencies. 

Following the pandemic, Terry helped Spiro rebuild and reinforce a culture centred around teamwork, collaboration, caring for one another, and an intense focus on being the best. Now, she and the company have their sights set on expanding their solutions to new sectors and locations, where the aim is to allow Spiro to “solidify its positioning as the true, single-source, global experiential partner”.

LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with Terry to discuss how the art of selling has changed in the creative industry, why mentors are so valuable for salespeople, and the skill of ‘recommending and demonstrating’ a solution - as opposed to ‘selling’ one.

LBB: What was your first sale or new business win? What do you remember about how you felt and what lessons did you learn?

Terry: My first sale came about three or four months after graduating from college, after many cold calls and many ‘no thank you, not interested’ replies from those whom I was calling. 

After thinking a lot about this experience, and after talking to seasoned pros, I learned not to take rejection personally and that much of one’s success in sales comes through perseverance; knowing your target market and understanding its challenges - and listening. 

The most valuable lesson, however, was realising that at its core, sales is about offering solutions to your audience. The best salespeople don’t ‘sell’ their clients and prospects anything; they recommend meaningful and proven solutions to the problems they are facing and then demonstrate that their solution is the best one out there.  

LBB: What was the best piece of advice you got early on? 

Terry: The best advice I received early in my career was from my dad who told me that the people who distinguish themselves and get ahead are those who are not afraid to make decisions, and who are comfortable taking prudent risks. Nothing can really happen until the range of possible actions for any given situation is narrowed down by making well-considered decisions, and it is rare that a person or organisation can make true advances without taking some risk. 

Thanks, Dad - it’s great advice!

LBB: How has the business of ‘selling’ in the creative industry changed since you started?

Terry: One way it’s changed is that more and more agencies have bought into ‘solution-based, consultative selling’, so it’s become more difficult to distinguish one’s company by taking this approach. You must constantly think of other ways to stand out by upping the range, effectiveness and utility of the solutions offered. 

Another way creative selling has changed is that while ‘the big idea’ is still paramount, more clients are expecting an end-to-end solution that includes a flawless, single-source execution. You can have the best ideas in the market, but if you can’t execute well - or if you are dependent on third parties to execute for you - it takes away a level of control which can easily jeopardise a whole project. If your execution isn’t flawless and on budget, the best idea in the world will quickly lose its lustre. 

Things have also changed because there are more stakeholders, most notably procurement, involved in selecting an agency partner. You must take into consideration the needs of these stakeholders when preparing a proposal or pitch.

LBB: Since joining Spiro, how have you helped to reshape and structure the company to encourage growth? What are some of your proudest achievements from doing so?

Terry: Our first task was rebuilding our organisation after the near shutdown of our industry due to the pandemic. We furloughed many people when the industry flatlined in March 2020, and when the industry rebounded faster than expected, it was a huge undertaking to bring people back and fill in the holes created.

After rebuilding was underway, we focused on expanding our solutions so we could offer more to our clients and prospects to help them meet their now-empowered audiences whose behaviours and preferences completely shifted. We strengthened our team, improved our experiential creative capabilities and boosted our marketing and social media efforts to really transform the industry.

Out of all of this activity, my proudest achievement was bringing our team back to Spiro after the furloughs. Many, many people chose to remain unemployed and wait for us to bring them back rather than take jobs elsewhere, which they could have easily done. I think that’s a testament to the culture we have built, which is focused on teamwork, collaboration, caring for one another, and having an intense focus on being the best at what we do.

LBB: New business and growth can often mean hearing ‘no’ a lot - from potential clients to change-reluctant people internally etc. -  how do you keep motivated and pivot your strategies?

Terry: Hearing ‘no’ just comes with the territory - you have to accept this in our profession. By accepting, I don’t mean like or become accustomed to losing - no one hates to lose more than I do. Instead, use the loss as a motivator. Accept that even the best lose from time to time, and in losing, one finds valuable lessons that can improve your selling efforts. 

I don’t use the ‘nos’ to reshape our strategy unless I notice a pattern to the ‘nos’ that dictate or suggest that an alternative strategy may be in order.

LBB: How important is cultural understanding when it comes to selling and expanding services internationally? 

Terry: Understanding the culture in which one operates is critical. Spiro is a global company - we have facilities on three continents and produce and manage events all over the world. We strive to be good corporate citizens wherever our clients take us by being sensitive to the various cultures and mores of the places we work. 

While there are certain universal attributes within our industry that are independent of culture or location, there are a host of location and culture-specific protocols of which one must be mindful. At Spiro, we try very hard to assign people to international account teams who speak multiple languages, are well-travelled, and are well-versed in the countries and regions where we execute our events. We have found that our clients are very appreciative of this sensitivity and our global, yet local, mindset and approach.

LBB: What are some of your long-term growth goals with Spiro? And how are you looking to stay on track to achieving them? What metrics and strategies will you be using?

Terry: Our goals include expanding our solutions so we can solidify our positioning as the true, single-source, global experiential partner. 

Our current client base is extensive within the healthcare, aerospace and tech industries. These clients need a global partner that offers a full suite of experiential, analytical and executional tools and services. With audience and consumer behaviours in constant flux, we are determined to provide this complete toolbox to meet the needs of our clients. Because our offerings are invaluable to industries outside of those we’ve traditionally served, we’re expanding our presence to other sectors. 

LBB: What’s your advice for anyone who’s not necessarily come up as a salesperson who’s now expected to sell or win new business as part of their role?

Terry: My advice would be to find a mentor who is or has been successful in sales and learn everything you can from this person. I have had several mentors during the various stages of my career, and they have been enormously helpful. Not only have they given me great advice and provided a seasoned perspective, but they also prevented me from making countless mistakes. As one said to me, “Learn from my mistakes, so you don’t repeat them.” 

In addition, they accelerated my learning curve greatly. With a mentor in my corner, I did not have to find out and learn everything on my own. I had a confidant and sounding board that I could go to with especially thorny issues and problems to help me think things through. 

Original Article Published by Little Black Book.