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How should account executives target prospects in this new economy?
With the recent changes in the breadth of services that are being offered by traditional exhibit houses and event marketing firms, account executives need to understand what they are selling and then figure out how to target specific prospects. 

kris_malmbergWhat do you believe is the number one trait necessary to succeed as an account executive?
Perseverance is the key trait to success in this industry. There are more variables at play than ever before. Just because you have a great solution and a good relationship with the senior event manager doesn’t mean you are going to win.

Account executives may find themselves presenting to representatives from the purchasing, marketing and sales departments, outside marketing agencies and executives. And that is assuming you actually are allowed to present in person and that those people are all located in North America. Add in an international division or two, or find yourself in the middle of an internal battle between corporate’s desire to centralize brand decisions and a local office who thinks corporate doesn’t understand how to market locally, and you still might find yourself shut out of the process, even with a perfect concept and execution strategy.

What are the biggest challenges facing sales professionals today?
In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges is getting access to clients and prospects to understand what they are really trying to do. It is amazing how many articles are written in major industry magazines that say that companies value partners who take the time to learn about their organizations and provide real insight and unique ideas for their marketing programs. But when RFPs come out, there is little or no opportunity to meet with anyone to have these kinds of discussions.

What personal attributes are important to building a book of business for the long term?
This is a great question. I actually thought about this for quite a while on a 14-hour flight to Beijing last year. I came up with these three traits for long-term success in this industry: Persistence, perseverance and purpose.

Persistence – You have to have the desire to continually adapt your approach to finding new business opportunities. This might involve identifying new and emerging industries to sell to, learning how to sell other lines of business that your company offers or finding new and unique ways to be seen as a knowledgeable industry resource rather than just another exhibit salesperson. It is an over-used cliché, but it is true, you must adapt or you will just fade away.

Perseverance – No matter how good you are, you are going to have to fight your way through some hard times. A prospect may not choose your solutions for that huge program because someone on the committee “had a guy”. You might have to start over again because you lost some key accounts. A key industry show that you are “the expert” in suddenly shuts down due to changes in that industry. Whatever the difficulty is, you are going to have to find a way to persevere, stay in the game and fight through those hard times.

Purpose – You have to have a “why.” Why do you want to put up with all of the pressure, conflict, heartache and pain that can come with this industry? Is it because you can make a good living? You can constantly learn new things? You can travel and see new parts of the world? You enjoy being part of the creative process and seeing things come to life? You live for that moment when everything comes together and your client/company/industry peers say “Wow! You did it!” Find that why.

What should veteran account executives be aware of in order to survive and thrive in the industry?
Honestly, if someone has been in this industry long enough to be considered an industry veteran, they don’t need my advice. They already know what to do to survive. If you want to become an industry veteran, you have to keep learning new things, adopting new tactics and techniques that generate new business and continually serve your customers at the highest level possible.

Sales prospecting is a hard job. What keeps you motivated and focused?
Unemployment. Been there; done that. It sucks.

Did you have a mentor? If so, what was the one piece of advice he/she shared that you cherish today?
The one piece of advice that I have cherished was given to me at a resort that I worked at in Canada in high school. It came from a retired gentleman that we called Grandpa Johnson who was teaching me a new way to do something that I had never tried before. When I told him I had never done that and didn’t know what to do, he told me “Well, you’re never gonna learn it when you’re younger.”

As I’ve progressed throughout my career from selling 10-by-10 pop-ups out of my car with Skyline to selling projects all over the world with Pico, I have had to continually learn new things and do things that I was not comfortable doing in order to get to the next level.

That need and desire to continually learn new things is never going to stop as long as we are in this business.

As the vice president of sales and marketing at Pico North America, Malmberg also oversees new business development and social media strategy and implementation. His tradeshow industry experience spans more than two decades in sales and marketing.

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