How to make your conference an industry mainstay: Q&A with Lisa Gschwandtner


LisaG_2Spring always brings a ton of sales & marketing conferences, and the Sales 2.0 Conference (cosponsored by Selling Power Magazine) each April in San Francisco has become a mainstay on the B2B circuit.

I sat down earlier this week with Lisa Gschwandtner, editorial director of Selling Power, to talk about the conference, what makes for a valuable event and some recent research findings that speak to the ever-evolving sales management challenge faced by leaders in the field.

Q: The Sales 2.0 conferences have generated a strong & loyal following in the past couple years. What in your opinion makes it so special? Why do people keep coming back again and again each year (and sometimes twice a year)?
Running a sales organization is a high-pressure, high-stakes endeavor. The painful fact is that the average tenure of a Sales VP is about two years. People come to our events — and keep coming back — because they see successful results after attending. They walk away with a new way of thinking about a problem or challenge. Or they meet someone they end up doing business with.

The Sales 2.0 Conference is also the best place to discover a variety of new technology solutions that can drive success specifically for sales and marketing organizations.

Q: When planning for content at a conference like this, how do you both keep things fresh but also stay relevant to a wide variety of attendees with different levels of tech-savviness, skill sets and expertise?
There’s no end to the new things sales leaders need to learn about. Can you keep doing what you always did and still get pretty good results? Possibly. But from 2008 to 2011, sales quotas rose by 33% while quota achievement rates fell by 25%. Sales leaders need to be better than good to succeed over the long haul.

If you have a mindset that you have nothing left to learn, that’s unfortunate. The Sales 2.0 Conference is not just an opportunity to learn about new trends and new best practices. It’s a time to hit refresh on some old conversations. The “art” of selling isn’t going away. But it’s taking place in a drastically new environment. If you want to remain relevant, you need a game plan for staying ahead of change.

Q: What are some of the most important components of a great event? What things do you put the most focus on for the Sales 2.0 Conferences that, in your opinion, have led to your success and growth?
Engagement is the most important component of a great event. We invite speakers who are going to bring clear ideas, challenge and motivate, and spark a dialogue. We’ve always been lucky to draw very committed and enthusiastic attendees as well.

Q: Why is it still important to attend events in person? Much of this kind of content people can find online, but there’s something missing without the in-person element don’t you think?
We’re huge fans of making virtual connections. (Case in point: we love our conference hashtag, #s20c.) We’re also huge fans of virtual learning and collaboration. But online learning doesn’t cancel out or replace the value of a live experience. They’re both worthy but different investments.

Part of the value of a live event is that we’re doing some thinking on your behalf. We craft presentations, breakout sessions, and panel discussions to make sure they’ll appeal to your concerns. And we draft the best experts and practitioners to be our speakers. We deliver these resources directly to sales leaders so they don’t have to do the work of assembling that knowledge on their own. And, of course, we also open up opportunities for lots of great networking.

Q: Talk a little more about the research you recently completed among sales executives. What were the key findings, and what should other sales leaders do with that?
The aim of the Sales 2.0 Impact Survey was to get an idea of how Sales 2.0 has evolved since these tools first took off around 2007. One of the things we discovered from the 171 respondents (which included sales leaders, sales operations managers, and sales professionals across a variety of industries) was 50% of sales organizations plan to increase spending on Sales 2.0 solutions this year. We also learned that 70% of sales organizations believe that Sales 2.0 solutions will be “very important” or “critical” to achieving their 2013 objectives.

These numbers tell us that Sales 2.0 is really gaining a foothold. We’re going to continue exploring how these usage patterns are connected to top line results for B2B sales teams. Attendees will hear more findings from the Sales 2.0 Impact Survey at the conference on April 8. They’ll also get a complimentary report based on survey findings.