Welcome to the first post in my brand new series, exploring the industry. I will be catching up with many of my industry peers to find out what it is they actually do. If you work in events you know how broad our industry is and how many different jobs there are, but do you know what it takes to get that job, work in that role or what type of events they actually work on? Honestly it's been so interesting finding out for myself I can't wait to share these interviews with you all.
All About Diana
Job Title: Sales Manager International Events, Congress & Guest Events
Company: Stockholmsmässan Congress & Exhibition Center
How long have you worked in the industry?: 4.5 years
Whats your dream event to work on?: I would absolutely love to work with organisers who have implemented “festivalisation” into their event, so something like C2 Montreal.
How did you get into the world of events?
I graduated with a dual degree in Economics and English and had three criteria when I was job hunting:
1) I wanted to work in an international environment as working in a diverse, multicultural atmosphere is something I enjoy.
2) I wanted to work at a medium-sized business, with at least couple hundred employees as my previous jobs had all been in small businesses.
3) I wanted to be client-facing, as I know one of my strengths is offering great customer service.
I got a job at Stockholmsmässan working in their Sales & Production department, which is where the venue handles orders of event services for exhibitors and provides customer support for the exhibitors. My role involved making sure all orders for products & services were properly registered, checking that the stands comply with health & safety regulations, managing the sales process and upsell of our products and services, working with the exhibitor to help plan their stand, working with production and the technical teams to make sure those plans are possible etc. Basically everything the exhibitor needed from the day they book participation until the day they pay the final invoice fell under my responsibility. Every event was different and it was challenging (long hours, tough conversations, deep technical information) but gave me tons of experience and I loved it!
However, after a while (as any young, ambitious woman in the industry haha) I wanted to grow. I saw an opportunity for a Key Account Manager and applied for the job even though I know I lacked the experience – just to put my face out there. The department head mentioned after my interview that while he indeed was looking for someone with more experience, he saw potential and he suggested I apply for the role of Sales Manager in the Congresses & Guest Events department – where I’ve been for 3 years now. For the past year and a half, however, I’ve been based in London, UK working from here 3 weeks a month with our international clients as the UK and US are our largest markets outside of Sweden.
What would a day in the life of an international sales manager look like?
A normal day usually involves a meeting with the team via Skype, checking in on the status of our requests, if there are any difficulties, any developments in the company we need to know about (renovations, investments, change in processes, budgets, staff etc.). All Sales Managers have a dedicated market and different challenges and opportunities, but we nevertheless find it important to share this information with each other too.
A large part of my day is answering e-mails and conducting calls (this can be both from clients and from other departments). What sounds like a simple question such as “can you build a registration desk here” depends on what events we have before that one, if there are any security concerns, a proposal from our Event Services department on the construction of a registration desk (how many people, stations, branding opportunities etc.) and so on. Or we receive an RFP (request for proposal) where I check availability and create a proposal, floor plans and contracts. When I work from Stockholm I also conduct a lot of site visits. This means a client comes to our venue to look at the spaces we have proposed for their event – or it can involve pitching to a client who doesn’t have a booking with us but who we want to show the venue off to, hopefully leading to RFPs and bookings with us in the future.
I also spend time finding and qualifying leads, scoping out new events and businesses we’re interested in, networking with clients and other event industry professionals, exhibiting at industry trade shows, and speaking to our convention bureau about congress bids, international site visits, hotel developments, trends etc.
What’s it like working remotely for a company based in a different country?
It’s actually been a lot easier than expected! Moving to the UK was something I wanted to do both on a personal and professional level, and when pitching this to my boss and the department head, HR etc. I was adamant that I wanted to be as accessible from London as I was sitting in my office. Skype has been a great tool for that, sharing documents, live-streaming company-wide meetings etc. and making sure that you check in with your colleagues once or twice a day.
I’m both a visual and numbers-focused person, so I’ve taken it upon myself to be in charge of measuring our department’s KPIs (key performance indicators) and relaying the results back to the team. This ensures constant contact with my colleagues as well as positive vibes when I do share the results! I find motivation in reaching targets/ goals so celebrating the small steps on the way to a bigger goal is great for me.
What are the most important skills for your role?
I think above all, like in all sales, you need to be likeable and honest. For a client to want to invest/ spend money with you, they have to be able to put a lot of trust in you and feel comfortable in your relationship. I find that this is true no matter the value or number of participants of an event.
Another important skill is attention to detail. We handle hundreds of requests every year, and to remember the layouts, the names of the clients, the details in the contract, what you said on a site visit etc. can be difficult and potentially create problems later down the line if you’re not careful.
I like to use different colours in my floor plans to help me remember an event’s layout, put people’s names in my diary (e.g. “call with Marie at Company X” and not “call with Company X”) and not be afraid to get personal (the weather, pets, a movie I saw recently) with my contacts as well.
Always be honest, work in an organised manner and look for ways to personalise an event/ client so they’re easier to remember.
The most difficult part of your job & your favourite part?
The most difficult part of my job is sometimes working with an unknown future. With congresses or even some larger events and exhibitions, we’re looking at bookings for 2023, 2025 and sometimes even 2026 (the farthest has been 2029!) and it’s challenging to estimate prices, availability, layout, technology etc. in an ever-changing world and fast-paced industry. Will we even be in the same location? Will there be enough hotel rooms? Will there be another airport? What will the economy look like?
I actually really like conducting site visits! There’s something thrilling about events that only existed on paper when I first work with them to walking through the venue, painting a picture as I go along with a client and trying to help them see their event come to life. I love meeting new people so that someone has taken the time out of their day (or week) to visit us is really appreciated and I want to make sure they find it valuable and have a good time – even if the venue isn’t 100% right.
What advice would you give anyone that wants your job?
I would tell anyone who wants my job to practise networking and pitching. You need to know your stuff and be able to build relationships fast, all while staying professional.
The events industry is suffering a lot right now, how has the coronavirus situation changed your job role?
I’m only working 60% at the moment, which I’ve spread out across the week to still have a sense of routine. Obviously one of the most difficult parts of my job was not knowing what the future will look like, and that’s definitely elevated now. We don’t know what the next couple of months look like – never mind the next five years.
I’m trying to take each day and week as it comes, and communicate transparently as much as possible with my team (even when I don’t feel like it).We are working on a lot of legal issues, contract questions, handling expectations for events in the fall, and working on new proposals which are still coming in! There’s definitely going to be a before-and-after COVID-19 in our industry and I’m actually excited to experience “the new age of live events” but before we do that, we have to find “a new normal” which is where my focus lies right now.
What is one thing you are looking forward to when we can get back to 'normal'?
I look forward to conducting a site visit! And having lunch with all my colleagues in Stockholm again.
Thank you so much for taking part in this interview Diana!
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