We Want to be Right – Which is Why I was Wrong

I had a perfect plan to take on a competitor and flip some of their event sponsors to become my event sponsors.

It failed.

Here’s why – and what I learned in the process.

I know my audience really well. I sit down and personally generate the attendee demographic statistics for my conferences. I am not a stats guy. So this is a hard and unpleasant thing for me to do. But I do it. Why? If I do it I know the results inside and out. When a prospect asks “who comes to your conference?” I have the answer ready.

I also read my competitor’s marketing materials so I know how they are presenting their audience. So when a prospect asks “how are you different from X Competitor?” I am ready with an answer.

Then recently I was looking at the competitor’s marketing materials and saw an opportunity to flip some of their sponsors over to my event. I discovered while my competition has more attendees, my attendee quality was better. It broke out like this:

  • My Event: 60% Buyers. 40% Vendors.
  • Competition: 60% Vendors. 40% Buyers.

I was thrilled. Which event would you rather sponsor? Slam dunk for me.

I crafted a special graphic showing this difference. I rounded up a list of companies that sponsored the other event, sent out emails and made follow up calls. I expected a wave of companies to call expressing regret that they ever sponsored the other event.

Instead I got nothing.

Why? What went wrong?

People don’t like to be wrong.

My basic sales pitch depended on people admitting they were wrong. They picked the wrong conference to sponsor.

Most people really don’t like doing this. So much so that researchers have a name for it: Confirmation Bias. Our brains seek out information that confirms what we already think and ignore everything else. So when I send out a note that tells them one of their choices was wrong they naturally filter that message out. Thus my message didn’t connect – it was quickly dismissed.

I learned two things:

1 ) My basic messaging here was sound. We have better demographics. But I don’t talk about the competition anymore. I just play up my conference’s audience. That way companies only have to make a positive choice to sponsor my events – not accept that they may have made the wrong choice before.

2 ) Your buyers WANT to be right. They want to have made the right choice when they buy from you. So give them lots of positive reinforcement that they made the right choice. I like to send updates as a conference approaches telling my sponsors how many people have registered, who they are, the opportunities to meet with them, etc. Yes, I’ve already sold them – but now I am reminding them they made the right choice. So when they arrive at one of my events they are looking for the positives to validate their choice – and dismiss anything that doesn’t fit that perspective.

While this initiative failed, I didn’t consider it a failure.

Sales people are, by definition, in the business of failing. Most prospects say “no” at least once. The successful sales person takes the time to figure out why something didn’t work. Take time to consider a promotion or campaign that you’ve done that didn’t work. I’ll bet there are some valuable lessons to be mined from the experience.



More about Christopher: Christopher Ware is Founder & Inventor, Sales Tonic Media and is also the VP of Business Development for NAIOP, a national trade association. He is a niche media sales expert with 18+ years’ experience in selling print and digital advertising, event sponsorships, and exhibit space. Christopher has generated $20,000,000 in media sales for niche publications and events. He lives in Virginia with his wife of 18 years. He’s been to all 30 Major League Baseball parks, over 40 minor league parks, and hopes to one day see a game in every state.


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