Bad Exhibiting Staff — Scene 1
Setting: CEO’s office at Big Fail Company, CEO and Incompetent Exhibiting Staff meeting together.
CEO: “How was the trade show?”
Incompetent Exhibiting Staff: “Not great. We didn’t get any good leads.”
CEO: “That’s too bad. Well, we won’t return to that show next year.”
Nearly 1,000 HR trade shows are held in the USA each year. And a version of this conversation takes place at the end of every one of these trade shows. I just returned from SHRM17, which by every measurement was an outstanding event with nearly 16,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors. If a conversation like the one above took place, well, they’d be wrong. Truth is, there are rarely bad trade shows, just bad booth personnel.
At SHRM17, I spent more than 10 hours on the exhibit floor, talked with more than 50 exhibitors, took pictures of twice that number, and walked every row on the floor observing booth personnel. The good news: most of the 700 or so exhibitors had highly skilled exhibiting staff. Total pros. But more than a few exhibitors had incompetent booth personnel, and sadly, these personnel cost each of their companies tens of thousands of dollars in exhibiting fees and lost opportunities.
There are many great articles on how to maximize your success at a trade show, from pre-planning to exhibit design to on-site strategies and post-show follow-up. Every exhibiting company should read them. This blog focuses on one area: how to manage booth staff — what to do and what not to do — to increase your exhibiting success.
- Have a Lead Retrieval Process
If available, rent a scanner (usually available from show organizer). Sure, you can have a giveaway contest with a jar to collect business cards, but not at the expense of a having a scanner. Not having a scanner puts unnecessary pressure on booth staff and takes time away from interacting with potential customers (if they have to collect cards and take notes).
- Choose the Right Booth Staff
Don’t staff your exhibit with people who have no social skills, don’t smile or who have a tendency to unknowingly insult others — I ran into a few such folks at SHRM17. Pick people who have great personalities, can SELL, and are outgoing, responsible, articulate and knowledgeable about your products. And always provide training and talking points, even for experienced company veterans. Extra credit to companies that have their CEO at the booth. At SHRM17, I saw HR.com CEO Deb McGrath working the booth every day. Having a CEO or senior executive at the booth sets a good example and helps motivate everyone.
I was impressed with the exhibiting team of Card Isle – good, consistent attire, energetic, enthusiastic, passionate about their product and very approachable.
- Make Sure Your Booth Personnel Engage!
Your booth personnel need to know that they can’t just stand around and wait for people to stop and talk. It won’t happen. Nobody cares. They have to earn conversations, which means stopping people who might otherwise walk past your booth — and get them interested in your company. There is a delicate balance between soliciting a conversation and being annoying. The best booth personnel know how to do it.
A great example at engagement at SHRM17 was the booth personnel at The Career Exchange — a company I hadn’t heard of before. I had no intention of visiting their booth but they made eye contact with me smiled, slowly approached me got me to stop and talk. I got interested, liked their product and have already referred them to a few people.
- Have Booth Personnel Wear Eye-Catching Attire
This really creative shirt worn by the exhibiting staff for time tracking software company eBillity was a huge hit and draw to their booth (also a giveaway).
Logo-inscribed shirts are OK, but colorful T-shirts work best — and make sure everyone wears the same shirt. When your booth personnel wear identical eye-catching shirts, they are easy to distinguish from attendees. Plus, you expand your branding beyond your exhibit, and if you add some catchy phrase or edginess to the shirt, it can even initiate conversations.
- Don’ts for Your Booth Personnel.
Be sure the people working your booth avoid:
- Chatting with other booth personnel
- Eating at the booth
- Chewing gum at the booth
- Sitting down at the booth
- Talking on their cell phones while at the booth
- Showing up late, leaving the booth unattended or breaking down early
- Having bad breath (lay off the garlic)
- Drinking too much and going to bed too late (if they work the booth properly, they won’t have the energy to stay up late and drink)
- Set an Expectation of Hard Work.
Some booth personnel consider going to a show almost like a semi-vacation, and don’t do the work necessary to make your exhibiting successful. Avoid this by setting the expectation that they will work hard, and that they should anticipate being totally exhausted at the end of each day. Let them know that exhibiting hours are game time. They need to show up prepared, rested and ready to initiate sales discussions that will pay off for them, their careers and your company.