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10 Booth Staffing Secrets To Double Your Trade Show Lead Count … Guaranteed!

10 Booth Staffing Secrets to Double your Tradeshow Lead CountWhen you ask the average booth staffer about trade shows, their first thing that comes to mind is long hours, sore feet, some fun, and work piling up back in the office.  This may be true, but needless to say we do shows for the benefits that we receive by way of lead counts and exposure in the market place.  Below are some of the “secrets” that can help unlock the potential of shows for you.

1.  Exhibiting without Borders: Staff in the aisle where the attendees are walking by.  It seems like where the booth carpet meets the aisle carpet, often becomes an impenetrable “line in the sand” that staffers rarely venture past.  We all want to be “out of the box” in the way we think, so consider the exhibit space as “in the box,” and the aisle as “out of the box.”  This is where it gets a little uncomfortable, but if we can get out there and engage people as they come by, this will result in remarkably higher lead counts.  I staffed an exhibit yesterday where an attendee was going to walk by the exhibit without stopping and I engaged him, only to find out that he has operations on 3 continents and represents about a 5 million dollar sales opportunity for our client.  This guy was going to walk right by the tradeshow booth!  The only reason I pulled him in was because I was in the aisle.  The business is there and we need to be in the aisle to get it.  Sometimes the show may ask you don’t staff in the aisle, but go ahead and do it until they tell you otherwise.

2.  Watching gets you a Goose Egg: Engage attendees… period.  Recently I attended the nation’s largest trade show and did some stat counting on the trade show floor.  With one exhibit, I watched 74 attendees walk by a 60′ section of exhibit in 10 minutes, with only 2 of them being approached by the booth staffers.  The results speak for themselves: 2.7% of attendees were being reached by the staff during the time I kept track.  Why would the results be so low?  Simply put, it is because they did not engage attendees.  The opening line that works for anyone, in any show, is “What brings you to the show today?”  That question can’t be answered with one word (yes, no, or fine) and will require the attendee to stop and think about their response.  Now the door is open to qualify them and move onto the next step.

3.  Divide and Conquer: Surround staffers around in-booth attractions to get the maximum benefit from your investment. Having a game or some type of entertainment is a tremendous method for generating high traffic in your exhibit booth space and at your hospitality suite.  The key to any attraction is to engage and qualify the attendees while they are waiting for the attraction or when the attraction is completed.  Many organizations pay a tremendous amount of dollars for a great in-booth attraction, only to have attendees escape with no interaction with the booth staff.  We need to surround the attendees and make sure that we get an opportunity with them.  Another method to insure interaction is to tie the in-booth activity to the qualifying process.  We should work with the magician, trick shot pool guy, robot, or game organizer to make sure they can work into their script a qualifying question that we can see.  Not that this is any of us, but when it comes to in-booth activities, it seems that the norm in the trade show industry is to attract attendees, only to have the staff not participate in their role of interacting with the attendees.

4.  Play Zone, Not Man to Man: Create zones in your exhibit space that each staffer is responsible for.  Depending on the size of your space, you may have 5’x5′ (or 10’x10′) zones in an exhibit space that each staffer is responsible for.  Often, staffers will congregate at the main approach the exhibit and then leave a portion of the exhibit unstaffed.  Assign zone 1 to staffer “A” and let them know that this is their space and they are responsible for it during their time slot.  You are much less likely to have a staffer slip off with some prospect to chat and abandon their post.  This creates personal accountability as well, and does not allow leads to slip by the “back door,” never to be engaged by a staffer.  In addition, this technique naturally solves some of the problem of staffers congregating and talking to each other, rather than to attendees.  Creating zones can work in the largest and smallest of exhibit spaces.  It does, however, require a sufficient number of staffers in the space.

5.  Pre-Set Appointments at the Show: The primary reason we attend shows is to talk to people that can influence the sale of our products and services.  What better way to insure that we get the chance to talk to the right people than to set a specific time to talk to them at the show.  One of the keys to making this work is to do confirmation calls the morning of show to confirm the appointment and give landmarks that make it easy for them to find you.  You will need to get their cell phone number so you can catch them at the show.

6.  Make Your Giveaway Part of What You Do: Try to find a way to tie your giveaway into what you do.  This might be a direct tie-in; for instance if you are Apple, you would likely give away an iPad or a similar giveaway that is directly tied to what you do.  Many organizations are service-oriented, and in that case you might offer a percentage off their first purchase or a free on-site assessment.  If you want to give away something that is unrelated, that could work too, if the only people eligible are those who are qualified to make decisions about your products or services.  This means that attendees that are just “trick or treating” for all your free giveaways only get a Jolly Rancher and in order to register for the premium drawing, you have to be qualified.

7.  Trade Shows, Nightclubs and Mixers: Trade shows are strange.  What I mean by that is there are very few places where you stand around trying to talk to strangers and garner enough interest from them so you can tell them what you have to offer.  This process is uncomfortable and the only other places you may find yourself doing this is at a nightclub or an after-hours mixer put on by some association.  It is uncomfortable and one way to ease this angst is to find a couple of hand-picked people from your staff to be designated crowd gatherers.  They clearly need to be more out-going and gregarious than the rest of the staff to qualify.  Make it their job to be in the aisle staffing and to hand off the attendees to other people staffing the exhibit space (this does not exempt others from engaging or staffing in the aisle).  They are not responsible to do anything, but catch the attendee, qualify them, and hand them off to the staffer who can get into the details of the possible project.  After the hand off, they go back into the aisle to get some more attendees.

8.  Practice Catch and Release: Once we engage attendees, we find out that many are not qualified.  At this point we need to employ the practice used by many fishermen called “Catch and Release.”  We caught them, now we have to gracefully let them go.  The easiest way to do that is say “Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you have a great rest of the show.”  We are now able to gracefully let them move on and you are now free to engage other attendees.  In this process it is good to bear in mind that we don’t want to hand out our giveaways until we know they are qualified.

9.  Bring Only the Staffers that Want To Be There: The best person to staff exhibit displays is the person who wants to be there.  Picking staffers has to start with a basic criteria being met.  The staffer should want to be there.  If the staffer does not want to be there, they will not represent the organization well.  This becomes especially important, knowing that 85% the results that your organization receives is directly tied to the experience that the attendees have with your booth staffers.  Regardless of position, from CEO to the Janitor, we need to have someone who will represent the organization well — and that starts with the person who wants to be at the show.

10. Have a Huddle Every Morning: Each morning, of each day of the show, have a booth staff meeting.  Before the chaos of the show begins, gather your staff and have a pre-show meeting (roughly 1 hour prior to the start of each day).  At this meeting you can give an update on the quality of leads coming in, kudos to the best performers, announce any mid-stream adjustments, timing of activities, and update everyone on how well you are doing against the goals that have been set.  On an individual level, set specific target goals for each staffer so they have something to shoot for and compete against.  This can be given prior to the event or can be handed out at the event.  Also, this is a great opportunity to discuss the “best practices” in exhibit staffing, along with the 10 deadly sins of staffing (this may have some variation by company depending on your goals).

There is no better teacher than our experiences and observation.  These top 10 secrets are derived from both sources and if we are able to learn and use these top 10 behaviors and attitudes, we will surely double our lead count at our next event.

Booth Staffing GuidebookLearn more about how to staff your booth and increase your trade show lead count.   Click here to get your free copy of the 48-page Booth Staffing Guidebook, chock-full of helpful articles, worksheets and checklists to help your booth staffers thrive on the trade show floor.


About the Author

As President of Skyline Exhibitor Source, John focuses on the overall vision and direction of the company's large exhibit projects and provides guidance in education, implementation and creative ideation. John has been directly involved in the trade show industry for the past 16 years, and the past 11 years as President of his company that helps clients get the most from their Nashville trade show booths.

9 responses to “10 Booth Staffing Secrets To Double Your Trade Show Lead Count … Guaranteed!

  1. This post has some great advice about the type of staffers you should bring to trade shows, but what it fails to discuss is what if you’re a small business with only a handful of employees? Better yet what if you are the sole employee? And what if you just don’t have that outgoing personality that is required for a trade show? If you find yourself in this situation you might want to consider hiring professional crowd gathers to work with at your booth. Often referred to as trade show models, promotional models, or brand ambassadors, they offer small business the opportunity to put an out-going staffer at the front of their booth and draw attendees over that “impenetrable line in the sand.” It’s not to say that hiring a crowd gather is right for everyone, but for some it can be a stress-free way to have that personal presence at their next trade show.

  2. I have to disagree with the aisle domination strategy.

    I have experienced this distracting and disrespectful behavior at shows both as a guest and an exhibitor. The show asks you not to staff in the aisle for a reason. It’s rude to your neighbors, distracting to guests, and you aren’t paying for the aisle – you’re paying for the booth space, by the square foot actually.

    More often than not, guests who are accosted out in the aisle may take whatever flyer is being shoved in their face just to appease the pushy salesperson, then, they just want to get away and down the aisle as fast as they can because they have a lot of ground to cover. The unfortunate side to this is that in trying to escape, they will likely miss out on other booths in the immediate area that they might otherwise have stopped at.

    An exhibitor who uses this tactic creates an unwelcome vibe in the aisle that interferes in a disrespectful manner with neighbors trying to do business. Standing out in the aisle is an obnoxious tactic that risks driving away traffic, blocks neighboring booths and angers fellow exhibitors in the area.

    Instead, bring a booth display that has really good design and is visually eye catching from a distance. Bring staff that are genuinely fun, friendly and professional who know how to pull people in without being manipulative. Oh – and bring a product or service that people actually want. If you do that, you don’t need to be out dominating the aisle, you’ll be too busy wheeling and dealing.

    1. Having a compelling design and a great staff is always going to be a great recipe for success. You will never go wrong with this approach. Having the right staff is key, considering that according to the Center for Exhibition and Industry Research, “85% of the results that any organization has are going to be directly in the hands of your staff.”

      It is true that shows generally ask you not staff in the aisle. It is also clear that competitors staff in the aisle and have an advantage when they do. I am sure it has happened, but I have yet to see the show enforce this rule in any great way on the show floor. I respectfully hold a differing opinion regarding staffing in the aisle and want to clarify that I mean. What I am saying is to be in the aisle 1-3 feet, depending on the width of the aisle. Positioning yourself in the aisle is a tactic that does have some risks with it, but can also pay great returns. When I use this tactic, the people that are willing to talk will take the time and stop… and the people that don’t want to talk will keep on going without talking. That being said, two weeks ago I was staffing for a client of ours and was able to bring in a 4.5 million dollar lead from a gentleman that was going to walk right by the exhibit without stopping, but he was happy I stopped him to talk because he had a need that we could help with.

      Not everyone will be happy or comfortable with staffing in the aisle, but I still stand by the recommendation to be “more assertive,” rather than “less assertive.” This will generally result in a dramatic jump in the lead count and return for the shows.

      1. Staffing the aisle and engaging people is the best strategy for making a trade show worthwhile. If you’re not an owner and don’t care, just sit back. But work the show hard by engaging people and double or triple your count of good leads. It just depends how hungry you are. You’re there spending your time so why not make the most of it?

  3. I have to totally agree with Michelle. People that place staffers in the aisle are extremely disrespectful of their fellow exhibitors. And, John, you mentioned 1 – 3 ft. out in the aisle…most of the aisle ways I’ve seen are about 5 ft. wide – so you are positioning these people at least halfway into the aisle. This is WRONG! For example, I had a small 10 x 10 booth space at a show and I was the only one staffing my booth. The booth next to me was also a 10 x 10 but had 8 staffers in that booth and guess where they all wound up? IN THE AISLE and spilled over into my booth front area – to the fact they totally took up not only their “space” but mine as well. Did I get any leads – NO – because no one could see my booth because of all of them. Will I ever do that show again? Absolutely not! The aisle rule wasn’t enforced and because of this, it was a complete waste of my time and my company’s money. There are certain rules of etiquette for every show and taking up the aisle space should be considered number one under “things not to do”. People attending trade shows usually have an agenda, people they NEED and WANT to see, and don’t want to be “attacked” by these middle of the aisle staffers. A better suggestion would be that if you see someone “wondering – with a dazed look in their eyes” (and we’ve all seen them) then step across that “line” and engage them. But otherwise – do us all a favor and stay within your boundaries!

    1. I totally agree that the behavior of the exhibitor next door to you was in the wrong with 8 staffers blocking your view and opportunity. This is rude behavior and should not be allowed.  This shows disregard for you and is not something I would personally condone.   

      Bringing 8-10 staffers to a 10×10 space is also too much and it sounds like was a contributor to the problem as well.  The show also should have jumped in and said something upon observing the problem. 

      The context around my suggestion to staff a little way in the aisle, is always based on not interfering with your fellow exhibitors and each time I have practiced this, I have not blocked others space… and I would definitely not suggest blocking others around your booth space.  In an island, peninsula and corner spaces, is where this can be most easily be accomplished. Great point of clarification Sherry.

  4. By standing by your recommendation simply because it is a rule not enforced is pretty weak in my book. Yes, I know that many break this rule, but the company I work for will not allow it. If it is stated in the contract, you abide by the contract. Also, I personally don’t like being approached in the aisle. If I want to see what you are offering, I will enter the booth.

  5. John, you make a great point about getting outside the box by getting in front of the booth and engaging with people as they pass by. I also like how you mentioned about using staffers who actually want to be there. I would think in some instances, a company might want to consider hiring models to help out. If a company doesn’t have a lot of out-going personalities or people who have time to be at a booth, using professional models could be a huge help in generating more leads.

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