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13 Bad Booth Staffers

He did what? She said what? And in our trade show booth!

You may be surprised at the Booth Staffers Behaving Badly that goes on at trade shows.  Or, maybe not, since you’ve had to endure it yourself; staffers so bad they were actually dragging down your corporate image, losing more business than they brought in.

Unfortunately, there always have been, and always will be bad booth staffers.  Here’s a rogue’s gallery of unprofessional perpetrators:

bad booth staff

1. The Networker:  The Networker spends most of his booth staff shift talking, but instead of having concise conversations with clients and prospects, he whiles away the expensive show hours talking with other sales people, corporate management, and anyone else who will listen — as long as he doesn’t have to actually take a lead.

2. The Fire Hose:  Instead of asking attendees good questions, listening for specific pains, needs, and goals, and responding with an appropriate presentation, the Fire Hose lets loose the same unending stream of corporate speak, drowning the attendee with irrelevant messages.  They offend your booth visitors and wash away your return on investment at the same time.

3. The Wall Flower:  While being an introvert is no barrier to great booth staffing, a Wall Flower lacks the courage and initiative to start a conversation with passing attendees.  Booth staffers that wait on the sidelines for attendees to walk in the booth will get a small fraction of the leads of a staffer willing to engage visitors in the aisle.

4. The Debbie Downer:  While constructive criticism is essential for growth, Debbie Downers are permanently parked in a dark place. These perpetually pessimistic people are a danger to your company’s brand, as they drag down their fellow booth staffers by their continuous complaining about each and everything possible. They don’t exactly light up the world with prospects, either!

5. The Invisible Man:  While not activity destroying your brand equity through poor performance, The Invisible Man (or Woman) doesn’t show up for their booth shift, leaving your remaining staff to pick up the load, and lowering your lead count potential.  Even worse is if your Invisible Man has essential, unique expertise, such as demonstrating a new product.

6. The Ghost:  Unlike the Invisible Man, the Ghost is physically there, but … not really.  They are actually on their phone, or on their computer, busy taking care of other business instead of staffing the booth.  So attendees can see the Ghosts, but not really touch them.  Which wastes the rest of your trade show investment.

7. The Scanner:  The Scanner is focused on only getting lots of leads for leads sake, so they relentlessly pursue attendees just to scan their badge – and then fail to engage the attendee any further.  They just want to scan the next person, and the next, and the next – so you have plenty of leads, but none that are qualified.

8. The Robot:  The Robot is unable to make an emotional connection with booth visitors, to find out what they care about, or strengthen the company’s relationship with the prospect.  The Robot may only feel comfortable speaking about specifications, technical details, facts and figures.  While technical details are very important, it also takes a human touch to make visitors feel welcome.

9. The Thief:  The Thief steals leads, pocketing them without reporting them as from the trade show, rather than respecting the company’s need to track valuable leads to measure their true trade show ROI.  Worse yet, they steal leads from outside their sales territory.  Swiper, no swiping!

10. The Lump:  The Lump is an inert blob of flesh and bones, sitting in the booth with a glazed look over their eyes, doing nothing.  The Lump does not engage with attendees, does not talk to people who just grabbed a free pen, but only answers questions with one-syllable words, or maybe even just a grunt.

11. The Attacker:  Hey! The Attacker Is Very Intense!  They Grab People Out Of The Aisle!  They Don’t Take No For An Answer!  These Booth Staffers Will Scare And Annoy Your Potential Customers!  Because They Don’t Know The Difference Between Assertive And Aggressive!

12. The Liar:  The Liar thinks that they should get every trade show lead they can, even if that means stretching the truth beyond the breaking point.  The Liar misrepresents your products’ and company’s capabilities, and what your competitors can and can’t do.  Which will damage your company reputation when the truth is inevitably found out.

13. The Supervisor:  When The Supervisor is on your roster as a booth staffer, they unfortunately think that actual booth staffing is below them, so they stand on the side and “supervise.”  They don’t know that at the best exhibiting companies, everyone from the CEO on down wants to staff the booth, to drive more sales, get more direct customer feedback, and improve your company image.

Sure, no one is perfect, and you can find similarly flawed people in just about any business.  It’s just that behaviors by Bad Booth Staffers like these are amplified in the high-pressure, high-value trade show environment.

What do you do if you have a staffer like this in your booth?  How do you prevent them from donning the corporate polo shirt in the first place?  How many staffers described above have you staffed with?  Are there any other common bad booth staffers you’ve had the misfortune to staff with?  Let us know your experiences in the comments box below.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

28 responses to “13 Bad Booth Staffers

    1. Hello Brandt,

      Yes, it’s like those low-engagement staffers were taught the goal is to give away freebies, rather than use the freebies as a way to get a conversation started.

      Nice to see you here!

  1. Nice article Mike, enjoyed it. One omission: The Hijacker. Not confident enough to engage booth visitors alone, the Hijacker always inserts themselves into a conversation you are having with a prospect. They usually insert meaningless information, or stories about themselves to the annoyance of booth staff and vistors alike.

    1. Wow, what a good “bad” booth staffer — I love the addition to the list of shame!

      I hope booth captains around the world look out for the hijacker. We track leads by staffer at shows, so anyone who hijacks leads gets a lot of grief from the rest of the team.

  2. Great list! Over the years I have experienced all of these people. I have worked with them, I have been attacked by them as a booth visitor, and I have BEEN some of them myself. Yikes! The worst one I ever saw was the CEO of a company who was so over the top, type A aggressive, that he would attack anything that moved. I’m not making this up… he would throw a $5.00 bill on the ground in front of his booth, and whomever was unlucky enough to see it and try to pick it up would lose the next 10 minutes of their life they’d never get back, and it wasn’t worth keeping the $5.00.

  3. I like where you can stare at a companies signage at their booth for 20 minutes and still never figure out what they do.

    Or the trade show booth guy that thinks everybody gets drunk after the show,likes telling dirty jokes or how hot the “B” is at booth 24.

  4. Mike, for my list I have added # 14.

    14. Who Cares about Hygiene: Yes some staffers come to a show to represent their company and have not had a shower or brushed their teeth. There is nothing worse than standing next to a person who smells awful or has bad breath. It happens. If you have halitosis keep a good supply of ‘good’ breath mints and use them. Good grooming is essential but not all seem to know it.

  5. Mike,

    I really enjoyed the article. I would like to add one more to your list if I may-14. The Eater and Drinker. The Eater and Drinker is a booth staffer who feels it necessary to bring their food and drink back to the booth and then eat and drink in front of visitors while seated and then attempting to pitch them with a mouth full of food!

    1. Yes, it’s like they think the booth is a restaurant!

      What is different is if you go to a show in Europe, it’s much more common for exhibitors to serve food and drink in their booth. So then the attendee is going to be the one eating!

  6. Has anyone hired staffers outside of the company? Perhaps craigslist for qualified candidates who actually have people skills and can learn about the basics of the company and get quality leads?

    I set up lead capture campaigns for vendors here in Hawaii using text & email marketing (instant text reply autoresponders as soon as someone opts into the campaign followed up by email autoresponder after tradeshow is over).

    Staffers make a HUGE difference as to whether or not the campaign will be a success and help built the prospect list.

    It’s definitely frustrating when I show the staffers what to do and how to engage people to opt in and they just won’t do it.

    Ugh. Not good for my clients.

  7. Hi Mike,

    I agree, great article.
    One I missed is the interruptor, you know, the worker who is standing behind you waiting to jump in and dominate the conversation, speaks over you or attempts to undermine your presentation sometime with information that the audience is not interested in or you haven’t gotten to yet….or is that the annoyer?

  8. Thanks Mike for the great article! I would like to add another one…The Chewer.

    I see it all the time, not only at trade shows. If you’re going to be in front of people, don’t chew gum even if you’re not actually speaking but just part of the presenting team. In my opinion it’s unprofessional and shows lack of respect or honest interest.

    BTW, I’m originally from Europe and yes we do serve food and drinks at Trade Shows more often than here. I think it’s our culture, like when you visit people, there’s always food and drinks on the table to share.

    1. Thanks, Radna! Some staffers may think they need to chew gum to make their breath smell better, but then they look less professional if they keep on chewing. Better to have some breath mints handy.

  9. Mike, everyone knows you’re supposed to say “Swiper, no swiping!” *three* times, or it doesn’t work! ;) Other than that, an excellent read…thank you!

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