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Hey Booth Staffers, Want My Lead? Treat Me Right

Brian Sommer tells what booth staffers will need to do to get him to want to visit their booth.
Brian Sommer tells what booth staffers will need to do to get him to want to visit their booth.

Brian Sommer writes on his ZDNet blog what trade show booth staffers will have to do to earn his business at the various trade shows he will visit this fall. It’s an excellent primer on booth staffing, and even selling in general.

Here are the 5 main suggestions he offers booth staffers:
1.  Have empathy for your prospects, and be fully prepared by understanding what key urgent issues your prospects are facing, and how your product solves those issues.  That sounds obvious, but too many sales people Brian has encountered instead launch into a big feature dump.

2. Don’t try to scan a prospects badge when you first meet them, it shows disrespect.  Instead, first talk with them and see if there is a viable match for the next step in a dialog, and only then ask to scan their badge.

3. Don’t give a generic giveaway, make some effort to give something tied to your own brand.

4. Greet attendees warmly, then follow a short presentation outline that covers what 3 top business problems your product solves, how big those problems are for other companies, and (very concisely) three differentiators for your product/solution.

5. Finally, close the interaction with grace, and allow your booth visitors some control over the next step of the sales process.

Trade shows are unique in that it’s marketing where you can talk directly with another person.  Brian’s post does a great job of highlighting how to be the kind of person attendees would want to do business with.

booth-staffing-guidebookWant to get more great tips on increasing your booth staff’s performance, and thus your trade show results?  Get your free copy of our 48-page Booth Staffing Guidebook filled with insightful articles, worksheets, and checklists by clicking here.

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.

10 responses to “Hey Booth Staffers, Want My Lead? Treat Me Right

  1. Sorry, but it sounds like you have NO idea what it’s like to stand in a booth for 4 days.
    1. Giveaways??? Aren’t you tired of taking home 30 pens and 10 bags, etc, etc ? You give them to the neighbor’s kids for Halloween. And that sometimes is the ONLY reason we see you.
    2. How about when you cruise in and don’t let us even approach you? Why do you bother coming ??? I forgot, the giveaways.
    3. Look at a badge? Sometimes we are told to direct certain customers to certain sales reps or product managers, so they can be given the executive tour which is usually arranged months ahead of time.
    4. Then there are the spies that the other companies send out to get “inside” info. We certainly want to know who you are.
    5. You might have worked booth as a mere sale rep for a year or 2. But that’s all.
    Get real.

    1. Hello Robert,

      By your comments it sounds like you’ve endured some harsh trade show booth staffing experiences. Here are some thoughts that may prevent future similar experiences.

      Long hours
      After almost 20 years of booth staffing, I’ve even staffed 5 days shows that lasted 10 hours a day but at times felt like they’d last the rest of my life. To make it through those long hours required first and foremost regular breaks — we brought enough staffers and scheduled their hours ahead of time. While staffing, I’d walk around to different sides of the booth to keep it interesting, and vary the engaging questions I’d use to start a conversation. Just starting a demonstration of the product also helped to engage visitors and sped up the time.

      Giveaways, not takeaways
      If your attendees are barging in for giveaways, then change your giveaway strategy. Instead of offering pens or other future halloween gifts, choose giveaways that would only be valuable to your clients in their job, like a special tool or a research report about their industry issues. Keep the giveaways out of site to discourage freeloaders, and only give them to prospects in exchange for qualifying information. And if there are some freeloaders there, you can’t change them, so instead try to focus your energy and time on the highly qualified attendees that are also walking the show.

      Even if you don’t start by scanning an attendee’s badge, you can first look at their badge, or better yet, ask the visitor who they work for, what they are looking for at the show, or if they are familiar with your company. Not only will that get the conversation started with their needs in mind, but also with those few questions you will probably identify the people who have a pre-set appointment.

      Spies in our midst
      When a spy visits our booth their behavior usually sets off internal alarm bells. You can tell it’s a spy if they ask a lot of knowledgeable product questions right off the bat, yet they can’t look you in the eye. When you get the uncomfortable feeling that your attendee is possibly a competitor trying to snoop, it’s best to ask for a scan from their badge, or better yet, their business card, to see if they really are a prospect. Also, ask them many more questions about their business and what their specific needs are. That usually trips them up. When I’ve got a suspected or confirmed spy in my booth, I just tell them very little other than what they can see on the exhibit’s graphics. When I know it’s a competitor I might even turn the tables and ask them questions. But most of all, realize that nowadays spies can probably get all the info they want from your website and press releases about your products anyhow. You’re not really guarding secrets.

      In the end, I agree with Brian’s main point that as marketers and sales people need to remember that the trade show attendee is walking down the aisle only thinking about their own problems. We will have a better chance of getting their business if we start the conversation on their needs, rather than focus on our own perspective.

  2. A good basic five points that everyone who works a booth should follow. It’s so easy to brush off solid advice like this. What I often see is that salespeople and exhibit managers over-estimate the power of common sense. I have been in the trade show business long enough to know that common sense and exhibiting have very little to do with each other. Exhibiting is more than the basics. There seems to be a misunderstanding that working in a trade show booth is the same as working in normal (non-exhibit) situations. It’s anything but. Successful booth people need to hone their skills to this unique selling situation and these five points are a great beginning.

  3. I tend to agree with Robert. Mr Sommer’s comments are a bit idyllic. Robert is trying to interject the realities of trade show exhibiting. As Barry eludes to, this is an extraordinary selling environment that calls for specific tactics and strategies.

    Of course be empathetic and polite, but exhibitors have about 6 seconds to get your attention and take your pulse. “Dumping” features I agree is not stage one. Rapport must be be established quickly through attitude and body language.

    I suggest that staffers prepare one or two quick questions that help identify the prospect’s level of interest in the company, line, or product. The answer to each question determines what the next step will be. If this require more information, then asking the prospect to complete a short survey in exchange for a gift or incentive is a good way to probe.

    I am sorry but I really do not agree with number 5. I want my staffers to be in charge and close the encounter with a choice of action steps such as: 1) Would you like to hear more? 2)Do you have some questions I can answer for you? 3)Would you like to place an order? 4)Would you like to have someone follow up with you after the show? 5) May I scan your badge so we can keep you posted on new products, services (or whatever)? If this is what Mr. Sommers means by control then that’s ok. But I want to lead the prospect to a decision that positions me to continue the process toward helping him or her become happily involved in my offer.

    I understand that some booth staff can be downright rude and abrupt. The best advice to staffers and their managers is don’t try to “wing it”. Have a plan that respects the attendees and their time. Help them to quickly understand what you have to offer and know what you want to get out of this brief encounter. Then follow up.

  4. Having performed event and trade show measurement for exhibitors at hundreds of show, please allow me to offer some objective observations.

    Many exhibitors do not teach their staff to properly engage and quickly qualify each visitor and focus their time and attention on those who are targeted. The big variable is how many of those who are attracted to your exhibit are targeted. If the percentage is big, then you will have a good show. If the percentage is small you will have a miserable result.

    Too often the strategy is to attract a large unqualified crowd with give aways or magicians and such and hope that those people who are the targets will speak up, identify themselves and engage the staff! The more people you attract the harder it is to be successful. This is a pretty clear recipe for poor results and low ROI.

    Put yourself to the test and see how many of these success factors you have in place, or observe as a visitor: (Check the ones you practice or observe regularly)

    ___ 1) Define the targets addressable at the event by product set
    ___ 2) Attract them with targeted promotion
    ___ 3) Train the staff to engage visitors and separate the targets from the non- targets
    ___ 4) Have a plan to manage the visit of the targets
    ___ 5) Convey specific, consistent, benefits oriented, high priority information that is relevant to each target set
    ___ 6) Have a pre- determined set of target visitor commitment goals (specific steps and activities).
    ___ 7) Ensure the commitment goals are steps that sales agrees is are steps in the sales cycle
    ___ 8) Have a system in place to record the commitments
    ___ 9) Provide motivation and support to the committed visitor to follow-through on the follow-up step through at and post- event communications.
    ___ 10) Set as many pre-scheduled meetings as possible with customers, prospects, suppliers, partners and others who can improve your profitability in some way.

    This does work! It takes focus, planning, training and execution, but it will deliver results and make for happier more productive staff members and visitors.

    Ed Jones

    (if you have a question or would like to discuss email me at

    1. You have singled out the main cause of this issue: the booth staffer is overwhelmed going after everyone, instead of the booth staffer being aided and focused by a more targeted and proactive exhibiting strategy. Thanks for sharing your experience, Ed.

  5. While many important points have been made I think we are missing one of the most important ones – the booth worker, more often than not, was not hired to staff an exhibit. In fact, most were not told during the interviewing process that they might be asked to represent the company at a show or event and most don’t really care about ‘having a great show’ – it’s not what they were hired to do and it’s not how their performance is measured and evaluated.

    Among the things I’ve learned in the 20+ years that I’ve been training exhibit staff is to encourage my client – often a trade show/event manager who is measured on having a great show/event program – to ask and answer the the W.I.F.M question (What’s In It For Me) from their exhibit workers’ perspective. What value can they derive (related to what they were hired to do) by staffing a show?

    When the WIFM question is asked and answered and a show’s strategy and plan is tweaked accordingly, exhibit workers tend to be more receptive to the trade show manager’s input and direction and motivated to represent their company to the best of their ability.

    Identifying and then balancing the goals and needs of everyone involved prior to, at and after a show or event will lead to better attendee experiences and quantifiably improved results.

  6. These are some great suggestions here. I think that your underlying theme here is to be personable and display proper and considerate customer service. If you are personable and cordial to the people that you meet at a trade show, I think your sales conversion percentage will increase, especially if you have a quality product.

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