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How to Go Beyond Leads- Event Hospitality & Networking

You know that your booth staffers are one of your most valuable, if not the most valuable asset when exhibiting at a trade show or hosting a business event.  However, you may feel like you have little to no control over how they perform at the show.  Yet, by selecting the right staffers, offering appropriate incentives, recognition, and training, you can be sure they will rise to the challenge and become excellent brand ambassadors for your company.

Make Staffers Accountable

For example, if you have no accountability for the leads or connections that they make at the trade show they are likely to be unmotivated to reach out to prospects and may spend most of their time on their phone.  Think about it, if they answer their emails they will be rewarded by their supervisors or clients for being responsive.  Furthermore, if you as a trade show manager don’t provide goals or incentives staffers will have little motivation to make a big effort to reach out to prospects.

Make sure staffers know that you will evaluate and communicate their performance to them and to their supervisor.

Communicate Goals

Communicate the team goals for the show to staffers and give them an idea of the number of meaningful conversations they should strive for each day, but spend the bulk of your training time talking about your company’s goals, your customers, what you offer as a company and how to be a good host.  The overall message should be to treat each booth visitor as the important guest they are.  You want clients leaving the booth with a better impression of your company than what they started with.

Some would argue that this could be a waste of time.  What about the competitors that come to scope us out?  What about the client who you know is not buying anything else?  What about the person who is just coming over for the giveaway?  Let me say this, I would much rather a staffer spend too much time talking to a competitor or give away a few too many giveaways than they are inattentive or rude to a visitor because they did not take the time to listen or because they prejudged someone based on preconceived notions.

Motivate Appropriately

If you motivate staffers simply based on the number of leads they get, then they will think of prospects as “just another lead” rather than as an individual.  Granted, if you select your staffers appropriately they will likely be polite and qualify prospects.  Yet, they may rush from one interaction to the next because they are focused simply on the number of leads.

Part of this issue can be overcome by properly training staffers on the right qualifying questions to ask.   Still, if you are judging their performance on the number of leads that will likely distract them from taking the time to ask questions and have a meaningful conversation with the prospect.

Questions Staffers Can Use to Engage Visitors

One of the hardest things about staffing is knowing how to start a conversation without feeling like a used car salesman.  You want to be authentic, but at the same time, you can’t just wait for people to come to you.  I cannot tell you how many times people have said to me after a conversation on the trade show floor “I am so glad you stopped me.”

Here are 10 Sample Engagement Questions Staffers Ask:

  1. What brings you to the show?
  2. What have you heard about our company?
  3. What problems are you looking to solve by attending this show?
  4. What have you seen at the show that you have found interesting or useful?
  5. What are you looking to learn by attending this conference (or event)?
  6. Have you seen our demo and what did you think about it (if you don’t have a demo you may want to consider it)?
  7. Can I offer you some water, soda or a snack? While this may draw people who are not necessarily in your target it is a small cost to pay if your exhibit is empty and you are more likely to meet someone interesting by doing this than by just standing around.
  8. Did you sign up for our <fill in relevant> giveaway raffle? Make sure you prequalify prospects.
  9. What did you think about the keynote speaker?
  10. Did you want to sit down for a minute? Use this with qualified prospects.


Training for Hospitality

How do you train that level of hospitality?  Don’t people just have that, or don’t?  While many traits are inherently well suited for someone to be a good staffer (such as friendly demeanor, curiosity, conscientiousness and company and product knowledge), most staffers will benefit from learning, or being reminded, about important staffing skills (such as how to engage people, product knowledge and tech tips on lead capturing).

Also, sharing general demographic information about who your customers typically are and reminding them that this is the opportunity to actually meet and listen to customers in person will help.  If staffers know who the client is likely to be, they will be better prepared to host them.  You can typically get this information from the show organizer of from your company’s own marketing research.  This is especially important if you send out invitations to prospects and make appointments as those clients should get extra special treatment as they are prequalified.

Selecting staffers that understand that they are representing not just your company, but also your brand is invaluable.  However, also reminding them of how acknowledging and listening to visitors can make the difference between a good and a mediocre experience.  A good resource to consider is a book by Danny Meyer, the hospitality expert and author of Setting the TableThe Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.


Don’t Forget About Networking

It is so tempting to think about trade shows as only a way to get new names.   So easy to think that you can talk to your customers at a different time because you are at this event to meet new prospects.  So natural to want to only think about what is in it for you and your company.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the primary focus should be getting a good return on our presence at the show and hopefully making numerous sales as a result of the valuable contacts obtained at the show.  BUT… that is not ALL that the show is all about.

The trade show is also an opportunity for you and your employees to learn more about existing clients.  Find out if they are happy, or not, with your products or services.  These events allow you to connect with business associates, to meet people (who while not your prospects now, could be so in the future or who you can help), to learn more about your industry and the people in it, to listen.  Because, when you take the time to really listen to your customers, and to your business associates, you have the opportunity to not just make one sale, but to really help them, and to develop a long-term business relationship.  This is the type of thing you can’t do online.  This is what face-to-face marketing is all about.

About the Author

Sofia Troutman was the Manager of Digital Marketing & Product Innovation for Skyline Exhibits in St. Paul, MInnesota.

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