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Will Your Trade Show Booth Staffers Make This Elephant-Sized Mistake?

Elephant sized trade show mistakeWhen visiting the Fancy Foods Trade Show in New York City, I took some time to visit the various trade show booths representing various states. I was sampling the impressive array of food and drinks offered as treats at each booth.

I noticed that the trade show display for a certain southern state had a young woman giving away samples of gourmet seasoned cashews and anticipated enjoying a cup of them. I wasn’t disappointed – the gourmet nuts were so warm and delicious, I circled around in order to get another sample.

Staffer Skimps On Treats

The staffer at this trade show booth recognized me and she obviously didn’t appreciate my extreme fondness for the treat she was handing out. When I got to the head of the line, she carefully counted out six small cashews that amounted to less than a third of my previous serving.  Her entire demeanor said that she didn’t appreciate my attempt to get more of their great tasting snack.

Weighing Goodwill Against Cashews

While it may be understandable that the young staffer wanted to make sure she had enough cashews for every visitor to her trade show booth, she failed to weigh the potential goodwill of a visitor against the value of a few cashews.  I walked away from the booth disappointed in that state’s brand of southern hospitality.  The young woman had not represented them in a positive light.

Perception Is Everything

The staffer giving out the gourmet cashews looked at me as simply an interloper trying to get an extra treat.  But what if she had looked at me in a different light?  If she had stopped to consider that I was a potential client, she could have created an opening to praise her state and cement a new business relationship.

If she had smiled and welcomed me with enthusiasm, she could have created some goodwill and ensured that I praised her state to others.  She might have said, “Welcome back!  I guess you just couldn’t resist our yummy gourmet cashews! Here, have an extra serving, and be sure to tell everyone you got them from the our trade show booth, where gourmet treats are just the beginning of our big welcome!”

Lessons Learned For Your Staffers

Reviewing the actions of this trade show display staffer, you’ll realize that there were several moments when she had the opportunity to make a wonderful impression for her state, but chose the wrong action:

  1. When the staffer inadvertently turned me off and no doubt some other visitors as well.  Don’t let your facial expressions damage your brand identity.  You may be frowning at someone in particular, but plenty of others will see you and turn away.  No one likes to approach someone who looks unhappy or upset.  Remember body language is fast and powerful and is 55% of our communication.
  2. The trade show booth staffer chose to save a handful of nuts and in the process lost my interest.  Your trade show booth display may be the only opportunity your company has to make a great impression.  Does it really make sense to skimp on the little things instead of focusing on the big picture?  Relax a bit and don’t be afraid to be generous.
  3. The staffer missed a golden opportunity to build a stronger relationship with a visitor to her trade show display. If she’d taken the “Welcome Back” approach, her entire state might have benefited from it.  Look at every interaction as an opportunity to strengthen a relationship, maximizing your business’ positive image.
  4. Staffers represent your brand and remember 90% of what visitors remember about your company at a show will be based on your booth staff.

Your staff can make an elephant-sized impression on your booth visitors.  Make sure they understand how their use of giveaways — even gourmet cashews — can have a big impact on how your brand is perceived.

Trade Show Booth Staffing GuidebookDon’t let your booth staffers pass up the chance to make a great first impression. Find out how to engage your visitors, get tips and more by requesting your free copy of the Booth Staffing Guidebook by clicking here.

About the Author

Scott Price was President of Skyline New Jersey and is currently retired.

9 responses to “Will Your Trade Show Booth Staffers Make This Elephant-Sized Mistake?

  1. And don’t forget the old adage that if you send someone away happy, he’s likely to tell a couple of friends, while if you send him away offended, he’ll tell ten people — or, worse, blog about it to his company’s entire international readership.

  2. Scott,

    As a rule, you want your booth staffers to be hospitable to all who enter, especially when you are representing such a big brand as an entire state! But for many exhibitors, the key to exhibiting is filtering out the qualified leads from the rest of the visitors. You were right to point out that her training should have included guidelines on giving out the giveaways – that the states’ brand and visitor’s perceptions are more important than hoarding some nuts.

    However, it may have been that this staffer was also so well trained that she could tell that you, as a trade show consultant, were not a suitable prospect for further engagement, so she gave you a less friendly response to discourage you from coming back. That said, I think she would have done even better by greeting you as you suggested, by saying “Welcome back – let everyone else know you got these great treats from our booth.” That way she would have turned you from a frustrated visitor into an advocate, even if she could tell you were not a qualified lead opportunity.


  3. I’ve always considered it an unspoken rule, common sense or just plain courtesy that double dipping on free samples is verboten, regardless of how good the sample item is. If you want more, buy some. If I did double dip, I certainly wouldn’t expect the booth staffer to welcome me back with a friendly smile or witty comment…rather I’d be embarrassed. Are you “that guy” at Costco too?

  4. Though I agree that first impressions are invaluable, you had your chance at a first impression the first time you visited the booth (and got the nuts). Heather’s right — by coming back a second time, not to talk about my services, but just to get my nuts(!), tells me that you are not interested in anything but the free stuff. So why should I waste it on you?

  5. I couldn’t disagree with you more. You were in fact just looking to get more of the snack. You didn’t discuss anything with her after the first snack. Imagine if everyone did what you did? She would run out of product. You could have handled it better, by engaging her about perhaps doing business and then asking for another taste. As it was, you were playing the role of a mooch, she identified it and acted accordingly. Kudos to her.

  6. i agree that the nut mooching was certainly a red flag that the staffer picked up on as a sure sign of a non-lead but it was not tactful to display her distain openly.

    She should have been savvy enough of a people-person to at very least chastise you in a friendly way or mention cordially that she needs to make sure she has enough yummy nuts for everyone.

    Staring daggers at you as you begrudgingly dole out a token min portion is bad form, no matter how appropriate returning for a second helping is.

    Lesson to be had here is to hire booth staffers with people skills and good judgement as the main criteria, not just a pretty face.

  7. Mooch! They may only be a couple nuts, but it was your second time around. I have to admit I just came back from a trade show where I stopped by a booth where they were giving away volley balls. I asked what I had to do to get one and they said they were only giving them away to visitors and not exhibitors. Of course I was disappointed, but I was upfront with them that I was just looking for a free handout so I don’t have any problem with their response. (Although I of course it’s quite possible that exhibitors could be potential customers.) That’s one of the reasons my company doesn’t usually give out any freebies. Quantity isn’t quality and although someone selling trinkets would beg to differ, I honestly don’t believe we’d be better off having them.

  8. Have you ever attended the Fancy Food Show East or Fancy Food Show West? These are large shows with over 1000 exhibitors from all over the world. For many exhibitors the primary goal is developing channels of distribution and their primary engagement strategy is serving delightful treats to sample, test and taste …. to tens of thousands of attendees … who will go back again (and maybe again) to further sample, test and taste in a purchasing selection process. The show is a great opportunity to develop your brand, grow distribution and market share.

    So how do you best prepare your staff to achieve your goals? For this show, the preshow training to your staff can’t be “watch out for those moochers that will love our products so much they may want another sample”. Rather, the staff training needs to embrace a much different message like, “product sampling is our most effective tool to leverage face time with the attendee to promote, qualify, discover, network and develop business.”

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