80% of what trade show visitors remember about your company, six months after the show is over, is based on the brief and personal encounter they have with your booth staffer(s). Training your employees for the unnatural and seemingly chaotic trade show environment will ensure you make the most out of this significant marketing investment.  Through our experience and learning from successful (and unsuccessful) exhibitors, we have have compiled ten suggestions for training your staff to help improve their performance on the exhibition show floor.

Tips for Trade Show Staff - 3.29.16

1 – Early Planning

Start the training process 3 months before the trade show. If you exhibit at multiple shows per year, keep this training in your regular rotation of people development classes.  Senior company executives should denote them as mandatory.

2 – Set Measurable Goals

Training should include reviewing your company’s measurable goals with your staff. If you are launching a new product, make sure your staffers are well versed with it so that they can explain it’s purpose easily. How many “demos” per day should each staffer perform?   If you are meeting with existing clients, make sure your team knows  the most likely attendees and understands the services/products each customer already utilizes, so they can plan proper up-sell opportunities.  How many clients should they be seeing each day?  If your objective is meeting NEW customers (prospects), then how many contacts per hour is each staffer required to engage to help ensure 50 ‘new encounters’?

3 – Role-Playing

Conduct role-playing exercises with an emphasis on the atmosphere that exists on the trade show floor.   Two hundred, 3-minute presentations delivered one right after another.   Prospects and visitors that are over-stimulated and not immediately focused on your message (yet).   If you already have a sales-training program, this will be a good place to differentiate your trade show-specific training plan; remember that trade shows are unique environments vs. a standard client meeting in an office or a field sales call, and your staffers need to be aware of the differences.

4 – Focus on Show Goals

Your staff should be trained to only engage in and focus on behavior that furthers your exhibiting goals. Time on the floor is not a time for them to chat among themselves, or even staffers in the next booth over.  Unlike in office meetings, sales reps do not have 45-60 minutes to visit with a prospect.  You’ve got less than 10 minutes to engage, qualify, present, and close on a commitment to take the next step.  Booth staffers should appear immediately available to chat with any attendee that enters your exhibit space, and quickly lead a structured engagement.

5 – Sales Process

Utilize the 5 step process of the exhibit rendezvous- Engage, Qualify, Discover, Present and Close.

  • Engage: 30-45 seconds
  • Qualify visitor as a customer for your service/product: 2 minutes
  • Discover the visitor’s need by asking leading questions, considering ways your product may fill their need: 5-7 minutes
  • Present your solutions (if you’ve asked the right leading questions you will know exactly what to pitch!): 3-5 minutes
  • Close out the conversation by summarizing a post-show follow-up plan, complete with an agreement on action items for you to deliver: 1 minute

6 – Disengage

Trade shows present a sales-process on overdrive.  If after finding a booth visitor is not a qualified prospect for your business, then your booth staffers should know how to disengage professionally, before allowing other more qualified prospects to walk right on by (include this as part of your role-playing exercises).

7 – On-Duty Appearance

Poll results show trade show visitors’ impressions of your company starts 50 to 80 feet away before entering your booth space.  Set personal appearance guidelines for staffer wardrobe and hygiene and stick with them!  These guidelines should reflect your company’s image. Formal versus casual clothing attire, visible tatoos and/or body piercings, even color coordinated uniforms (by day or by show) are all appropriate subject matter when covering booth staffer appearance guidelines.

8 – Be Attentive

Enforce rules against eating or using smartphones in your booth. This is sometimes overlooked because days on the show floor can be long and tiring, but when was the last time you approached someone while they were eating a taco or staring intently at their smartphone?  If a staffer must take an important phone call or email, they should get permission from the booth captain to briefly leave the exhibit area (note: never leave your booth space unattended!).  Remember…68% of all communication at trade shows is non-verbal.

9 – Balance the Encounter

Train your staff to focus on conversation and relationship building. Don’t overwhelm them with a bunch of pamphlets, brochures and pens or underwhelm them with an unimpressive presentation (aka. infomercial).  Find the comfortable middle that will engage the prospect and showcase the best brand image possible!

10 – Setting Attendee’s Expectations

One of the worst things a booth staffer can do after qualifying a prospect well on the show floor is to let them leave your exhibit space without a clear understanding of how you will be following-up with them.  Even worse than not communicating your follow-up plan is setting it and then never following THROUGH with the plan (read Tips for Managing Trade Show Leads). Remember…don’t just follow-up, follow THROUGH.

Continuing Training

Be sure to bolster your trade show staff training efforts with Pre-Show meetings, which will emphasize the importance of the structure that you have put in place. According to CEIR (the Center for Exhibit Industry Research) less than 1% of trade show dollars go to staff training, and yet 6 months after the show is over, that brief 3 to 7 minute encounter with your staff represents almost 80% of what they will remember about your company.  If you’re looking to ensure your trade show expenditure is an investment, and not just an “expense”, select and prepare your exhibit staffers properly.