TRAIN TRADE SHOW BOOTH PERSONNEL: It’s not optional in the formula for success.

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TRAIN TRADE SHOW BOOTH PERSONNEL: It’s not optional in the formula for success.

If you want trade show success, you must train your booth personnel – this is not optional. Even McDonald’s trains their employees before putting them in front of customers, so if you are selling a product or service that is more complicated or extensive than a burger and a side of tasty, salty fries…please don’t take training your booth personnel for granted. Candy Adams writes in her article entitled Staff Training, “A well-prepared exhibit staff can mean the difference between a trade show program that flourishes and one that flops. Learn how to prep your staffers for success with booth training”.

Everyone wants their tradeshow to be a success. At a tradeshow, leads are generated by people; therefore, to achieve success, training booth personnel is simply foundational. Staff training can be done by a professional booth staff trainer like Susan Friedman, or other similar consultants and companies who specialize in this, or, which happens more often than not, can be done in house by a seasoned trade show veteran and / or senior company member.  Travis Stanton, an Editor at Exhibitor, remarks, “If you don’t have a budget for staff training, or if upper management doesn’t support the idea, that’s no reason to roll over and give up. Whether you’re able to scrounge up the money to pay for a one-time staff-training session from a professional trainer, or wrangle even a fraction of your staffers together for a 20-minute training session that you personally lead, that’s better than no training whatsoever.”

Your in-house trainer doesn’t need to be a certified trade show exhibit manager but should be someone within your organization endowed with more than just product knowledge than can confidently spearhead the endeavor to educate booth personnel.  Ideally, the training will come from someone that employees respect. It can be a manager or an outside consultant but should have a live person element to it. Don’t just hand out a list of do’s and don’ts and expect folks to read it much less heed it. Inevitably, “paper training” or in this day and age “email training” will probably get overlooked or worse –  tossed into the spam folder.

Employees need to be held accountable to attend any trade show training that is provided and equally held accountable to implement what they have been taught and hopefully have learned! This is the same song the choir has been singing for over a quarter of a century yet it is still an exception to the rule. Exhibitor reports, “Only 26 percent of exhibitors conduct training for all or most events, and more than 50 percent rarely train or never hold exhibit-staff training sessions (according to a 2012 report by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) called ‘The Role and Value of Face-to-Face Interaction’).”  So, the good news is that if you are training your booth staffers, you are a step closer to success than most exhibiting companies.

It goes without saying, at least I hope it does, that training should include a review of marketing strategy, exhibiting goals, and products. In addition, let’s remind everyone that first impressions count. Here are some points to consider that most trade show exhibit trainers would consider “common” sense. Sadly, when you walk the trade show floor, these items are not so common:

  • Appearance matters – you don’t have to be Chris Hemsworth or Angelina Jolie good-looking but please have good hygiene and don’t look like you just rolled out of bed in last week’s clothes. Pop a breath mint if you need to!
  • Smile – Your face is one of the first messages attendees see as they enter your space.
  • Don’t eat/drink in your booth – there are food courts and break areas for that – plus, you will need a break every few hours anyway.
  • Body language is key: Work on having good posture. Keep hands out of your pockets and don’t stand with your arms crossed – it looks defensive and unwelcoming.
  • Don’t sit and get lazy – no chairs – at least not unless you are sitting with a client to review material.
  • Jettison the cell phone – unless it is necessary to do client driven tasks. The point here is you shouldn’t be checking Facebook, playing Candy Crush and Trivia Crack, or checking up on the folks at home to see what they are having for dinner. You can do that on your break or after the work day is done.

Cross train booth employees – everyone should be able to articulate who your company is, what you do and at the very least what you are promoting at the show. Not everyone needs to be an expert in every aspect of the company but have all the bases covered while you are at the show so that each member on staff knows who to talk with to find answers for booth visitors. Again, I repeat, everyone needs to know where to get answers or from whom to get answers on your product, your service or the channels through which product/services are available. Be sure to make all booth personnel aware of the sales and marketing objectives for the show. Be sure they can clearly articulate the promotions and the at-show specials you are running too. If you are doing a demo – train your staff and have them practice with each other prior to the show. If a client’s first impression of your company is that no one knows anything…. you’ve lost business and you will not even come close to a decent ROI for the show.

Encourage booth staff to engage attendees. We all know it is easy to be an introvert as throngs of people file right past your booth. Let’s face it though, wall flowers rarely get to dance. The whole point of being at the show is to get a chance to dance! Hopefully, you brought your extrovert sales people and a few of your most knowledgeable customer service reps with you to staff the booth. Work on easy ice breaking questions. Don’t lead with something that a person can just say “no” to and walk right on by. The easiest way to get a response is to lead with, “Hello, I am (insert your name here). What’s your name?  Most people won’t ignore that question. It’s direct and it is easy.  Follow up with the basics…Who do you work for? What do you do for them? Keep it all in a conversational manner and more importantly be a good listener. Use their name again, and relate your products and service to their niche needs. If necessary, have your staff role play before the show. Not everyone has worked a trade show before. There has to be a first time for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they need to go into the experience unprepared.

Remind whoever is scheduling the booth staff that two hour shifts are ideal. People get tired, bored and frankly, stale, if they are in the booth non-stop without a chance to sit, eat, refuel or walk the show themselves. You should not attempt to work a booth alone.  Attempt to rotate personnel with shifts of staffing the booth, walking the show, meeting with clients in a more relaxed environment, attending seminars and with other show agenda items specific to your company and needs.

A good way to keep fresh and stay on track for a multiple day show is to have a pre-show morning meeting to discuss changes in schedules, promotions or operating procedures for the day. It may also be helpful to have a post-show regroup meeting as well in case there are any items that require immediate attention or assistance from the home office. These things can be assigned as action and accountability items to particular people prior to returning to the office so they do not fall through the cracks.

Still overwhelmed? There are plenty of online resources. A place to start is Exhibitor’s online articles in the Booth Staffing section. It addresses some specific issues that may arise with booth training and staffing; it gives some helpful suggestion on how to cater your personnel training to prevent some issues and foster other beneficial behaviors. Know this, if you want great ROI and trade show success, you must be intentional and provide booth personnel training – it is a necessary step. It is not optional!

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