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A Strategic Approach to Trade Show Staffing

By David Siskind


Imagine you have invited friends and neighbours to an open house at your home. The coffee is ready, the snacks prepared and the house is spotless. Nothing is left to chance....well almost nothing. The outstanding issue is who in your family should greet your guests?
Certainly not your daughter who has body rings in the most unfathomable places, or your son who has sprouted permanently attached earphones. Then there is your couch potato spouse who would rather watch Sunday football than make small talk with the neighbours. That leaves you, but you can't be everywhere at once. What do you do?

Exhibitors face a similar dilemma. "We have a great exhibit at an important show, who should we recruit to staff the booth?"

Your immediate attention will go to the sales staff - after all aren't they the best people to deal with the customer? While sales people probably have the most experience, by limiting your booth staff to sales people you may be losing valuable synergies.

At an exhibition lots of people meet under one roof for one purpose and for a limited amount of time. By opening up this opportunity to people with different experiences within your organization you may be uncovering valuable hidden possibilities.

The benefits to the sales and marketing people are obvious. But product development experts, for example, have a wonderful opportunity to get out of their laboratories and get immediate feedback from lots of potential users. It's more than just conducting an on-site survey. It is a matter of talking to users and finding out how they use your product, what kinds of solutions they are searching for, what works best and what unique challenges they face. It's a chance for product development experts to move beyond a purely cerebral approach to their job and look at the practical applications. When these two are combined you have the potential of enhancing the product development process significantly.

Customer service personnel are often confined to telephone or Internet contact with customers which often jeopardizes their perspective when the customer is a faceless number or voice. Attending a show gives them the unique opportunity of face-to-face contact. What is often a cold impersonal service now has new meaning. People tend to be more tolerant of each other when face to face which paves the way for greater understanding and problem solving between customer and supplier.

Technical support people are a necessary element because so many attendees have specific technical questions that need to be addressed. The technical expert can provide a quick answer and more details questions can be addressed at a later time by two people who already know each other. That's the value of a face to face meeting.
Shows are also a place for senior executives. What was once an unthinkable option - seeing senior executives at a show booth - is now standard practice. Having senior people at the booth is a great bonus for sales people trying to impress new clients with a personal introduction to "the boss." It's also an opportunity for these executives to move to the front line and show their support to the troops.

The bottom line - when it comes to staffing your booth there is a place for anyone within your organization to benefit. Opening the doors to these people can be a serendipitous beginning to otherwise concealed possibilities. The secret is choosing people with the following criteria:

1. They want to be there. Asking or coercing those who have no desire to work at a show is an exercise in futility and an invitation to a "self-fulfilling prophesy." When the show is over and you look at this person and their abysmal results they will say "See, I know I wasn't right for this."

2. They have to understand what to do. Working a show requires a unique set of skills. No matter what their background, dedicated time needs to be set aside to hone their current skills to the show environment.

3. They need to be credible. Credibility starts inside the person. It's the passion and enthusiasm they feel for your product or service. They develop this by fully understanding your products or services. When they truly like what they represent, they exude an aura of credibility.

Barry Siskind is President of International Training and Management, a training company specializing in exhibitor training and business networking. To contact him, call 416-783-5200 / 1-800-358-6079 (North America).