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What do you say when you don't know the answer

By Barry Siskind


One of my personal pet peeves happens I ask a sales person a question and they don't know the answer but give one of two responses:

1. They shrug their shoulders and go on and talk about something else, or

2. Invent an answer and then present it with absolute conviction.

When you are shopping at a store you can either overlook the naivety of what you are hearing or walk out and visit a competitor. This situation is exaggerated one hundred fold when the competition is located ten feet away in the next booth at a trade show. Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your future show plans:

Don't assume

No one knows everything about everything so the expectation, is that even your seasoned sales people will occasionally be stumped. Not knowing an answer is okay. It's a mistake to assume that years on the job arms staff with answers to obscure questions is a mistake. Use your experienced senior staff. They may be able to help particularly with newer recruits. It is also important to remind your seasoned staff that newer recruits often have valuable ideas that should be listened to.

Develop an open culture

What is important in any business is a culture where people have the opportunity of sharing difficult questions with peers and managers in order to avoid being embarrassed in the future. Every manager should have a repository of questions that staff have faced in the past along with tips on how to answer them in the future. Then as part of the pre-show preparation ensure that each of your booth people review the questions and answers and if they have any concerns, encourage them to ask for clarification.

Balance the staff schedule

When you are planning your booth schedule ensure that you include both seasoned and less experienced staff members in the same shift. This might take a bit of persuasion because often staff members are more comfortable with colleagues they work with regularly. But when you intentionally mix your groups you give each staff member an amazing treasure trove of information.

Be diplomatic

When one staff member spots another saying the wrong thing to a customer they should be diplomatic about corrections, Barging into the conversation with a customer saying, "That's not how we do it," makes everyone look foolish and the customer will likely feel uncomfortable. It would be better to say nothing and wait until the customer leaves to correct the colleague out of earshot of other visitors.

Daily debriefing

At the end of each day debrief your booth staff. You can do it formally in a scheduled meeting or in a more relaxed setting where the day's war stories can be told. Take notes at these briefings and keep track of ideas that will be of help not only for the next day but in future customer relations.

The value of the time taken to ensure that your customers get information that is relevant, timely and accurate is immeasurable.

Related Topics: AnswersQuestions