Post by Mark Taylor
For many years I coached youth baseball. It recently dawned on me that staffing a booth is like fielding a baseball team. Let’s use this analogy:
For years my son was a pitcher, but occasionally played shortstop. He has recently moved up to play high school ball and the coach has played him in other positions that he has no “reps” in, or no experience in, such as first base.
In his first game he did okay at the position, but didn’t know where to be during a throw from the outfield. He had to be told from the bench where to be playing during the game. Trying to coach during a live game is not the best way to coach your kids because this could have had detrimental effects on the game, and also my son.
So how does this relate to trade shows? Sometimes during a show we also manage and re-arrange staff. Like during a baseball game, this isn’t the best time to do this, as you’re missing prime engagement times. It’s like throwing your staff in the booth and expecting them to know what to do, yet trying to tell them what to do at the same time; it just doesn’t work.
Your booth staff is very similar to a sports team. Would you staff your booth with someone that has no prior trade show experience? Are they “playing out of position?” Would you ask an engineering employee to man your booth and expect them to engage prospects in the same manner a trained staffer or trade show marketing expert would? Of course not! But we’ve seen it done. (This isn’t to say that the engineers and designers can’t surprise you, because we’ve seen that too!) Engineers would be great staffers in the booth, explaining the details and background of a product, but maybe not so great at engaging pulling people in. In that same vein you wouldn’t ask a marketing person to demonstrate product in the booth unless they were intimately familiar with it. The marketing person would be on the outside of the booth, engaging people from the aisle and bringing them in. Like a sports team, it matters who is playing what position, and who is on your team in the first place. Make sure your staffers aren’t playing out of position.
Educating and training the right booth staffers in 4 fundamental practices will improve your overall performance with your audience: Engage, Qualify, Present, Close. These are the four tenets of effective booth staffing that, if employed effectively, will gain insights you may have overlooked previously.
1. Engage: People who are at your show want to be there! They are seeking interaction and a conversation. If you’re on their “dance card” then you have only a few seconds to capture them. Engaging questions like “what brings you to the show this year?” or “what are you looking for?” are great ice breakers. Establish eye contact and smile! Meet them at the aisle and welcome them into your space.
2. Qualify: This one is important. Is the prospect you’ve just engaged qualified to be talking to you? Are they a buyer or are they a tire kicker? Are they a buyer, decision maker, competitor or someone looking for a free giveaway? Remember, a qualified lead is anyone with a decision-making influence, or direct buying responsibility. Of course you have to decide what level of qualification you’re going to set for these prospects, as they are not all created equally. That’s up to you to uncover. Disengage quickly if you uncover an unqualified prospect.
3. Present: Qualified? Okay, then let’s present based on what we know of the client. Present quickly and succinctly and provide an option for the client to ask questions and continue your engagement. It’s best if you are able to ask them more questions and give them the opportunity to talk, instead of talking at them with information. This may only take a few minutes but you can learn the client’s behavior as well during this process. If they show active interest, then it’s time to “close.”
4. Close: By closing we’re not referring to closing the sale but rather closing on the next course of action. After the presentation process, you will have gathered information about the prospect that allows you to close on future follow up (post-show), or perhaps this is where a staffer hands off a prospect for a one-on-one meeting to be arranged at a later date (during the show or afterwards).
If your booth staffers are trained on these simple guidelines then you’ll see better, more qualified leads come out of your shows. Training staffers is an important part of executing an effective trade show. Spending time discussing this with all staffers a few weeks before the show is imperative. Re-visit the process a few times so they get their “reps” before “taking the field.” A pre-show huddle and quick meeting to identify everyone’s responsibilities just before the show opens each day is also crucial. Eventually all staffers will settle into their roles due to your effective “coaching” and you’ll be ready to field a winning team!