Booth Staffing Tips for the Digital Era
Staffing for Trade Shows and Events has changed. More of the same will not do anymore.
Before “Big Data” and the proliferation of electronic marketing it was sales people who reigned supreme at the show. Their personality and ability to connect with people were key tools for getting more people into the booth. Crowd gatherers were big too as it was all about getting people who you did not know to come into the booth and learn all about your company. While salespeople can still be great staffers and people skills are always great, the landscape of trade shows has changed and with that the type of skills needed to staff the booth.
What they need to know
- Why are you there? Are you looking to gain new clients or nurture existing ones? Are you planning to educate people on an existing product or launch a new one? What are your goals for the show and how do they fit into your overall marketing and company goal? It is also helpful to give staffers specific goals they have control over. An example may be to ensure they find out from the client if they are aware of the new product, if they think it will meet the need, and what steps the company should take to get that client’s business. It may also be helpful to them to know approximately how many leads they are expected to take throughout the show and each day of the show.
- It’s not just about leads, it’s about relationships. There are other ways your company can get someone’s name or email address. However, this is the time to start a real relationship with a qualified prospect by listening and making them feel welcome.
- Technology should help not hinder. If the client is there and wants you to talk or listen, don’t force a video or demo on them just because you think it is cool.
- Less about you and more about them. This includes pitching your products. Find out about their needs, their interests, and their experience with your company or their current vendor.
- Fully control the customer experience. From the trash in the booth to the time you take to ask how their day is going. The trade show is a unique opportunity to truly control their whole environment. Take advantage of it. They need to create an experience that goes beyond the booth.
- How to capture information. Capturing information from clients via quotes, photos or videos is part of the value of the show. This information can later be re-purposed as marketing content that will extend the value of the event not only from a marketing standpoint but also potentially to benefit your product/service improvement and customer service initiatives.
- Any products or services that you are featuring at the show. If they need training they should get it well before the show. As products become more complex, hands-on time is even more valuable. Staff will be expected to know more than just the basics.
- How to demo. Staffers should be comfortable doing a live demo of your products or service (as relevant) or, at the very least, access a video of one. If they can’t do this well the effectiveness of your live event will suffer and you will miss opportunities to build credibility with new and existing clients.
Who they should be:
- Good listeners. Attendees are not looking for someone to spew out everything already on your website or marketing materials. They can get that by doing a Google search. They need someone to truly listen to their questions, needs, and tailor the message to them. In fact, the attendee may have already searched your company, and will come to your booth staffers with more knowledgeable questions. The buyer is a lot more informed than they once were, prepare for questions deeper than the surface of your company or products.
In contrast to your technical booth staffers, it is important to have a good balance of personalities to engage with your attendees. A Skyline booth staff veteran has this key take away from her experience.
“Yes, it was important to have very knowledgeable people in the booth but I would always balance those people with the “Engagers”. For me, it almost mattered more that people in the booth were people. They were engaging and outgoing and, frankly, fun (without being pushy).” – AA
No one enjoys a pushy booth staffer!
No, they don’t need to know how to code, but… between lead gathering apps, monitors and possibly digital signage, there are plenty of opportunities for both leveraging technologies for the benefit of attendees and for tech glitches. You need someone who will not be afraid to troubleshoot as needed, will be comfortable learning and using apps as needed and can easily use technology to ensure the exhibit is functioning and exhibitors get an optimum experience. Something as simple as googling an answer or pulling up a key video on YouTube should be a natural thing for your staffers. Their time and your time with them are precious.
- No one knows every single answer to every question they get. However, there are some people who take ownership of the question and ensure they can find the answer and then follow up with the client as soon as possible. Your staffers should be able to access answers with the client at the show if at all possible, during the show and send the response via email or phone or immediately after the show (within days at the latest).
- Customer centric. If they are not the type of person who will go the extra mile to help a client they are not the right person to staff the booth – emotional intelligence is key. You get seconds or minutes to make a good impression in person with a current or potential client. Many other companies are there competing for that time. Your staffers need to be eager to make the most of every client experience. One way to bring this home is to talk about the potential lifetime value of each prospective client that walks into your booth
- Change has always been inevitable at any live event and trade shows are no exception. This is not new, but it has become even more prevalent and expected. Technology is a big help, but will increase the uncertainty of whether or not things will work as planned. Your staff needs to be able to adjust course as needed and do it with a smile.
One of Skyline’s veteran booth staffers had this to say about the increased use of technology on the trade show floor:
“What I appreciate about where technology is now is it allows the booth staffer to come alongside the attendee and join their self-guided experience. This is achieved through the use of touch screens and apps for iPad. It creates a feel of teamwork and co-discovery. As a staffer, I became less of a presenter and more of a companion.” – RM
Working as a team, instead of creating an “us versus them” mentality makes the attendee feel welcomed. This is an example of technology enhancing the face to face experience, rather than detracting from it.
What they should wear:
- Ensure they are easily identifiable. You don’t want attendees wondering who is staffing the booth and who is a client, as time is precious
- Ensure that they are comfortable yet professional unless it fits well with your theme and branding. Comfortable shoes are a must. Their feet will hurt regardless, but they will hurt more if they are wearing the wrong shoes, which is likely to make them tired and irritated. No one wants to interact with someone who appears to be in pain. Besides, dress codes are much more relaxed in most industries nowadays and good quality shoes can look stylish.
- Brand and theme appropriate. Gone are the days that the uniform at trade shows was branded cheap looking polo shirts. You can be brand-appropriate without necessarily wearing a uniform. This is more the case if you have a larger exhibit but try to think of alternate ways you can make your staffers easy to identify without making them look like they are ready for their hourly shift at a local burger joint. You can have branded name tags, accessories, all wear the same color shirts (not necessarily the same style). You want your staffers to feel comfortable. For example, if a lady has to wear a standard men’s shirt that reaches down to her knees, she is not going to feel her best.
What They Should Have:
- Smartphone, tablet or touchscreen. Make sure staffers have easy electronic access to key product/service information so if they are asked a question they don’t know the answer to they can easily check it on the spot and get back to the client.
- Show and venue information. They should have this well before the show so they can make their travel arrangements and clear their calendars well before the show.
- Backup hard copies. Paper product/service cheat sheets well before the show so they can review them on the plane and at the hotel before the show. Also, lead card backups are always a good idea in case your Wi-Fi sputters or you lose access to your lead gathering application.
- If you have a staffer that can also be a presenter of relevant industry data, your company will gain added credibility and real face time with potential clients. Those clients are then more likely to come back to visit your company’s booth.
- If staffers are active on social media they will be able to help promote your presence before, during and after the show and they are more likely to be recognized as someone potential clients are already familiar with and trust.
These are a few of the things you should keep in mind as you prepare to choose and prepare your staff for your next show. We would love to hear your tips. Please comment here or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to Randy Mauricio, New Product Development Project Manager, and Amy Armstrong, Account Executive, Skyline Philadelphia for sharing their veteran booth staffing tips.
About the Author
Sofia is the Customer Engagement and Industry Relations Manager for Skyline Exhibits. An experienced marketing professional with branding, innovation and product commercialization expertise, she heads up Skyline’s marketing efforts in customer engagement, exhibitor education, industry relations and market research. Sofia has more than a decade of experience with both B2B and consumer packaged goods companies and an MBA from the University of Arizona Eller College of Management with an emphases in marketing and entrepreneurship. Sofia is fluent in Spanish having lived and studied in Latin America, and currently sits on the board of directors for the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa.