By Ryan C. McKay
As we start making plans for a busy fall trade show season, I’d like to take a few moments to go over a topic that exhibitors, to their detriment, often overlook: toxic staffers in the booth.
Trade shows are unchallenged in their ability to match potential customers (or “probable purchasers,” as John Patterson of the National Cash Register calls them) with your product at a time when they are most interested in buying. Corporations around the world spend millions of dollars each year to best capitalize on the abundant opportunities that are available at trade shows, yet all too often people seem to forget the biggest truth about sales:
People buy people first … and products second
It doesn’t matter how good your product is if the person that you choose to represent you is about as pleasant as a punch in the teeth. In honor of these Misfits of the Mezzanine, these Creeps of the Convention Center, I bring you “The Five People You Can’t Afford to Have Staffing Your Booth.”
Wanted For: Scaring away potential clients
Description: Often seen lunging at everyone who makes eye contact, frantically screaming at people to stop at his booth, handing out expensive literature and giveaways to uninterested passer’s by, and aggressively chasing anything that moves … usually as they quickly move away.
If you find The Screamer working in your booth: Above all else, stay calm … someone has to. Screamers are usually well intentioned but clumsy (and over caffeinated). Remind The Screamer that there is no need to chase people at a trade show. Interested parties don’t need to be roped like cattle and usually don’t appreciate such aggression. Have The Screamer treat convention-goers as he or she would prefer to be treated if he or she were entering an automobile dealer’s showroom. If The Screamer continues to scare away potential clients, assign the him to the inside of the booth, where he can do the least harm while still answering questions from the people who have already entered the booth on their own.
Wanted for: Illegal parking, loitering, theft of company time and resources.
Description: Can almost always be found sitting behind a table at his own booth, looking completely detached and/or uninterested in being at the show or talking to anyone. May appear to be dead or unconscious due to complete lack of energy or movement throughout entire event. Often found alongside a fish bowl full of show giveaways that never seem to actually be given away. Subject should be considered lazy and a waste of company money.
If you find The Squatter working in your booth: There is, unfortunately, not a whole lot that you can do about The Squatter other than trying to lead by example. The sad fact is that some people just have it, and some people just don’t. If you must rely on The Squatter as part of your efforts, immediately remove all chairs/stools and tables that aren’t absolutely necessary and make plans to have someone else staff the booth next time.
Wanted for: Public indecency, public intoxication, DcaWI (driving customers away while intoxicated), lewd and lascivious behavior
Description: The Drunken Uncle, when not seen making strange, off-color, and rambling toasts at weddings, will often appear staffing trade show booths. The Drunken Uncle is recognizable by his inappropriate and often offensive jokes, stories, and behavior while supposedly representing his company.
If you find The Drunken Uncle working in your booth: The Drunken Uncle should be considered alarming and VERY dangerous to your business. The only thing that will scare away potential clients faster than The Screamer is the mouth of The Drunken Uncle. Much like his wedding namesake, he will always embarrass you without realizing that his humor is falling flat. It is suggested that all booth staffers be reminded that the only people it’s acceptable to make fun of are themselves, and that if they have to lower their voices or look around before saying something, it’s best left unsaid if they value their employment with the company.
Wanted for: Fraud, making false promises, assaults on your reputation, bait and switch
Description: Also running by the alias of Mr. Glad Hand, The Politician is a master of gaining trust through false promises, mud slinging, and anything else it takes to make the sale, even if that means lying, cheating, and stealing. For The Politician, the ends always justify the means, and it’s always better to apologize after rather than risk not getting the sale today.
If you find The Politician working in your booth: Immediately seek higher ground — the kind of higher ground that comes with honesty and integrity. Lead by example. Promise ONLY what you can deliver, and then OVER deliver. Make it clear that any promises they make to potential clients are expected to be met, and that over promising and under delivering will not be tolerated. Crack down on any negative talk about your competitors the moment you hear any coming from The Politician, and make it well known in the advance that every member of your team is expected to represent the company well by always taking the highroad. The negative word of mouth that can come from a customer burned by The Politician can be devastating for your reputation.
Wanted for: Misappropriation of marketing funds, considered to be a severe flight risk.
Description: The Tourist will almost always arrive late and/or hung over to his booth. If you turn your back, The Tourist will most likely drift away to wander the floor in search of giveaways, or worse he might disappear from the event altogether in search of swimming pools, casinos, bars, or amusement parks.
If you find The Tourist working in your booth: Make immediate steps to contain him — The Tourist is considered to be a flight risk! Besides the obvious waste of resources involved with bringing along a non-participating member of your team, there is also the loss of potential results to consider. The Tourist is great at causing hard feelings and strife among the active booth staff, which will almost always develop a sense of resentment stemming from a perceived double standard — they do all the work while The Tourist gets an all-expenses paid vacation on the company dime. If you don’t clamp down on this roaming employee, you risk having a full-scale riot on your hands. AVOID THIS AT ALL COSTS!
Set up a pre-event breakfast an hour before the show opens and make it mandatory to make sure that everyone is ready to start well before the moment crowds begin arriving. To avoid hangovers, have a set policy in place: Anyone showing up to the booth in no condition to work the event (due to over indulgence) is responsible for the cost of their own travel expenses (have everyone agree to this policy before the trip … in writing). There is — unfortunately — very little that can be done to correct The Tourist during the event. The best you can do is prevent the situation with clear pre-set rules. If you fail to stop it before it happens, all that is left is to punish AFTER the damage is done.
So, there you have it: The five people that you can’t afford to have staffing your booth.
The cruelest irony? There is one more person that didn’t make the list … and that one person is actually the most dangerous of them all: You The Enabler.
None of these characters can operate without being granted permission by YOU. That doesn’t mean that you give them your explicit blessing to undermine your efforts and results but rather that you run the danger of implying that this behavior is acceptable. You do this by not having a well-prepared plan of action well in advance of the event. You do this by not setting a positive example to live up to (or worse, by not living up to it yourself). You do it by not being clear with your expectations. You do it by not keeping the interest of the people you have staffing your booth; by not giving them a clear and exciting purpose to take forth and spread to The Probable Purchasers walking the hall.
The good news is that by making the conscious decision to reject the role of the enabler, you can almost always guarantee that the five characters above won’t be making a surprise appearance in your booth.
Ryan C. McKay is the director of operations, senior account manager, and director of research and development at Ohio Displays Inc. (ODI). As a fourth-generation “display person,” he has been in or around the trade show exhibit business his entire life. His blog, “Ramblings From a Traveling Trade Show Professional,” can be read at http://on-the-road-with-odi.blogspot.com/.