EXHIBITION STAFF: WHEN BEING HELPFUL ISN’T HELPFUL!

5 Tips for Avoiding Over-Staffing At Trade Shows

Ever been in that position where upon taking a second to survey your amazing trade show stand and revel in how busy it is, you find your heart sinks as you realise it is in fact packed out with all internal staff from your company. Mary from accounts has come along to learn more about (how not to annoy) customers, Tony who’s on work experience has tagged along to see what the real world is all about and Raj from marketing is holding up colour charts to check what shade of mauve you’ve used on the graphics. Meanwhile, Sales Director Greg is holding court with Key Account Manager Tanya and Account Executive Juan as they sprawl across your furniture and laugh at each other’s jokes. And don’t get me started on Technical Designer Jim who is 25 minutes in to his very detailed explanation of how a flange popper works to Manuel from HR who is there to ensure everyone upholds the company reputation. 8 people on a 4 x 3m stand is impressive – but not, when visitors can’t get anywhere near for all the internal employees.

But when everyone is so keen to chip in and help how do you say no? It’s something we’re often asked by our clients so here’s 5 tips for making sure you don’t suffer from an over-stuffed stand!

  1. HAVE A CLEAR PURPOSE: An exhibition should be taken as seriously as any other marketing tactic or business process. Would you let the apprentice loose on directing the latest TV advert? Would anyone be as enthusiastic about helping to complete all the paperwork for the next BSI audit? Exhibitions shouldn’t be seen as a jolly or a training ground – they require serious commitment and well-honed skills. Defining exactly how participating at an event is going to contribute to the organisation’s overall strategy and bottom line, signals to the rest of the business how seriously the investment has been taken and how professionally it needs to be delivered.

2. SET SMART OBJECTIVES: Yep that old chestnut again. Clearly defining exactly what you’re hoping to achieve from the show helps everyone in your squad understand who you want to meet, what solution you provide and how you intend to continue the conversation beyond just the trade show. Every interaction at the show then becomes about meeting those objectives. If anyone in your squad is doing something that isn’t contributing to meeting those goals, it’s much easier to have a conversation about why you’re there and what you need them to be doing.

3. SELECT YOUR SQUAD: It’s a point we often come back to, not everyone is good at exhibitions, even if they think they are. There are definitely certain characteristics and behaviours that are more likely to help you meet your objectives. If you have a Wallflower Wilma who is naturally quite shy and nervous, throwing them into a situation where they have to strike up a conversation with total strangers is not going to do anything to build their confidence, despite what their manager may say. Equally, whilst the industry trade show is a fantastic opportunity for a new recruit to learn, engaging with visitors who are looking for evidence that you can solve their problem, is not the place for a newbie to cut their teeth. As Project Manager you have the authority to select the squad that give you the best chance of success on the day – you’re not obliged to baby-sit everyone who puts their name down to attend.

4. TRAIN YOUR SQUAD: Once you’ve selected who you’re going to take, you need to help them understand what you’re hoping to achieve, how you’re going to do that on the day and what the follow-up process is. Without sounding robotic, the most effective stand squads are the ones who are aligned behind the common goals, know what the squad rules are, understand how the stand works logistically and recognise the different characters both in their own team, and also amongst visitors. Additionally, if you’re in the lucky position of having too many good people for your stand ( average 2 people per 8 sq m stand space) using a rota means you get the best people whilst allowing everyone to remain fresh and energised. For those staff members who say they just want to ‘pop-down’ to have a look around, a standard briefing note that goes to everyone can help with details of how to register, where the cloakroom is and where they can meet contacts (i.e. not on the stand) – this is your place to set the agenda and advise that with not much room on the stand, it won’t be possible for anyone to leave coats and bags and any other guidelines you want to spell out.

5. ENFORCE IT ON-SITE: Hopefully, by following the steps above you’ll avoid the situation where you have too many internals hanging around your stand. But if you do find that the stand is littered with bags, coats, phones and people take a deep breath and remember why your company is investing in the show. They can be difficult conversations but having a few ready-made diversions up your sleeve can be a huge help. For example, are them some seminar sessions that you think will be particularly useful for a new recruit to attend, or have you noticed a competitor or other stand that you think is really effective that the marketing team ‘must-see’. If you can spot a coffee area in the vicinity maybe suggest to your sales team they’d be more comfortable (and confidential) chatting there than being disturbed by visitors.

The key learning is that with so much going on once you’re on-site it can just seem too hard to have the difficult conversation with staff who want to be helpful, but actually are offering very little value to your offer. So as much as you can, try and avoid the situation even getting to that point by taking control of it long before the show doors even open. Senior managers can often be the major culprits for turning up, scattering their belongings everywhere and arranging meetings with their displaced teams – if you think this might happen to you try offering to book a meeting room for them on site, or provide a map with the coffee areas highlighted. And if you still get too many people suggesting they are going to pop-down to help, try adding up all the salaries, travel and subsistence costs and sliding that under the nose of your FD who might just have the difficult conversations for you!

It’s one of the perennial thorny issues around staffing an exhibition stand so if you’re struggling to manage your internal team why not book a ProExTra Power Hour for just £99 and we can give you all the advice and support you need to ensure you’ve the best combination on your stand to power up your performance – more details here

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