This step is all about embedding into you the importance of training your staff in preparing for a tradeshow.
You have now identified the scripts, methods and ways your team will gather leads the next step is to train your staff.
This post is part of a series of 17 steps to mastering your trade show ROI. If you haven’t already seen in you need to go back to the first post in the series that covers your goals and objectives. While you can take the information in this single post by itself and improve your results - you will have far greater success if you approach it like a mini course and move from one step to the next.
I'm not sure why but apparently only 26% of exhibitors hold training sessions for all or most events, and more than 50% rarely train or never hold exhibit-staff training sessions.
This is really absurd…! We all know that if we are in business we are selling to people, right? And the tradeshow is the prime spot to create and reinforce those valuable relationships that lead to huge results. So why would companies spend thousands of dollars on investing in a tradeshow and not do anything about getting the team ready for the day? Your staff will be the ones who make or break the results from a tradeshow.
If you have 3-4 highly energetic, excited staff, you will reap massive rewards compared with a company that has 10 untrained unmotivated people who look like they can’t wait for the show to be over.
We all know there are hundreds of details to worry about at every trade show, but nothing influences visitors’ perceptions of our companies either positively or negatively more than the way our staff behave and conduct themselves. Ignoring the significant role that professionally trained staff play in the success of your exhibit program can be detrimental, if not deadly, to meeting your goals and enhancing your overall brand.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that it is easy to put together staff training that works.
The information you present during training is dependent upon many factors, including the experience level of the team staffing your stand, the number of the staff and their knowledge of the rest of the team's areas of expertise, the staff's availability for extended training before the show, the scope of products being shown and the staff's familiarity with them, the size and complexity of the display, and the promotional program planned for each show.
To make it simple we like to break the pre-show training and review into four parts:
- Review of marketing strategy, exhibiting goals, and products;
- Exhibit-staff etiquette training;
- Stand exhibit orientation;
- Housekeeping details.
Provided you have followed the earlier steps where we talk about the importance of sharing your goals and ideas with the team – you will have already completed the first part. If you can it is always good to have management run through it again in the days prior to the tradeshow. It really embeds it into the team and will give them a strong sense of purpose.
The staff etiquette is also something that can be done at this time. While the last two points will typically be carried out on the tradeshow floor the afternoon or morning before the event.
With that in mind, here are some tips and ideas to help you craft your own staff-training program.
This section of training highlights management's commitment to and support of the trade show program, including the time and money the company is devoting to exhibiting. First, cover measurable corporate objectives and individual staff goals, as well as the key messages. It's also a great opportunity to remind team members that they are ambassadors representing the entire company, so professional behaviour is expected at all times.
We also encourage you to recognize the teams’ efforts, long hours, sore feet, and absences from their homes, families, and offices.
This is also the best time to make sure all team members know what their individual roles are during the show.
Now you can review show information including the visitor profile, expected total number of visitors and also share the names of VIP clients and/or prospects that might visit the exhibit during the show. You will need to discuss what happens when one of these VIP clients or prospect arrives – who do you direct them to…? Or will the team member handle them by themselves.
Other items to review include the show theme, pre, during, and post-show promotions, key corporate messages (takeaways) to deliver to all visitors.
Finally, review the products being shown in the exhibit and share printed product overviews – you can do laminated cheat sheets that offer benefits for each target audience, features, applications, specifications, pricing (if that’s in your strategy) and show specials. Just remember with all this reviewing that everything you are doing needs to tie back into your core outcomes that you completed earlier in the training.
Your display is the first impression many new prospects will have of your company, so it's important to reinforce a few basic behaviour guidelines. We will just be going over the main do’s and don’ts for this area and while some may seem common sense – they are not always common practice.
We highly recommend in each of the behavioural areas to set-up a role-playing exercise and have staff get into groups and take it in turns to be the visitor and staffer. If can be very fun with a larger team and you can score each other on how many of them you do or don’t do. The key here is to practise… keep practising this over and over until everyone is confident in what they are saying doing and how they are behaving. You are a lot better off spending an extra half a day doing this BEFORE the show than having visitors turned away on the day through bad etiquette.
We will cover the Do’s first…
- Smile and look happy…! Do a meditation session for 20 min before the show starts if you need to… if you aren’t into that then just close your eyes for 2-3 minutes and think about whatever it is in your life that brings you joy and happiness right now and get a picture of it in your mind. You should already be pumped up and excited about this show but we all know that things don’t always go our way and if this is you – then you can create a feeling of happiness with these simple practices. You’ll be amazed at the difference you will feel and also the way others respond to you.
- Wear Company uniform…! If you don’t have a uniform then at least ensure everyone has clean professional tidy clothing and something that makes them easily recognisable as a staff member.
- Be active…! That is to say, don’t sit down behind a table in your stand. One of the biggest tricks to effectively engaging visitors at a trade show is to be proactive, rather than just sitting in your booth and waiting for people walking past to stop and come to you. This involves actually doing some walking… walking out of your booth and talking to visitors as they are coming past. Be mindful of the costs associated with sending you to this show, and make every minute count. Get to the edges of your stand, face the aisles, and look out for approaching visitors.
- Wear a name badge and make sure it's visible…! Remember you are in the business of building relationships with people. Being able to see your name so they can easily remember it in the conversation can make it that little bit easier to hold a genuine conversation.
- Use the visitors name…! We all know how much we like to hear our name and it's been proven that it's one of the most effective ways to create a memorable conversation. By remembering and using their name as often as practical in the conversation you will hold their interest and form a bond with them that would otherwise be very difficult.
- Use your scripts…! This is critical to make sure you are effectively qualifying the visitor and spending time with the right prospects. You should practice these enough so that you can say it fluently and naturally. The last thing you want is to sound like a robot..! Although sounding like a robot and saying the right things is still better than talking naturally or nervously and offending the visitor or losing their interest.
- Stand with your arms crossed or backs turned toward the aisle. So many times you see this and it sends a very quick message to a visitor that you just aren’t interested in them… even if you don’t mean to be. Crossing your arms is seen as a sign of – “I'm closed for business”.
- Don't talk in closed circles with other team members. That's not to say you can't talk among yourselves while you’re in the exhibit – just make sure you are turned toward the aisle so you can keep an eye on the passing visitors and be ready to stop your conversation at a moment's notice.
- Eat or drink on the stand…! Unless you have a dedicated area for meeting clients and having food and drink is part of your plan – then please don’t do this! There's nothing wrong with having a bottle of water handy to keep refreshed but make sure you are drinking out of view of the main visitors or at the least put it down before entering into a conversation with a visitor.
- Talk on your phone…! At least not in the stand… if you have to take a call, move out into the aisleway or around the back of your display where visitors won’t see you. This applies for checking messages as well. You might think it's only 10 seconds but in that 10 seconds if a prospect walks past and all they see is someone looking at their phone, it immediately sends a negative message to them that you will have to try and reverse. It's easier to just not do it. Set specific time aside and walk away for the stand if you have to.
- Eat garlic or spicy foods for breakfast or lunch...! There is nothing worse than trying to hold a conversation with someone who has bad breath! If you absolutely have to eat food that has a strong smell – make sure you have plenty of mints or breath fresheners to offset it.
Stand Exhibit Orientation
This training allows staff to become familiar with the exhibit layout, demonstrations, and tools (such as badge scanners, promotional items, and brochures). Review the location of the exhibit in relation to registration, hall entrances/exits, business partners, competitors, cafes or coffee vendors, the exhibitor lounge, fire and emergency gear and the bathrooms.
An exhibit tour should include an overview of the product and demo areas, meeting rooms, storage areas, etc. You need to make sure all staff are aware of the items kept at your reception area or storeroom, including the staff schedule, product literature, business cards, office supplies, first aid kit, and badge scanners or Ipads.
Go over available literature such as data sheets, brochures, and white papers, along with their format (e.g., USB drive, online, or hard copy), and discuss when and how each type should be getting used.
While on your stand, review product demonstrations and live presentations – this is the perfect opportunity to gather feedback and work out any last-minute adjustments. Practice using the badge scanner/lead-retrieval system or lead forms, and discuss lead-grading criteria, the importance of completeness and accuracy, and so on.
Since staff at any given show typically have differing levels of trade show experience, you should be covering all the bases when it comes to basics like schedules, transportation, registration, etc. The following information might seem basic, but you're responsible for the success of the show. Falling flat because your staff didn't know how to get from the hotel to the convention center isn't a risk worth taking.
- Instruct staff where and when to pick up badges at exhibitor registration (if you're not distributing badges to staff before the show). While veteran exhibitors will likely be able to find the registration desk on their own, new guys might get overwhelmed.
- Go over show dates and hours and when staff need to be at the booth. Discuss what they should do if they are running late for their assigned time or get sick and are unable to make it to the show floor. That way, you'll be better able to course correct and make sure their shifts are covered. If possible, always schedule a few floaters for every shift in case of no-shows and last-minute schedule changes.
- Show staff the transport options, directions to the trade show venue (if walking or driving), and an estimate of how long it might take to travel from the hotel to the convention center on show days. This is especially helpful if staff will be relying on show shuttles to and from the exhibit hall, since they generally take longer and often make multiple stops on-route.
- Point out that exhibit storage for personal items is limited. You don't want purses, laptops, and other personal belongings sitting out in the open. Not only does it make your display appear messy and unkempt, but it's also not secure.
- Discuss the schedule (and location) of end-of-day debrief meetings to review what worked and what didn't work in the exhibit that day. These debriefs are a great time to get feedback from your team and brainstorm any necessary mid-course corrections to be implemented for the remainder of the trade show.
- Review the schedule and responsibilities for exhibit teardown. Staff have a way of disappearing toward the end of the show, so assigning tasks ahead of time ensures your crew is there when you need them.
As an exhibit manager, adding staff training to your to-do list is probably the last thing you want to do. But don't underestimate the power of an expertly trained staff.
The people working your exhibit during a show are the face – and voice – of your company, and the way they interact with attendees can make or break your program. So teach them the booth-staffing basics before setting them loose on the show floor.
There are a lot of great tips and ideas in this step – go back and read it over to make sure you are getting it all.
If you can implement everything you will see your results skyrocket – if you can only get a few ideas implemented that’s ok – you should still see a dramatic improvement if you’ve never done some of these things before.