Manning the stand

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Pounced Upon or Ignored?

Posted on September 14, 2017

Being pounced upon or ignored are the top two pet hates of exhibition visitors. It's ironic that these are the two extremes of stand staff behaviour that visitors often encounter. So what's the answer? How do you tread that line between pushiness and neglect?

Pouncing on visitors is often a result of over enthusiasm, staff are so anxious to seize every potential opportunity that they come across as overbearing. On the other hand ignoring the visitor can be the result of staff lacking confidence in initiating contact and being desperately worried about being seen as pushy. Occasionally it could be misplaced arrogance, the 'if they have a real interest they'll approach me' type attitude.

Visitors initially need to feel that you're available if they want you. Staff can begin by acknowledging the visitors presence by a simple smile or greeting without necessarily moving towards the visitor, this gives the signal that it's safe to proceed and if they have an immediate query you're there to help. After a 'period' whilst the visitor takes in the stand, your material or some object of interest it's time to initiate contact (a subject for future discussion), the length of the 'period' will normally be a few seconds it's down to the visitors' body language.

When staff make contact if their manner is easy going, pleasant and they qualify well they should not be perceived by the visitor as being pushy. Visitors equate pushiness with being kept around when they want to go because they can see no benefit in the conversation, this is often because stand staff have not qualified correctly so they're talking about stuff the visitor has no interest in.

Of course, the overriding factor at an exhibition is that you are there to make contact with visitors so there's no shying away from that, however you want those contacts to be positive so in common with most things in life there is a middle way.

Beware! The Time Monkey

Posted on March 01, 2016

Ever heard the expression 'I've got a monkey on my back'? It's generally used to mean something that's preventing a person from getting on, holding them back from being happy or successful. Too often you see staff manning exhibition stands that have the Time Monkey on their back.

If you think about your interactions with your potential customers at an exhibition, they are probably going to be a lot shorter than they would be in say, a pre-arranged visit. Instead of an hour, or however long it normally lasts, you're going to be speaking with most people for less than 5 minutes and in many cases an even shorter period of time. For some staff the knowledge that they are only going have this person for a limited amount of time creates a Monkey! Every time they speak with a customer the monkey whispers in their ear 'You're only going to have this person for two minutes therefore you must tell them EVERYTHING!'. So they go into Tell mode and most of us have heard the maxim - Telling is not Selling. The result is that the customer soon switches off and starts shuffling away because most of what they are hearing does not seem relevant.

The Time Monkey often arises where over enthusiasm meets lack of training. Staff can be so enthusiastic about what they have to offer that they want to communicate every product, service, feature and benefit without any regard for the customers needs. In order to overcome this, staff need to first of all relax and understand that in most B2B exhibitions the interaction on the stand is like a first date. Your objective is not to get married, but to do enough to get the second date, which means showing an interest in the other person and finding commonalities. Or to put it another way - qualifying.

Effective qualifying is not just about deciding if you'd like to spend time with this person, both parties are qualifying each other. It's a two way process which done well builds rapport and gives you the information to make what you say relevant. Developing a set of qualifying questions is best practice in preparing for your exhibition. Another way of looking at this is to ponder - what questions would I need to ask to determine if the person in front of me could benefit from my product or service. You don't need to ask every question you come up with, but there will be two or three that make a real difference, and everyone in the team needs to be comfortable and familiar with what they are.

"Can I help you?"

Posted on January 05, 2016

“No thank you, just looking”

We’ve all said it in our time - both the question and the reply. Why is “Can I help you?” not a good thing to say to your exhibition visitors? And what are the alternatives?

To begin with “Can I help you?” is a closed question most likely to elicit an automatic negative response (as people worry about being sold to) that can be hard to come back from. Once you get the reply “No thank you, just looking” anything you say after that just sounds pushy apart from the doleful “OK, Let me know if you have any questions”. So you’ve closed the interaction down before you’ve even started. Also, it’s boring. If as a visitor you’ve been to 30 stands the vast majority of which will be introducing themselves with “Can I help you?” hearing something different can be quite refreshing.

So what are the alternatives? What we’re trying to do is get into a conversation so open questions tend to work better. Later, when we start to qualify closed questions come into play but to begin with it’s all about breaking the ice. It helps if you have something on your stand that can be used as a hook, examples could be an unusual feature/graphic or a competition e.g. What do you think of our exploding widget? How fast do you think that lathes rotating? Which of these two valves do you think is the heaviest? How many gromit’s would you guess are in the sack?

Other ice breakers may come from the person’s badge, and it doesn’t really matter if you get it wrong as long as it gets you talking. Imagine someone from the Falkland’s Furniture Co turns up on your stand –

“You’ve come a long way”

“Actually we’re based in Bristol, but don’t worry everyone thinks that”

“Glad I’m not the only one, so what brings you to the show?

If you’re really stuck there are the old stalwarts like; How are you enjoying the show? What brings you to the event today? How much do you know about Acme consulting?

The key is to come up with two or three ideas that you can actually hear yourself using otherwise in the heat of the battle you’ll hear yourself saying the inevitable “Can I help you?”.

To Zap or not to Zap

Posted on October 23, 2015

What’s the best way to record your stand visitor’s details? Well perhaps the first thing to think about is what you’re trying to achieve from the exhibition.

If you're trying to build a database with as many industry contacts as possible then hiring a badge zapper where you can walk away with an electronic file filled with your visitors contact information makes that task relatively easy. This assumes of course that the details the visitor has filled in when they registered are accurate (which is not always the case). You also have to consider how discriminating you will be with your zapping, are you going to zap anyone you can or will there be some sort of qualification process so you don't end up with a database of full of contacts who will never be interested in your wares, whatever you decide everyone on the stand needs to know what they're meant to be doing.

A zapper approach is not going to allow you to record specific information to follow up on. So in the absence of a clearly defined process staff will pragmatically fall back on making notes on the back of a business card. However, possible problems include, not having enough room to record relevant information, illegibility of something hastily written on a 3 cm by 5 cm card in a busy exhibition environment and the potential for those precious leads on small pieces of paper to go astray. Also, it doesn't look good to prospects. In addition, it makes it difficult to collect accurate data about the results of the exhibition e.g. how many leads, appointments etc.

Organisations with a professional approach to exhibiting will use a form of some kind. More often than not this is a paper form although electronic versions on an ipad or android tablet are becoming more widespread. In either case, ease of use is the key issue. In a busy exhibition environment staff need to be able to record information quickly and accurately, so it makes sense for the form to have as many preset options as possible e.g. type of visitor, urgency, next action etc. that they can just tick or put a ring around in those few seconds before they have their next conversation. I’ve also seen companies issue their staff with mini staplers so they can attach a business card to the form, so they don’t need to record contact details and everything is kept together. However, there needs to be a balance between making a form easy to use and making sure you capture that key information that can make all the difference when it comes to the follow up, so it's good practice to have a space to write some notes about the visitor and this tends to be the most important information because it allows the person doing the follow up (particularly if they are not the one who took the details) to personalise the interaction, it also shows that you listened and are responding to their specific issues rather than a generic approach.

Whatever method you use it’s important that staff share a common understanding e.g. what is our qualification process? what information should we be recording? what do we mean by a ‘hot’ lead? So I guess that takes us back to where we started from which is the importance of defining what you want from the exhibition.

Here’s an example of my take on a form based approach, even if it’s not for you it might give you some ideas - exhibition contact pad

Mobile Phones - There's a time and a place

Posted on August 20, 2015

Checking our phone for messages, emails, linked in alerts, texts etc. has become so ingrained into our behaviour patterns that some people find it difficult to separate themselves from their electronic life support system. However, an exhibition stand is one environment where we need to hit the off switch.

One of the key elements in attracting visitors is to look welcoming, stand staff looking down at their mobiles rather than at their potential customers sends a signal that says 'I'm not really interested in engaging'.

Once staff are speaking to a visitor surveys show that a pet hate is the interruption of the mobile phone. It's bad enough if it rings in the first place as this interrupts the flow of the conversation whilst you fumble to turn it off. However, in extreme cases I've seen some staff actually answer it, completely alienating the customer.

Best practice is to switch the mobile off or set to silent, preferably switched off because there's always the potential if you feel a vibration in your jacket to lose your concentration mid conversation with your prospect or the pull to just check who it's from. Understandably there is also the temptation in quieter periods to 'use the time effectively' and answer a few emails on the laptop. Again this sends the wrong message to people walking by.

If staff need to use the phone best practice is to leave the stand and go somewhere like the coffee bar where they're obviously off duty. Mobile phones are a great way of keeping in touch however like everything else in life there's a 'time and a place' and it's not on the exhibition stand.

76% of Exhibition Visitors have an Agenda

Posted on May 05, 2015

Industry research shows that 76% of those visiting a B2B trade show have already decided upon the stands they're going to visit before they arrive at the event.

So what does this mean for exhibitors? Well, first of all it makes sense to invest in some pre-exhibition marketing to ensure your company is on the list of stands to be visited. Second, if you're not on that list the chances of those visitors drifting over to your stand are limited if you don't have something that grabs their attention.

Some exhibitors don't see the need to come up with an exhibition attractor, they believe their stand's design, graphics or brand will be enough. This may be true for some companies but for the vast majority of small to medium sized exhibitors, their visual offering will be lost in the sea of stands. Others believe an attraction will be too expensive and the preserve of those with mega marketing budgets or they think it might be bit tacky. With a bit of imagination the cost need not be prohibitive also if you're spending £10,000 upwards on event, an extra £500 to potentially double the number of visitors seems like a sound investment. Whether an attraction is tacky or not is determined by your company's positioning and of course what you choose.

Some of the best attractions combine movement to catch your eye with an opportunity for visitors to get hands-on or to take part in something. The most effective ones are often linked (however tenuously) to your product/service. Some recent examples include:

  • An organisation marketing psychological resilience workshops with a 'stress test' indicator you place your thumb on
  • A manufacturer of bespoke bi-fold doors demonstrating how to use and giving away draughtman's rulers at the Grand Designs show
  • The industrial cleaning company who had a shoe shine chair on the stand. A great time to qualify a visitor while they're a captive audience having their shoes cleaned

Not only can ideas like these get people onto the stand they're also something to use as a reminder in follow up conversations.

Classic Exhibition: Do’s and Don’ts

Posted on January 27, 2015

So you've managed to secure an excellent position at the exhibition, the stand looks great (and so it should the amount you've spent on it!). Your marketing material is up to date and you've come up with some fantastic ideas for attracting visitors.

So what about your people? There's the usual sales crew, support staff and a couple from admin to make up the numbers. They'll be fine, it's not like it's difficult or anything the customers are coming to us right?! Research has shown that over 80% of an exhibition stand's effectiveness and therefore its return on investment is down to the people manning it.

However for many companies their investment in the most important element is often a new logoed polo shirt and a bit of product training. It's easy to make some very elementary mistakes. Below are five classic do's and don'ts, they may seem obvious but next time you're at a tradeshow walk round and see how the exhibitors measure up, you might be shocked.


1. Work on your questioning skills

No-one wants to listen to a one way sales pitch, understand their background and issues first then speak.

2. Drink lots of water

They reckon you lose a pint an hour on a busy stand, if you start to dehydrate you'll lose concentration and be less effective plus it helps preserve your voice.

3. Use your breaks

Exhibition halls can be oppressive environments, too hot or cold, lights, noise, and air conditioning, try to get outside for some fresh air, walk around stretch.

4. Agree a next action

Ensure that you agree with your prospect what will happen next so you are both clear where you stand and record the details to make sure it happens.

5. Look welcoming

keep smiling Obvious I know, but can be surprisingly hard to do when your feet are hurting and you've had a late night.


1. Say "can I help you?"

It invites the response "No thank you, just looking" and it's boring because everyone else will be saying it and you want to be remembered. Try asking about what they're looking at or why they've come to your stand today.

2. Pounce

Nobody wants to be jumped on. So make yourself available by making eye contact and smiling and let the customer get settled before you make your move.

3. Eat on the stand

In a survey of visitor pet hates, eating and chewing gum came out close to the top, eat a healthy breakfast to keep you going and use your breaks to refill.

4. Huddle or guard

Two classic body language mistakes are huddling together with your colleagues in cosy conversations and positioning yourself at the entrance or edge of the stand with your arms folded. Both make your stand feel unapproachable.

5. Monopolise Visitors

Keeping visitors on the stand when they want to go is the equivalent of outstaying your welcome at a friend's house. Any hope you may have had of developing some business will rapidly disappear and all they will be left with is the memory of a pushy sales person. You may be anxious to make sure they hear about that last fantastic benefit, but if they're shuffling towards the exit let them go gracefully.

Done well, exhibitions can be fantastic opportunities to develop business but only if your people know what they're doing, the good exhibitors make it look easy that doesn't mean it is though.

Jon Howarth

Tel: 01604 883541