Manning the stand

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"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?”.