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10 Rules for Staffing Your Booth with the Right People
By Bob Garner

Staffing your booth is not an easy thing. It requires psychology. You have to know what your goals are for the show and which people at your company are best suited to help you to accomplish those goals.

Obviously, you need team players. But who are the best people to make up that team? Presuming that one of your major goals is to deliver a high ROI from your participation at the show, here are 10 rules for staffing your booth with the right people to accomplish that goal.

1) Personality: People do business with people. No matter how great your technology or product might be, a person talking to a prospective customer must be a "people person." Your team must utilize as many "people persons" as possible.

2) "Star" Sales People: Generally, star sales people are not the best team players and, therefore, can not be counted on for working the booth as part of the "team." Oftentimes, the "star sales person" has the tendency to be late to booth meetings, is not available during his/her booth times, etc. Unless these star players understand their leadership role, it's best to not count on them to work the booth. If you don't know who they are, ask your VP of Sales or just closely watch your group during the pre-show meeting. The "stars" will be the ones not paying attention.

3) Attitude: There are people who don't like to do shows. They usually say, "These shows are a waste of time. I can get more work done on the road." Guess what? They're right! Their attitude will be on display and will spread throughout your booth. What team needs whiners and complainers? Make sure you staff understands the goals of the show and that they want to help you achieve them - without whining.

4) The Loafers: Through your own experience at your shows, you know the people who work the booth and those who stand in the aisles talking to one another, sit in a conference room doing emails, are always off "checking out the competition" or generally are just not around. Leave these people at home.

5) Newbies: The show floor is not the place for new hires. Why would you put new hires in a position to have to talk to customers? Many times these new hires are not in sales, marketing or another area important to your show goals. (I've seen everything from receptionists to accounting people at shows. Why?) The only thing someone brand new will most likely add to your bottom line is their cost for being there.

If you must bring new hires to a show, then have these folks just walk the floor. If you have new hires who work in departments conducive to your goals, thEn team them up with a positive person from their department who can "show them the ropes." It's tough enough being new, let alone having to face customers (current and potential) and answer questions on the trade show floor. The "sink or swim" approach is great if you're on a sinking ship, but is not a viable show option.

6) Party People: Trade shows can be fun, yet it is a job. Staffers who go out late, drink too much and then come to the show with a hangover do not belong in your booth. There is no excuse for partying at night and coming to the booth the next day unprepared to work.

7) Product knowledge: Knowledge of your product or services is crucial; however, many booths have multiple product stations. It is challenging for everyone to know it all. (Having too many products on display is also a detriment to productivity and ROI - but that is for another time.) Having one or two tech people per station is fine, but oftentimes, these folks stand with their backs to the aisles fiddling with the equipment or talking to one another. If your "tech" person is also a "people person," that is wonderful and they can preside over the station themselves. However, if you have a "non people person techie," then it's more effective to team them up with another who is a people person.

8) Floaters: These are major "people persons" and should act as ambassadors of your exhibit. They should know where your stations are, what they offer and who to turn to for information. There is nothing worse than playing "hand off the attendee." You know, an attendee asks a question and someone sends them to one person and this person hands them off to someone else who then asks someone else. The people working stations should be able to direct the attendee with a question that is not in their area of expertise to a floater who knows EXACTLY where the attendee should go and to whom that person should speak and than WALKS that attendee to that person and makes sure these two people connect. One hand-off is fine. More than that looks like chaos and is frustrating and embarrassing to the attendee.

9) Information/Welcome Desk: This is a central point to your exhibit that is stationed with knowledgeable "people persons." Keep this place near the outside of your booth and visible to all areas of your booth and, if possible, aisle traffic. Attendees don't like "crossing the carpet" - going off the floor and into your booth. Having the information desk deep inside your booth will turn off many potential attendees. (See my next article on booth layout and design.)

The staff at this location should be very approachable and more knowledgeable about the booth than a floater. This is NOT the place for new hires.

10) Too Many On Staff: Overstaffing your booth is just as bad as under staffing. How many times have you looked at a booth and seen nothing but a sea of team shirts? I've seen booths where there are so many staffers that they actually act as a wall to attendees. If you have a 10 x 10 or 8 x 10, do you need 10 staffers in the booth? You may have a 40 x 60, so how many reps and techs do you need on hand? I recently had a client who had a 40 x 60 and they brought 35 staffers to the booth. What an incredible waste of money.

Look at the floor plan of your booth. Make an "x" for where you think people should be. In places where there is no equipment (in other words, an empty space), if you can afford it, place a floater at this position.

Keep in mind that working a booth is a privilege. That's right… a privilege. Booth staff travel to great locations, eat great food, stay in nice hotels, meet new people, and even - more importantly - develop new business and, if they are in sales, make more money.

Trade shows have a party like atmosphere, but they are also a serious addition to the marketing and sales of your products and services. Therefore, you need to send a message that you are serious about achieving a high ROI, as well as your other goals. Here is an effective way to do that and simultaneously staff your booth with the right people.

Send an email informing your potential team players that you will be going to a specific show and that you will be INVITING certain people to attend the show to work the booth. Don't ask who would like to go, just make the announcement. Don't expect any replies, but, if you get any, examine them. (The replies can be very enlightening.) The word "inviting" will get people to start thinking and it sends a subtle message that not everyone will be invited to participate.

With the aforementioned 10 rules in mind, look at your list of potential staffers and analyze who will work the booth and who will not. Eliminate the loafers, the whiners, and party people. Team up new hires with experienced team players. Keep the tech people evenly distributed with those with more "people skills." (That's not to say that all tech people don't have people skills. If they have both, that's a keeper.) Make sure the floaters know as much about the booth as possible. Use the "x" principle to make sure that you don't over staff or under staff.

When you have made you decision, send another email announcement stating who will be going. Some may wonder why this person was INVITED to go to the show and they were not. They may even ask you why they were not invited. Your response is: "For this particular show, we felt that those chosen would be the best fit for the team." Now, what is the subliminal message that you are sending? The message is your company is serious about making their trade show investment pay off and you only want the people on your team who will help make that happen.

Obviously, the first impression that a potential customer/attendee has of your company and its products at a show is highly important, as is the experience of your current customers. A bad first impression or experience is very difficult to overcome. That's why it is critical to staff your booth with the right people.

Recognized by the "Wall Street Journal" as a solution for overcoming lackluster trade show results, Bob Garner has worked more trade shows booths than he can count for Fortune 1000 corporations all over the world and is an expert at helping his clients maximize their trade show investment. If you want your invited booth staff to learn how to sell at a show, order his audio CD, "Secrets of Selling at a Trade Show" here http://www.bobgarner.com/products.html. Bob also offers a ˝ day seminar on working trade shows. Call 805.534.1576 for more information at or send an email to: info@bobgarner.com.