The Challenge of Using Salespeople as Booth Staff

Following a recent exhibitor workshop, several attendees came up to me with a similar story: their sales team comes to the show, hangs out in the booth, and becomes more of a handicap than an asset. They wanted to know how they can turn that situation around.

Unfortunately, this is a common problem because the very things that make a sales person great at what they do often create a challenge in the trade show environment:

  1. They’re used to spending time building a relationship with a hot prospect (taking them to lunch, etc.), but on the show floor that time must be condensed.
  2. They have established territories based on client profiles or geographic region, so tend to have a myopic view of attendees.
  3. They have a strong kinship with other members of the sales force (which is a good thing) and treat the show as a grand reunion.

So what can you do to overcome these challenges?

Begin by providing them with training, no matter how long they’ve been with your company or how many shows they’ve participated in previously. Educate them on the company goals for that particular show and what the team is responsible for accomplishing. Get them invested in the team goal.

Explain that they’re expected to greet and talk with all attendees, and teach them how to qualify quickly and hand off to the appropriate person in the booth. Give them an incentive to gather leads outside their territory. If they want to have lengthy conversations with select attendees, encourage them to schedule appointments in advance.

And to avoid having your booth become a hangout for the entire sales team, create a staffing schedule. Give them each assignments for off-duty hours such as strolling by competitors’ booths to observe and analyze, or simply walking the show floor to see what’s new and which booths are drawing a crowd. (If you get resistance because they don’t want to miss out on a hot prospect or favorite client, that’s one more reason to encourage pre-scheduled appointments.) You can also arrange for at least one night to be a team gathering, so everyone has a chance to hang out and simply enjoy being together.

One other suggestion — whenever you have the opportunity to select people to staff your booth, look beyond the sales team. Sometimes customer service people make even better booth staffers because they’re used to being on the front lines, answering questions from clients and prospects. They’ll also likely come across less high-pressure than the sales team.


© 2011-12 Marlys K. Arnold  (Reprinted from the October 2011 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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About the Author:

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. She travels the country consulting and training both exhibitors and show managers, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image (2002), host of the Trade Show Insights podcast and creator of the ExhibitorEd training kit. She can be reached at

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