Trade Show TalesBlog

Customer Service Just Got Easier at Your Next Trade Show

November 1st, 2016 1 COMMENT

This photo was shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and L-series lens.

What’s the Difference Between a Shopping Mall and a Trade Show?

Most retailers devote significant time and money to customer service training for their employees. The same can’t be said for exhibitors and their booth staff. They assume their team will be professional.

Recently, I was invited to conduct a Booth Etiquette and Sales Training seminar for a medical services company. It would have been easy to pull together a PowerPoint. Instead, I asked the attendees if they had ever worked in any job where they were expected to approach, assist, and advise someone on a purchase. Of the 52 attendees, all but four raised their hand. I then asked them to think about the “rules” they learned.


Here’s What They Told Me 

  1. Acknowledge every customer who enters your department, even if you are busy.
  2. Smile.
  3. Don’t bad-mouth your competition.
  4. If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.
  5. Arrive on time. Don’t leave early. Your customers expect the store to be open at the scheduled time and remain open until they have finished shopping.
  6. Listen. Follow the 80/20 rule of sales by listening at least 80 percent of the time.
  7. Ask open-ended questions.
  8. Say “Thank you,” “Please,” and “You’re Welcome.”
  9. Dress appropriately for the job, including basic hygiene. At a minimum, polish your shoes, use an iron, brush your teeth, and comb your hair.
  10. The “Hard Sell” rarely works. The “Consultative Approach” rarely fails.
  11. Don’t chew gum on the sales floor.
  12. Don’t eat on the sales floor.
  13. Don’t drink any beverages on the sales floor.
  14. Wear comfortable shoes.
  15. You can’t be an expert about everything. Ask a colleague to ask who may know more about a product or service.
  16. Don’t make assumptions based on a customer’s appearance.
  17. Start conversations . . .  not a sales pitch.
  18. The customer is always right (or mostly right).
  19. Things get messy, but they can’t stay that way.
  20. You’re not a carnival barker. You are a sales professional.
  21. If you make a commitment to find something, to add them to the mailing list, or to call them when an item goes on sale, honor that commitment.

These “Rules” Should Seem Very Familiar

After all, working on the show floor is very similar to working in a shoe store, electronics store, or a restaurant. You are there to assist customers. Sometimes your customers know exactly what they want. Other times, they expect you to guide them to most appropriate solution after determining their needs. Sometimes it’s slow. Other times it’s busy, but either way you are onstage and expected to perform flawlessly and to be a professional.

And yet, we often see behavior in a trade show booth that would be unacceptable in any retail situation:

  • Eating and drinking on the show floor
  • Drifting into the booth 45 minutes after the show starts after partying until 4 am and reeking of alcohol
  • Congregating in packs, ignoring customers, bad mouthing competitors, and acting like working the show floor is a punishment
  • Monopolizing conversations with customers, disregarding basic sales skills, and launching into a laundry list of features and benefits
  • Using literature and the lead retrieval machine as a substitute for asking open-ended questions
  • Failing to acknowledge customers with a smile or a “be there in a minute”
  • Pre-judging a customer based on appearance or after glancing at the color of their badge
  • Not following up on a lead or a promise to a potential customer

Nearly Everyone Knows How to be Successful on the Trade Show Floor

You learned the basics when you worked at Macy’s or LensCrafters or AutoZone or Olive Garden. At a minimum, you learned to be nice, to be polite, and to treat each customer with respect. At a maximum, you learned how to sell and the importance of customer service. The products and services you now represent may be more complicated and the selling price higher, but the skills are basically the same.

So next time you enter your booth, whether you have a table top at the local Chamber of Commerce show or a 30′ x 30′ custom exhibit at your industry’s premier event, remember what you learned working nights and weekends at the mall. And don’t forget to shine your shoes and iron your shirt or blouse. Appearance counts!

Please share your comments!

–Mel White

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One Response to “Customer Service Just Got Easier at Your Next Trade Show”

  1. Chris G says:


    A great reminder to those new to staffing the exhibit (and those veterans that might tend to ‘over complicate it’) that muscle has memory and that most of us have the basic skills from previous customer service jobs to do a great job at booth staffing.

    We just need to get out of the way of ourselves, and treat visitors as we prefer to be treated, when we are THE BUYER.

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