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The universal fundamentals of great stand performance

My experience with stand, or booth, behavior and training goes beyond the U.S. and Europe. I will detail some essential lessons I learned. Only apply them if you deem them worthy of your situation.

As exuberant as ever, Han Leenhouts delivers nine rules for ensuring great stand performance!
As exuberant as ever, booth training expert Han Leenhouts delivers nine rules for ensuring great stand performance!

Rule 1: Arrange active referrals.

When I wrote this article, I was on holiday with my family in the U.S. We finished five days in New York. From a local, we heard that we should visit a food market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“Top notch!” he said. Even the KLM flight attendants mentioned the market.

We loved the market and stood in a line for a $9 ramen burger.

Rule 2: Create a good brand.

We saw an even longer line for French fries. These stands were doing great — big crowd, big bucks and new fans.

Rule 3: Fans keep the future juice flowing!

I was taking pictures as a tourist, and then it hit me. I noticed New York-style food but no New York pro-active attitude. There was a full stand with food but no customers.

I asked myself a number of questions: Why is this guy here? What made him get out of bed this morning? Why did he set up his stand if the only real thing he was interested in was updating his Facebook status?

If you have a guy like this on your stand crew, you are in great danger. These stand workers (or should I say stand fillers?) ruin your goals and results.

In a former life, during the ‘90s, I was the director of a respectable stand building company in Europe. During this time, we had a number of clients who told us: “Thanks for building the stand, but you know we are pulling out of exhibitions.”

My questions always were the same: “Why? What happened, or what did not happen?”

The answer 100 percent of the time was the cost was too high and the results too low. My other questions: When would you have been satisfied with the tradeshow? What should have happened to make you want to exhibit again and look for similar tradeshows?

The problem was they never defined any goals.

Rule 4: Goals give direction to the team and achieves results.

Someone said you cannot measure tradeshows, and they truly believed that. I always say if you can count, you can measure.

Rule 5: Register and count those who registered.

As a stand builder, we had a problem. We were busting our butts because the money ran out. I told a few salespeople to not only assign staff to the stands but also to do a performance check. This was unannounced of course.

The results were…What do you think we saw? Yes. You are right — we saw no real sales behavior. It was like the famous John Cleese video on how not to exhibit was re-released. People were hanging around, talking to each other, etc.

Rule 6: If it seems obvious, watch out! It might not be applied.

All of this led to us, the stand building company, offering crew training. We thought that if the crew had a great performance, our chances would increase to build the stand again.

It did not work at all. We were a stand building company, and enhancing the skills of the stand staff was not a marketing task. We went to a training agency, but the agency had no clue about tradeshows. During this time, there were no specialized agencies for stand crew training.

Rule 7: If you have a broken leg, do you go to the general practitioner? No — you go to the specialist. If you want good training…

After leaving the stand building company, I founded Sales & Pepper in 2004 with a full profile on stand performance. I still have a job, so the need is there.

The funny thing was that when I started in The Netherlands, many potential customers asked me to come by. They wanted to explain how unique and different their market set-up was. So one week I spoke to people who sold IT solutions and the next week to people who sold coffee.

After that, I spoke to a pharmaceutical company, and you know what? They all went to a temporary marketplace and, in most cases, wanted to find new contacts. There were hardly any differences. After 12 years in the field and more than 1,500 clients in numerous areas, I still back up this statement.

Rule 8: Tradeshow business is about making contacts despite the market you are in.

What about culture? After having trained people in more than 28 countries around the globe, I do have thoughts about this. Our cultures differ a lot — that is true. In doing trade and making contacts, we are more alike than most of us think or want to think. In my opinion, cultural differences are often used as an excuse not to act.

You know a direct approach will not work in a certain country, so we just wait until the people come to us. Or maybe in another culture, it is polite to wait…wait for what? In the international arena, waiting is getting ready to be overtaken by other people.

There are others who don’t wait: People like those who sold the ramen burger in Williamsburg; the AMEX people who bothered me when I tried to catch my plane at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport; or the people who take tradeshows seriously, set goals, explain them to their teams and train them. They train them so that they don’t become a robot that jumps on everyone who moves around the stand, but into motivated people who go out of their comfort zone.

Let’s not forget that a tradeshow is not the natural habitat for people, so help them. I help them in the same way everywhere. My training only really differs when I change the language. Role playing works everywhere.

Talking about the first ice-breaker is needed in India, Russia, Germany, Peru and even in the U.S. When we hear, “Hey man, what’s up?” That does not break the ice immediately, and it is so often used that it has lost its power as a real showstopper.

There are pages of books to fill, but I leave you with the last rule.

Rule 9: Tradeshows and live communication are still powerful ways to start solid relationships nationally and internationally.

A world traveler from The Netherlands, Han Leenhouts founded Sales & Pepper in January 2004. Since then, he has trained booth staff in more than 28 countries. To learn more about Leenhouts’ company, visit www.salesandpepper.com.

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