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Magnetizing your conference booth the counterintuitive way

Is it still a good idea to staff your conference booth with salespeople?

By now we all know that, as human beings, we’re wired to resist being “sold to”. We want to be in control, want to choose what we evaluate, and want to be able to confidently predict what our experience will be like using a product or service.

It’s why we knee-jerk say “I’m just looking” when approached at a department store by a salesperson, avoid answering the phone when we don’t recognize the caller ID, why 95% of us read reviews before making a purchase of substance, and why 82% of us seek out negative reviews as a part of our research. It’s why transparency sells better than perfection.

Companies keep trying to up their game - fancier booths, food & drinks, amazing swag, giveaways and contests. I still see the use of scantily clad hired help as a means to attract attendees.

I’m not suggesting sellers don’t attend conferences. I actually believe it’s the most efficient selling environment there is - where face time is optimized, relationships are built, and sellers can help buyers optimize buying journeys at scale.

How high can you raise the bar? That’s a zero-sum game.

Instead, are there ways you can change the game instead? I’ve seen some counterintuitive things work really well, like:

  • One leader I spoke with told me how they armed their booth with customers. They subsidized their cost of the show & travel in exchange for having them staff their booth for a short amount of time each, wearing shirts identifying themselves as customers - not employees. Their booth was a magnet for prospects.
  • Another company used members of their product team as booth staff. The product team members loved it, because they had customer and prospect conversations at scale they could use to prioritize their roadmap. Prospects loved it, because they received what they perceived to be no-spin answers to questions.
  • Other companies I've seen successfully use client success team members, with signage identifying their booth as a “sales free zone”. Client success team members could help buyers predict their experience effectively, drawing from the experiences of so many current customers. Prospects got to know individuals they might actually be working with if they moved forward with a purchase. 

The booth is a lead generator and a front-end-of-the-sales-process accelerator. In these instances, sellers were on standby to follow up or deep-dive when needed, and following the conferences, the sellers were plenty busy with the newly developed leads. Their booths brought people in, versus being a subconscious lead repellent. No expensive swag necessary.

What have you seen work?

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