The people on the front lines of your exhibiting program are likely dumber than they were eight years ago.
I recently had the chance to speak at the International Federation of Exhibition and Event Services (IFES) 2018 World Summit in Chicago. After my 45-minute presentation on global trends, Dutch author and staff trainer Han Leenhouts asked me a very valid question: "You've talked a lot about technology and experiential design, but what about staff training?"
The sad truth is that while staff training probably should be a trend in the trade show industry, it's not. In fact, according to a report conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) titled "The Role and Value of Face-to-Face Interaction," only 26 percent of exhibitors conduct training for all or most of their events. But perhaps the most worrying part of recent data on the subject is that it appears fewer exhibiting companies are conducting training than in 2010. That means the people on the front lines of your exhibiting program – the faces of your respective brands – are likely dumber than they were eight years ago (or at least less in tune with your objectives), despite the fact that most organizations report increased scrutiny of their marketing spend.
It's paradoxical when you think about it. Surveys have repeatedly confirmed that lead acquisition is the most important objective for companies investing in trade shows. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist – or even a rocket salesperson – to know the quantity and quality of leads you generate is going to directly impact the amount of revenue attributable to your program. Still, it appears that corporate America is unwilling to invest the nominal amount of time and money it takes to ratchet up booth staffers' skill sets.
Matt Hill of staff-training firm Hill Group states that in his nearly 30 years of experience, clients who incorporate staff training routinely see increases of 50 percent to as much as 100 percent in their number of qualified leads. And according to Exhibit Surveys Inc. (a division of FreemanXP that specializes in measurement and analysis), there's a strong correlation between staff training and overall exhibiting results. Companies that train their staffers are more likely to see increased returns than those who do not. But despite that common-sense correlation, far too many marketers are playing fast and loose with their face-to-face marketing programs, entrusting the fate of their exhibits to ill-prepared staffers.
No matter how hard you work to market your company's offerings at shows, you're not guaranteed results. The wild card, which can throw a mammoth-sized monkey wrench into the equation, is the team of individuals staffing your booth. According to one survey of trade show attendees, 85 percent of an exhibitor's success hinges on the performance of its booth staff. And let's be clear: Even one bad-apple booth staffer can endanger your return on investment. But training those staffers significantly diminishes the impact that uneducated and/or apathetic employees can have on your program's output.
If you don't have a budget for staff training, or if senior management doesn't support the idea, that's not adequate justification for shirking this responsibility. Whether you're able to scrounge up enough to pay for a one-time session from a professional trainer or wrangle your staffers together for a 20-minute workshop that you personally lead, that's better than no training whatsoever. Then track the results of those efforts against established benchmarks and use any upticks to make the case for why your budget should include allocations for training – and why it should be mandatory for all client-facing company reps attending shows. Who knows? Perhaps if we all start championing the role of staff training in the trade show industry and proving its incremental value over time, it will eventually become a trending topic.