Trade Show Chronicles – First day in the booth (chapter 13)
This article belongs to the “Trade Show Chronicles” series. It tells the story of Andrew, young sales executive newly employed by a Hong Kong company that will attend his first trade show in a few months time. From understanding what exhibitions are all about to organizing the booth, recruiting promoters and following-up on leads, Andrew will live a complete adventure unique to the world of exhibitions.
That’s it. 6 months of preparation, stress, excitement, and frustrations are now over. Today is the first day of the exhibition. I woke up at 4am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I reviewed my plan and all my documents, tried to have breakfast but couldn’t eat anything.
I am the first one in the booth this morning – I arrive at 7am when the doors open. When I arrive at the stall all our cartons are there, waiting for me. But nothing is ready. The samples haven’t been positioned, tools, cleaning products and bottles of water are still packed and there is dust all over the place. The lights are off, it seems some electrical connections are missing. Panicked, I call Karen:
– “Where are you???”
– “Home… what’s going on Andrew, you sound panicked” she says, obviously just waking up.
– “Nothing is ready! There’s no light, the cartons are still on the floor, the samples haven’t been placed and…”
– “Calm down Andrew… the fair opens at 10. I will be there in an hour and I will call the electrician on the way. Start taking care of the cartons, I’ll be there shortly.” She hangs up. Am I less worried? A little maybe.
I decide to take the lead and start managing the booth. I reach out for my toolbox – thank you, Charles, for your bright ideas! I get a cutter and start opening cartons. I place samples on the furniture as per Karen’s plan, flatten cartons and store them in the cabin, sweep the floor, dust the place and get things organized.
– “Hello. I’m here for the light, what’s the problem?” asks a man, early forties, well-fitting overalls and his very own toolbox in his hand. That must be Karen who arranged it.
– “Well… there’s no light in our booth! We’ve requested having two halogens in the back there as well as spotlights here, there and back there” I point around the booth with my finger.
– “And…?” he asks, disenchanted or simply bored.
– “And it obviously isn’t working!”
The man remains calm. He hasn’t moved. He’s chewing something and takes a few second to reply me.
– “Have you tried the switch?”
-“The… what? What switch?”
– “As per your floor plan, we’ve installed a switch in the cabin. Have you tried pressing it…?”
I can feel myself turning pale as blood tries and escape from my face. Did I even check if there was a switch in the booth? No, I have not. Without a word I run through the stall, open the cabin’s door and press the button. Nothing happens. Somehow victorious, I claim:
– “See? Not working!”
– “Am on it.” he says casually.
15 minutes later, Karen arrives:
– “Wow! Nice! You’ve prepared everything already, well done!”
– “Thank you. But the light still isn’t working.”
– “Don’t worry so much Andrew, we’ll get there. Have you heard of Murphy’s law? It says that…”
– “… everything that can go wrong will go wrong, yeah, I know” I say somehow frustrated.
– “Well great then!” she says with a smile, obviously in a very good mood. “I go get some breakfast, should I get you a coffee?”
I can’t believe she is leaving already.
– “Yeah, grab me a cup, please. No cream, no sugar.”
– “Consider it done”
When the team arrives it is already 9.15. 45 minutes to go before the opening and the booth is ready: light is now working, all the samples are neatly organized and there is no more dust on the floor. It is time for me to start the show.
– “Ok guys, please regroup here”. There are 5 people in our team – myself, Karen, young sales from my team who I really seldom talk to and 2 additional part-timers we’ve recruited and trained already. They all come around me. I’m no public speaker and I usually feel extremely anxious talking in front of people. But today is different. Today, I’m in charge. Today, I can’t let anything go wrong and I WANT to lead this project.
– “Thank you for being here. But please, be on time! Tomorrow, the show will start at 9am. I expect all of you to be here at 8.30, no later than that.” I try to look serious and credible. I am not really sure whether I am doing a good job there.
– “Today is the first day of the event. I hope you are all full of energy. There are a few important key points I want to remind you of. First, no eating, no drinking and definitely no phone playing checking or anything. Don’t stare at your shoes, look the visitors in the eyes, smile and be welcoming. Don’t stand at the edge of the booth like you’re guarding the border. Find ways to make people want to come and talk to you.” as I talk I am gaining confidence. I see that everyone is paying attention and that gives me additional courage. Karen is looking at me like a proud mother looking at her kid on his graduation day – it feels kind of weird but I have no time to think about it.
– “I believe you all know your goals already, but let me remind them to you. You are here to capture and qualify leads.”
My boss arrives in the booth and I stop talking as I see him coming.
– “Don’t stop, don’t stop! Please go on.”
I continue my speech for another two minutes, thank everyone for listening and wish everyone good luck. Once I am done, everyone turns to my boss:
– “Don’t look at me! Everything you see here has been organized by Andrew. For the coming three days, he is the boss. Any decision or question, go to him.” A vote of confidence from my CEO – that was all I needed. He comes to me while others disperse in the booth.
– “Morning pep talk, ah?” he says with a smile. “Great idea. Now don’t be shy – do what you think necessary to get things right and I will support you if you need it.”
At 10.05am, visitors start flowing through the aisles of the fair. I feel the pressure growing like if I was about to go on stage. One visitor passes by our booth without looking at us, then a second one and a third. The fourth visitor makes eye contact with me and greets me with smile. That’s it. That my turn. I try to remember I am a sales person before all and decide to engage the conversation.
– “Good morning sir! Do you already use our products?”
– “Good morning. No, I must say I don’t but we have similar ones in our collection.” I hooked him! Things start pretty well for me, now I must make sure I don’t lose this one – all my team is now looking at me.
– “Oh really? May I ask you which ones you currently have?”
I spend 10 minutes with this visitor. The conversation is nice and interesting. He is already selling similar products from one of our competitors. I show his our features and we discuss pricing. I am not sure whether I could convince him to ride with us instead but there seems to be an opportunity.
After he leaves the booth, I grab my tablet, open my leads collection tool and start recording data. I scan his business card, take some notes, add a few tags to recognize him, send him a quick thank-you email and put the tablet back in the cabin. When I return to the booth, 3 more visitors are looking at our products. One of them is talking with Karen, the other two are left alone. I go to the other sales person:
– “What are you waiting for? There are visitors unattended here.” He looks at me, uncomfortable.
– “They did not look at me. I guess that means they don’t want to talk yet…”
– “Don’t give yourself excuses. Jump on it!”
Unwillingly, he approaches one of the visitors. The promoters we hired saw that and one of them immediately takes action and goes talk to the other visitor. Things start to work as planned!
– “Hey Karen.”
– “Hi Andrew!” she replies with a smile. “Not bad, right? We did quite a good job!”
– “Yes, things are going well so far. Look, I just wanted to let you know you’ve captured 3 leads already, you have reached 50% of your objective today and you are the most efficient team member so far. Keep going!”
– “What about the global number? Are we on track?”
– “Kind of… We should have 30 by the end of the day, we are only at 12 so far… but we haven’t reached half of the day yet, so everything’s still possible!”
– “You are right. But make sure you talk to everyone and give some advice to the rest of the team. Especially the two promoters – they don’t seem to be too active, they definitely need some pushing from your side.”
– “I am going to do that, thank you.”After talking with everyone, I decide to talk to my boss:
– “Hey Andrew, how is it going?”
– “Quite well actually… 12 leads so far, we’re on the right track to reach our daily objective.”
– “Good to hear! Have you counted my leads as well?”
Damn, I forgot to teach him how to use our system. He is probably using pen & paper still.
– “I guess I did not… maybe I could show you the system we use? It would be very efficient if you could use the same with us!”
– “Haha, I’m not too keen on learning new things Andrew, I think I’ll pass” he says laughing.
– “I understand, but I’m sure you would love it and save some extra time!” He apparently likes me to be persistent:
– “Ok Andrew, you win. Show me that system of yours.”
I give him a quick demo on how to scan the business card, add some notes and save it all. I must have convinced him as he says:
– “Wow, that’s much easier than expected! Great, I’m definitely going to use it! You know what, I’m even going to input the leads from this morning right now so that we have it all in one place.”
– “That would be great, thank you!”
Karen reaches out:
– “You guys want lunch? I am going to grab sandwiches for everyone.”
I look at my watch: 12.30 already. I was so busy getting things done I completely forgot about lunch.
– “That would be great, ham and cheese for me please. Make sure you keep the bill, though!”
– “Haha, I will Andrew.”
– “Same for me” says my boss. “Andrew, you want to give some instructions to the team regarding lunch?”
– “Oh, yes, you’re right! Karen, please don’t let them eat in the booth – we take lunch break one at a time and eat either in the cabin or elsewhere”.
– “You got it!” she says while leaving the stall to go buy some food.
It is now 6pm, people start leaving the show. There are no more visitors in our booth so I decide to gather the team.
– “You guys did great today! We were planning on getting 30 leads and we reached 42.”
There is a round of applause.
– “However, there is room for improvement. Some of these leads are of no value. One of you guys spent almost 30 minutes talking with a retailer from Canada. We’re neither selling in Canada nor working directly with retailers. Keep in mind the filtering process we’ve discussed: find out who they are, what they do and their potential working with us. If the person does not meet our criteria, thank them politely and move on to the next visitor.”
– “Also, I would like to highlight some key elements today. I have noticed one of you with a chewing-gum this morning – I can’t accept that. As long as you are in this booth, you represent the company. I repeat once again: no phone playing, no eating, no drinking, no sitting and definitely no chewing in the booth, alright?”
I quickly look at my boss who nods. He really trusts me with that and it makes me feel stronger.
– “In terms of individual results, Jerry, you need to do better – only 4 leads today.” Jerry is one of the 2 promoters we’ve recruited. He looks at his shoes when hearing his name.
– “It’s ok, that was the first day. You will do better tomorrow. Be more confident, go talk to people, don’t wait for them to come.”.
– “I will” Jerry says.
– “And thank you, Karen, who is the champion of the day! 9 leads collected, well done!”
Karen raises her arms in victory.
– “Ok guys, that was great but we need to do even better tomorrow. Please all grab a cloth or a broom and help cleaning the booth. That will be done in 5 minutes if everyone helps and we can all go home and relax!”
As I grab some window cleaning spray, my boss comes to me:
– “You see Andrew, 6 months ago, you had no idea what trade shows were all about. Today, you proved I was right to give you this project. Keep doing great work and you can be sure your future will be bright in this company!”