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Relationship selling at trade shows: avoid the seven deadly sins.

Relationship Selling at Trade Shows:

Avoid the Seven Deadly Salespeople


Relationship selling is based on the idea that no single sale and no one contact is more important than the collective contacts that make up the long term relationship between the salesperson and a potential qualified buyer. Any organization that will be in business for a long period of time, sooner or later, may become a prospect. Relationship selling begins with identifying prospects. As is well known, industry trade shows can be a cost effective way to secure customer leads, assess customer reaction to products, maintain an image, develop customer goodwill, and reach hard-to-find buyers. In fact, salespeople report that trade shows are the most important source of prospects, other than their own sales calls[8].

At a trade show, customers form their judgments quickly. Salespeople then do not have much time to make an impression. The impression on the customer is also likely to be magnified in a trade show setting. Since the performance of booth personnel has the greatest influence on generating leads, it is critical for suppliers to put their best personal foot forward when participating at a trade show[6]. All too often, however, booth staffing has been a haphazard process, with little direction or support of the field sales person. But trade shows are the domain of sales, not marketing or some other corporate entity, and field sales skills are not always appropriate for a trade show[1]. Therefore, sales management must take the responsibility for trade show success by ensuring that potential customers meet with the right type of salesperson.

Attendees at a trade show may exhibit no interest at all in an organization's products. However, this is no reason to dismiss them from the relationship, as the conditions that lead to buyer interest may simply have not occurred. Over time, conditions do change. Salespeople who are patient and persistent continue to build on relationships begun at trade shows. They do not "write off" prospects because buying conditions are not presently right.

There is another side of relationship building at trade shows. This side is represented by the salesperson, who through his/her reactions to prospects has the power to start or finish relationships.

There are several types of salespeople that could be encountered by potential prospects. What happens when a customer faces a salesperson who is bored or uninvolved or antagonistic? The result is not encouraging. What types of salespeople do prospects encounter at your trade shows? How can a sales manager develop a process by which they can maximize salesperson productivity at trade shows by avoiding less desirable traits in salespeople? These two questions will be addressed in the context of the value of trade shows in establishing relationships with customers.

The Seven Deadly Salespeople

Developing customer relationships requires approaching trade shows from the customer's point of view. No matter how many new products, automated services, or new marketing approaches an organization might have, customers still want high quality and friendly service. Most customers simply want value for their money and to feel good about their experiences. Good customer relations is a matter of listening to customers, and it is a matter of how products and services are presented. Obviously, salespeople play a key role. Good customer relations entails pleasing customers and making a good impression.

The seven deadly salespeople that prospects might encounter at a trade show are listed in Figure 1 on page 14. The salespeople who fall into these categories are not necessarily bad salespeople per se, rather their behavior in the booth may be inadequate due to manageable factors, as we will see.

The first type of salesperson is the Grunt. These salespeople are brief and blunt. Their vocabulary appears limited to one syllable words, and they speak with a low voice. Too often, these salespeople will moan and groan, signalling to the customer that "anything could be better than this."

Leonard Woodcock, you might recall, was the railroad employee in the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Woodcock was fiercely loyal, a guardian of the company. The Leonard Woodcock salesperson is defensive, impersonal, and has no sense of humor. To such a salesperson, the company is never at fault.

Roadrunners, the next type of salespeople, always appear to be in a rush. As the day goes on, their tension mounts. These people are stressful and tend to take out their frustrations on customers. They are short tempered and sarcastic.

Some salespeople cannot sit still. They tap their fingers, or a pencil. They walk around the trade show booth. They always appear to be exasperated, even if no customers are around. These are called Twitches, and their behavior always interferes with business.

Apathetic salespeople have no care for customers needs or feelings. These salespeople try to remain aloof and always appear bored, exhibiting a genuine numbness for almost everything.

Evangelists exhibit a rare zeal for the job. Unfortunately, because of a lack of trade show experience, these salespeople really do not understand customers. Most answers (and most speech) are technical as if the salespeople are reading the manual.

Untouchables are salespeople who are never at fault. They make excuses for everything. They have little creativity, no imagination, and are most concerned about placing responsibility elsewhere.

Salespeople that are normally bright, vibrant, and successful can fall into one of these categories at a trade show. Often times, their lapse is due to factors that are manageable by sales managers. The next section describes how managers can control the factors that lead to the seven deadly salespeople and attempt to keep salespeople in the eighth section of Figure 1 -- the relationship manager.

Plan the Trade Show

The first step in making the trade show profitable is to plan[2]. A little planning can go a long way in avoiding the types of salespeople presented earlier. For the field sales manager, this means to incorporate the show into account planning processes.

To accomplish this, salespeople must understand that relationship selling is a process of maintaining communications with customers over time. The trade show may be at the initiation, development, or conversion stage of the relationship process depending on the buyer. Too often, salespeople are tempted to ignore customers who are not ready to buy. They do not attempt to start a relationship with new prospects or maintain a relationship with dormant prospects. Meanwhile, competitors may continue to treat the buyer as a customer. Those salespeople who have not invested in communication with customers may find themselves unsuccessful when that buyer is ready to purchase.

In order to plan effectively, the manager should get all of the details of the show from the exhibits coordinator as early as possible. The manager should check the following:

* Theme of the show, both overall and for the

company's booth * Booth layout (products available for demo, any

special activities, etc.) * Company's promotion efforts (pre-mailing,

press conferences, etc.) * Staffing requirements. With this information, the sales manager can prepare for maximum use of the trade show by the local sales force.

Include Salespeople in Planning

The next step is to include the account representatives in the planning process. The reps should begin by formulating a list of current prospects who would be interested in attending. Then the manager and salespeople can develop a strategy for maximizing participation by local accounts. This strategy could include opening the show with a breakfast meeting attended by prospects and company VIPs, sending passes with an engraved invitation, and making appointments for demonstrations at the booth. For example, the Judy/Instructo toy company used a promotion involving kazoos to encourage local accounts to attend. The response was overwhelming, with the company claiming a sales increase of 50 percent compared with previous shows[5].

The show could also be used to identify new prospects. While 20 percent of the show's attendees may come from abroad, up to 80 percent have traveled less than a day and are local prospects[3]. Therefore, there could be tremendous payoff for the local sales force to identify new prospects.

Since the performance of booth personnel has the greatest influence on exhibit performance, identifying new prospects is a job for the booth staff to perform[6]. The sales manager should not count on the potential prospect to fill out a form, but should encourage salespeople to actively seek new prospects. Therefore, appointments with current prospects should be scheduled outside of a rep's booth time so that time is not taken away from prospecting.

Because buyers are reluctant to provide much, if any, information, it is difficult for salespeople to understand how to begin developing relationships at trade shows. Moreover, since most salespeople are results oriented, they may see little value in their efforts. There is no question that relationship selling appears activity oriented rather than results oreinted, because it appears to be based on number of contacts rather than advancing the sale. However, salespeople must be convinced that, over time, this approach is very productive and very results oriented. Building relationships does require a maturation period for the relationship to be established.

Trade shows provide an excellent forum for the initial step in building a relationship. Salespeople must keep records of potential buyers a constantly growing list. At a trade show, they can do this by a simple exchange of business cards; however, salespeople cannot stop here. If they do, the relationship dies. The initial relationship building step must consist of delivering some value to the buyer. This value can be information about a new technology, a promotional give-away, or even just a feeling that a new friend was made. Next, we discuss how to prepare salespeople for the initial step.

Preparing Salespeople

Once managers and salespeople have developed a plan to incorporate the show into their account management process, the manager must prepare booth personnel (salespeople) for the rest of the general public/market. By requiring salespeople to schedule demonstrations before or after their booth duty time, the manager has already taken the first step. The salespeople can focus their energies on obtaining new prospects and not acting as Roadrunners, furiously trying to prepare for an appointment. Twitches behavior should also be avoided. Twitches do not actually prepare for the appointment; they just look like they are busy preparing.

How can managers prepare salespeople for their booth duty? The key is to take advantage of the strengths that field salespeople should already have and avoid the seven deadly personalities. Salespeople are used to trying to accomplish daily activity targets. The same type of targets can be set for booth activity[4]. These objectives should include number of new prospects identified. By setting daily activity quotas, managers can reduce the likelihood of staffing a booth with Apathetics and Untouchables.

Since salespeople are often unfamiliar with what their role should be at a trade show, setting daily prospect quotas encourages them to actively engage potential prospects who enter the booth. Apathetics avoid interacting with prospects to the point of staring off into space to avoid making eye contact with anyone. But with a quota to fill, they go to work.

Untouchables, on the other hand, seem never to be comfortable with their own presence. If anything is not working (a common occurrence at a trade show), they look for someone else to take the blame. Rather than interacting in a meaningful way, their conversation is filled with excuses. For example, a prospect might ask to see the Doomy-Flidget 9000, only to hear: "Well, I'd love to show it to you but the boys in Chicago dropped the ball and ..." -- not very encouraging for a once interested prospect.

Evangelists and Leonard Woodcocks, however, have no problem engaging potential prospects. Rather, their interaction with potential prospects may chase them into a competitor's waiting arms. Sales managers can avoid these types of salespeople by instructing or reviewing a series of questions to be used to qualify prospects. Otherwise, Evangelists may bore a prospect with unbelievable sales hype, such as "The Doomy-Flidget 9000 has an omni-sensidigitizer, so it fits everyone's needs ... compatibility is never a problem." Just trust him.

Leonard Woodcocks will also bore a prospect with over zealous hyperbole but tend to feel challenged by the slightest question. For example, a prospect may ask, "How does the Doomy-Flidget 9000 hook up with XRT12;" only to hear a Woodcock respond, "Obviously, through the hemoraster," mentally and non-verbally adding "you fool." Reviewing current topics that may lead to questions and the company's relative position can help Woodcocks deal with prospects' questions.

Setting up a list of questions can also turn salespeople from Grunts into effective prospectors. Grunts in a trade show booth are like retail sales clerks, willing to interact if only to prove that they are not needed. For example, a Grunt might say, "You don't need anything, huh." Appropriate questioning by Grunts can result in qualified leads.

The sales opener is also of concern. Like all sales openers, trade show openers should be specific, perhaps directed to a feature of the product being shown[7]. For example, the rep might say, "What do you think of the new hemoraster?" By following up with additional questions, the rep can get the information necessary to identify where the prospect fits into the relationship (i.e., inflation or development or conversion to customer or the sale)[4]. Depending on this assessment, the salesperson's questions should address the nature of the prospect's business (initiation) -- is there a need, who has the authority to buy (development), and, most importantly, when does he intend to buy (conversion).

Prospect preparation should not stop with the setting of objectives and reviewing the questions to ask and developing sales openers. Preparation should also include a plan to follow up with prospects quickly. Relationship selling depends largely on the salesperson's willingness to organize and deal on a personal basis with buyers because of the richness of information that can be obtained about buyers. The cornerstone of relationship selling is constant and prompt communication with buyers and classifying buyers according to their readiness to buy. Salespeople must be organized to act on information obtained.

Any information that gives salespeople a good reason to be in touch with buyers represents an appropriate communication. To build relationships, there must be more to contacts than sales calls. The rational (or economic) approach to selling suggests that salespeople sell more by making sales presentations. However, reality is that salespeople sell more by communicating frequently with buyers. If buyers accept salespeople outside the selling relationship as friends and experts, they are far more likely to come to salespeople when they have a need that those salespeople's products can fill.

Quick follow-up after a trade show can build on the relationship beginnings established at the show. Salespeople need some device for organizing these prospects. They also need a variety of communication devices (e.g., letters, cards, phone calls, notes, newspaper clippings with hand written notes, and visits to prospects with non-selling goals) with which to follow up and to build the relationship. Finally, they need a clear monitoring of each contact with potential customers as the relationship grows. Field managers should not depend on corporate trade show follow-up systems, which can take up to ninety days, but should develop a system that gets leads into the hands of the right salesperson within a day or two. Leads from trade shows are important leads. Delays in following up can waste these valuable leads.

Show Time

At the trade show, to begin or maintain a relationship does not necessarily mean that salespeople must spend a great deal of time with prospects. Nor does it mean that buyers who have already purchased should be ignored. The key idea is to look long term -- every buyer is your buyer. Even those who currently buy from competitors will buy from you in the future.

On show day, the sales manager can improve performance by implementing several tricks of the trade. The first is to schedule adequate off-time. Inadequate off-time means tired booth personnel. A salesperson should not be on the exhibit floor for more than four hours at a time. Any longer, and out come the Roadrunners, Apathetics, and Grunts.

Again, don't let salespeople schedule their prospects' demos during regular booth time as this interferes with identifying prospects duties. Meet with salespeople before each day to review objectives and plans and at the end of the day to review accomplishments, set follow-ups into motion, and adjust for next day.


Relationship selling is a philosophy that is amenable to trade show selling. Simply put, relationship selling assumes that, at some points in time, a buyer will make purchase decisions that involve one or more of a salesperson's products. Over time, buyer relationships must be nurtured so that the salesperson increases the likelihood that he/she becomes aware of buyer choices.

Relationship selling relies on information that is accumulated over time. It relies on knowledge of how to maintain communication with buyers. It relies on salespeople who do not turn away buyers, and it relies on salespeople who can recognize signals of opportunities to close sales. Relationship selling requires salespeople to be organized, and it depends, to a large degree, on the people skills of salespeople.

To summarize, there are several reasons why trade shows provide an excellent vehicle for relationship selling. One, nearly all the effort salespeople put into developing a customer will pay off at some time in the future. Second, trade shows provide an important forum for building trust between salespeople and buyers. Third, relationship selling is suited to selling successive products over time. Often, the most likely purchaser is one who has purchased in the past. Thus, trade shows offer an excellent opportunity to enhance relationship selling by developing customers over time, viewing a contact or sales as a point on a continuous line of relationships with the customer. [Figure 1 Omitted]


[1]Bertrand, Kate. "Sales Managers, Agencies Team up at Trade Shows." Business Marketing, 1986. [2]Firks, Robert. "In Search of the Cost Effective Exhibit." Industrial Marketing, 1980. [3]Golob, Steven. "Sell Overseas at Trade Fair." Nation's Business, 1988. [4]Konapacki, Allen. "Trade Shows: Worth the Cost?" Nation's Business, 1985. [5]Raphel, Murray. "How Tooting Your Own Horn Can Bring in More Business." Direct Marketing, 1986. [6]Swandby, Richard and Jonathan Cox. "Trade Show Trends." Business Marketing, 1984. [7]"Tricks of the Trade Show." Management Review, 1983. [8]"Where Sales Leads Come From." Business Marketing, September 1986.

Lawrence B. Chonko is Holloway Professor and Chairman of the Marketing Department at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. John F. Tanner, Jr. is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Baylor University.
COPYRIGHT 1990 St. John's University, College of Business Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Chonko, Lawrence B.; Tanner, John F., Jr.
Publication:Review of Business
Date:Jun 22, 1990
Previous Article:Improving sales force productivity: a critical examination of the personal selling process.
Next Article:Selecting that successful salesperson.

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