Frontline sales managers are under pressure to ensure that every event on the trade show marketing calendar will be staffed by at least two members from the sales team. But if you’ve recently lost a top performer to a competitor or departmental budget cuts, that’s not always possible. The ideal solution? A backup sales team that can flex in during peak periods.

Trade Show Staffing Options

If you have more trade show commitments than you have salespeople to cover them, you have three options:

  1. Hire temps through an agency that specializes in trade show staffing
  2. Grow your own in-house talent by cross-training non-sales personnel
  3. A mix of both
Benefits of Using Temp Agencies

Specialty staffing firms like Trade Show Temps can fill the holes in your booth staffing roster by sending experienced, local talent to your next event. Most commonly, temporary trade show personnel are hired to fill positions like:

  • Greeter
  • Lead Retrieval Clerk
  • Booth Host
  • Sales Assistant
  • Salesperson

While the idea does come with its own unique set of pros and cons, most exhibitors say that using a temporary trade show staffing agency allows them to save their best people for the most important shows, while also reducing travel costs. (The temp agency assigns only local personnel who live in the same city as the show, so there are no air fare or hotel fees to cover.)

The Argument for Growing Your Own Sales Talent

In the world of sales talent management, two very different schools of thought prevail. One group believes that the skill of a salesperson is inherent and static (i.e., they either have it or they don’t). The other group believes that good salesmanship can be learned if the candidate is provided with the proper training and feedback.
Truth is, lots of professionals are technically in sales without officially holding the title of Sales Representative. Law firms and CPA firms, for example, are filled with attorneys and senior accountants who are tasked with bringing in new clients and generating additional annual revenue as a condition of their employment.
Indeed, many organizations now embrace the philosophy that everyone in the company should be able to “sell” on some level, depending on their particular sales personality and individual characteristics.
Given this fluid, interdependent business environment, it should come as no surprise to learn that large tech companies like Basecamp and Slack actually require customer service reps to cross-train with sales personnel, and vice-versa.

Cross-Training Non-Sales Employees Is a Win-Win for Exhibitors

Rather than feeling anxious or overwhelmed, the majority of employees who participate in cross-training programs actually feel like the experience has enriched their jobs by eliminating the boredom associated with the “same old same old” daily grind.
In addition, employers report that cross-training benefits both the employee and the company by:

  • Improving camaraderie, mutual respect and teamwork across departments within the organization
  • Reducing the down time and temporary loss of productivity that normally occurs during hiring periods
  • Reducing absenteeism and turnover
  • Giving non-sales employees an insider look at what it’s like to be in sales, and stimulating future career goals
How to Identify Cross-Training Candidates

If you look around the office, you’ll likely see a number of excellent candidates who would make fantastic trade show booth staffers and backup/temporary salespeople. Start with your customer service team and your front office personnel. These folks have customer-facing roles and enjoy working one-on-one with clients in solving problems and fulfilling expectations.
Working with your HR department and department managers, you should be able to evaluate potential cross-training candidates to see exactly where they fall in the trade show skills spectrum. As we detailed in a previous blog, trade show booth staffers and sales assistants should possess a nice mix of:

  • Communication Skills — Includes meet-and-greet skills, listening skills, and emotional maturity
  • Technical Knowledge — Includes in-depth product or service knowledge as well as knowledge of the latest devices and social media platforms and the ability to think on their feet (pivot)
  • Mindset and Mentality Set Points — Includes multi-tasking skills, stamina, problem-solving abilities, and a team player mindset
  • Salesmanship Skills — Includes the skills of qualifying, presentation and persuasion

In addition to manually evaluating and selecting cross-training candidates from specific departments, it’s also a good idea to ask for volunteers company-wide. You may be surprised at the response, and you could end up discovering a “hidden gem” employee with a real talent for sales.

Build Your Trade Show Sales and Staffing Program

Working closely with your Human Resources department, you can now begin growing your own backup sales team to assist in covering all the trade shows on your calendar.
While employee training platforms vary wildly from one business to another, most companies prefer either pairing employees together for one-on-one job shadowing or developing more formal classroom-based sessions. Group training in a classroom environment provides an opportunity for trainees to receive immediate constructive feedback that all attendees in the room can hear and benefit from.
Insider Tip: When structuring your group cross-training sales program, be sure to change up the content delivery from one session to the next to keep trainees engaged. For example, you could alternate between, say, video training and group discussion one week, followed by role playing and practice scenarios the next week.

Make It Count

It’s important to communicate to cross-trainees the relevance of these new job functions and skills. They need to understand that cross-training in salesmanship is not intended to be viewed as a distraction from their primary job nor a “piling on” of additional work tasks. Be sure to build cross-training into employees’ KPIs and career development goals so they can be properly motivated and rewarded for their efforts.

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