Trade show horrors

Trade show horrors

Summary: The global sales VP of an enterprise software company once told me that 70% of his salesforce are D-graders the company had to constantly winnow. Tip up at a trade conference and you'll see them in abundance.


The global sales VP of an enterprise software company once told me that 70% of his salesforce are D-graders the company had to constantly winnow. Tip up at a trade conference and you'll see them in abundance.

A guest column over at Sandhill by Elizabeth Cook points up some of the horrors she saw at the recent Oracle OpenWorld trade floor:

  • The Slump: Booth staff slumped over, focused intently on their handheld devices. No acknowledgement of passers-by. Some sat hunched in a chair, others stood back to the aisle. A widespread problem.
  • The Texting Talker: One representative came to the edge of the booth to talk with me, then repeatedly checked his messages. “Don’t worry, I’m still talking to you” he said as he started texting a reply. Don’t worry – I’m outta here.
  • Cell Phone Snobs: Also a widespread problem. No one stops to talk to someone who is clearly too busy to be bothered.
  • Eaters: Even if you are the only representative from your company, you don’t eat in the booth during the peak traffic time. If you have more than one person at the show, take turns and eat away from the booth – during a slow time.
  • The Huddle: Groups of company representatives, huddled in conversation, paying no attention to passers-by, often with backs to the aisle.
  • The Glazed Gaze: Too bored, disinterested, or hung-over to put on a game face.
  • The Clearly Uncomfortable: Some people are just not suited for booth duty. Even if you have a technical product, selling to a technical audience, your programmers may not be the best representatives on the trade-show floor.

Keep in mind, these are behaviors I observed during the peak-traffic times. And I couldn’t make this stuff up.

On the other hand, some companies got it right. Interestingly, the market leaders had buttoned up, professional operations.

So true. As the conference season starts to wind down, I see these kinds of thing all the time. They're enough to make any CXO weep. How the heck are you supposed to get  a sales person's attention when he's shoving burritos down his neck or yabbering into a Crackberry? That's assuming the person isn't showing obvious signs of recovery from the previous night's party?

Hungry companies don't do this kind of thing. They may not have the best sales pros but they sure as heck know how to give attention. That above everything is what prospective customers want. Whatever your stage in the startup game, don't get into bad habits. They're costly.

Topic: Enterprise Software

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • It's all about customer service...

    ...and very few people in the IT industry know anything about that subject.
  • Heckuva job hiring.


    The global sales VP of an enterprise software company once told me that 70% of his salesforce are D-graders the company had to constantly winnow.

    [End quote.]

    I suppose the company can be proud of its ability to avoid F-graders. Unless that explains the other 30%.

    Could this be a company whose treatment of employees does the winnowing before the hiring process starts? Or is the company efficient at eliminating the best prospects? Or are D's the grader's preferred result?

    This is the sort of complaint which clearly identifies a problem which the speaker isn't noticing.
    Anton Philidor
  • That is why you have Booth Babes!

    That is why you have Booth Babes! I get the impression that most of these worst case scenarios are IT people taken out of their element and made to hawk the company line. Really, not all IT people are comfortable with talking to strangers in a crowded setting. You have to get some pretty outgoing Co-Eds educated on the product that they are pushing and pair that lady with a person that has the more technical information. This way the ice is broken for the IT person and the lady can work her magic on another potential customer.
    • Oh, no...

      I think the presence of booth babes would be enough to turn me off to the company immediately. If they have to use sex to sell software, there must be something wrong somewhere.
      • Booth Babes Redux

        Maybe the term "Booth Babes" conquers up to the mind of a overly busty woman in a too tight vinyl top.
        Better yet think of the idea of using grad students from a "Communications" major background would be more appropriate. The type of outgoing personality that is needed to meet and greet the hoards of conference attendees.
        • Yeah, could be.

          There's just something about it that makes me skeptical. I'll admit I've never been to one of these shows, so I should have withheld judgement.

          Still, I don't think I'd be able to avoid downgrading whatever company it was, just a little bit.

          Not that I have anything against pretty women, mind you.
  • RE: Trade show horrors

    Trade shows are tough for anyone. Unless you work for a company that truly gets behind you. You end up flying to the shows at the very last second because your company doesn't want to pay for an extra night in the hotel and you fly out 5 minutes after the show ends. A lot of people are not on their best game after a 6 hour flight that actually took 18 hours. Then you have to set up the booth and area and unless there is more than one person you end up looking like you just were beaten by an angry mob. Again this is done at the very last minute because you had to arrive at the show at the very last second to save money. If you are lucky enough to be at a show for more than a day, normally the second day is better but you might have already given a bad impression.
    Murphy Law's love trade shows so you can expect everything that could go wrong to actually go wrong.
    You are away from your home and it's not a pleasant vacation usually and you are with people you may work with but are not your best friends and the food is usually horrible. All of these things are a challenge to be over come.
    Also depending on your business, it can be very hard to turn a trade show into sales leads that become actual sales. So you may not have a lot of enthusiasm for the show itself.
    Most of the shows I have been to have been a huge amount of work around the clock for dubious gains at best.
  • RE: Trade show horrors

    Another trade show horror I've encountered are attractive women wearing obviously uncomfortable shoes. I've been told by more than one of the models that they are not allowed to take off the shoes. I'd like to see the male executives spend hours on end wearing those high heels... that rule would change overnight.
  • these are not horrors.. more like petty annoyances

    I thought this was going to be a picture slideshow of shocking
    visuals.. not a superficial list of - well, basically what happens
    when people are put into these sort of alien environments and for
    the wrong reasons.

    Plus, you have to look at the event. I've been to many trade
    shows and the Database events are by far the most boring and
    usually unpopulated. It's only natural that the people forced into
    manning these booths will be the least focused.
  • RE: Trade show horrors

    Having done quite a few shows, the booth babes do help,
    even if only to start conversation with punters. A bright
    booth babe is a real godsend.

    One of the most effective babes was remembered for years
    after the show, though organising a baby at a show can be
    entertaining....! It is amazing what they can sleep through,
    and she loved the Mums and Babies show!!