Trade Show Booth Duty:
Who’s Calling the Shots?

Edition: September 2004 - Vol 12 Number 09
Article#: 1932
Author: John Andrews

Trade shows can be a double-edged sword for independent reps. While it’s a centralized location for meeting with accounts from across your territory, it’s also a chaotic environment full of distractions, interruptions and conflicting agendas.

What’s the best way to maximize your trade show experience? With HIDA and Medtrade on the horizon, now is the perfect time for you to review your plan of attack.

Two trade show veterans recently offered some advice to HIRA members on how to devise an effective approach to trade show coverage.

Sheldon Prial of Melbourne, Fla., has been covering trade shows longer than just about anybody. A 50-year veteran of the healthcare industry, Prial has served in a multitude of sales capacities across the medical supply chain spectrum. In addition to being an independent consultant, he currently serves as government relations liaison for Atlanta based Graham-Field.

Likewise, Randy Root, president of Wixom, Mich.-based Primeline Medical, has many years of trade show experience. His firm represents several major manufacturers in the home medical equipment field.

Both men have clear ideas about the independent rep’s role at trade shows, though their opinions differ somewhat. Among the issues they tackle are working the manufacturer’s booth, sales methodology and appointment scheduling.

‘Work Independently’

A fixture on the healthcare seminar circuit, Prial has given presentations to a host of organizations over the years, including HIRA. One of his favorite topics of discussion when addressing independent manufacturer’s reps is client relations. Reps should always remember that they work for themselves and not for the manufacturer, he says.

“As a rep you are hired by the manufacturer to sell their products you are not an employee,” says Prial. “Therefore, a line of demarcation must be maintained. The manufacturer cannot give you directions or orders; they can only offer suggestions. You are paid based on your performance, so let them judge you on results.”

One of Prial’s pet peeves is being asked to work a randomly selected number of hours at a manufacturer’s booth during the show. In his view, hanging around waiting for customers to stop by is a waste of valuable selling time. And while it can cause some friction, Prial has tried to be as diplomatic as possible when explaining his stance to manufacturers.

“One manufacturer sent me a schedule before a show that had me working the booth from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. one day and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. the next day, and so forth,” recalls Prial. “ I reminded him that I was an independent and that I had my own agenda for covering the show. He protested, but I told him ‘I’m wasting time talking to every Tom, Dick and Harry who stops by the booth. I will bring qualified people by the booth to see your products.’ If you write enough business, they will understand.”

Although opposed to structured booth duty, Prial does advocate spending time working a booth, if unforeseen circumstances create holes in your schedule.

‘Better to Play Along’

Root understands the reluctance to work a pre determined slate of hours at a manufacturer’s booth and acknowledges that bringing prospective customers to the booth is a more productive strategy. Sometimes though, you have to defer to the client’s wishes, he says.

“In a perfect world you may not have to work the booth that way, but if that’s what the manufacturer wants, it’s better to play along,” notes Root. “In my experience, I have manufacturers who want me there at a specific time, while others say ‘Tell me when you’ll be here.’”

Between booth appointments, Root and his team scour the show floor for customers to bring by clients’ exhibits.

“Of course I can be more effective going out and finding customers, rather than standing still at the booth hoping to pull in the right prospect,” says Root. “Besides, independent reps don’t have as much motivation if they are writing orders in someone else’s territory.”

According to Root, the best way to deal with the issue is to have a “meeting of the minds” with manufacturers to ensure a mutually beneficial show strategy.

Productive Scheduling

The best way to see the maximum number of accounts at a trade show is to set up appointments weeks before the event, says Prial. While it’s acceptable to make initial contact by phone, he stresses that it’s important to get appointments in writing. Follow up by sending reminder postcards to each customer, he says.

Ideally, you should have appointments with eight clients a day, notes Prial, adding that each meeting be kept to a half-hour. “You’re there to sell, not shoot the bull,” he says. “Be on time and get down to business right away.”

Root proposes that reps economize on their trade show scheduling in the same way they do when making calls in their territory. “Plan your route, so that you’re not going from one end of the show floor to the other fives times a day.”

John Andrews is a freelancer in Illinois, who was commissioned by the Health Industry Representatives Association to write this story.