How do you stop people trying to sell to you on your exhibition stand?

There aren’t many things that really make me cross, but people who attend an exhibition with the express and sole purpose of selling to the exhibitors is something that really winds me up. I suspect they see it as a big opportunity: “All those businesses in one place? I know! Let’s go and tell them about our business!”

Take last week’s Grow Your Business as an example. Our stand was busy but out of the corner of my eye I could see two guys waiting patiently for us to become free. How nice, I thought, they must be keen to chat. And keen they were. “How can I help you?”, I asked, with a smile on my face “We were wondering if we could talk to you about our business. We make corporate videos for websites. Is that something your customers might be interested in?” they said.

“Well I would be delighted to” (Cheshire cat grin now developing and voice raising an octave to the sing-songy style you often hear when speaking to a group of toddlers) “But not here and not now. Give me a call in a couple of weeks”

I was very polite and hopefully inoffensive. I suspect, from the feedback we’ve had from the exhibition, that other exhibitors may not have demonstrated such patience.

Tell me; is it unreasonable of me to think that if an exhibitor has invested several hundred, or even several thousands of pounds at an exhibition; they’re there to generate more business? They want to spend their time and energy on building relationships with potential clients. As exhibitors, they’re probably not looking for new suppliers.

Now that approach does seem slightly skewed. After all; exhibitions are also about networking, building relationships and putting names to faces too. And I always make a point of meeting other exhibitors at these shows – and no, not to sell to them, but simply to forge a connection. But it’s those visitors (and there are always a handful at any show) that come with the sole intention of visiting every exhibitor and expecting them to spend 10 minutes talking about their business. That’s what gets me. A complete lack of respect for the fact that these exhibitors have spent a lot of time and money on their stand; and here’s Joe Bloggs trying to take the cheapskates route by selling his product/ service on their doorstep.

So there it is. Slightly uncharacteristic rant over. How can you productively, politely and firmly stop people trying to sell to you when you’re at an exhibition? After all; it’s your time and money you’re on; you need to be sure that you get the most out of the opportunity.

I think the only thing to do is to be polite but firm. Employ a huge grin and tell them that you will be delighted to speak to them in a couple of weeks once the activity from the show has died down.

Resist the temptation (and I speak from experience <hangs head in shame>) to say in an exasperated tone “Look, I’ve spent a lot of time and money on this stand. I’m here to win business. I don’t want to sponsor your expensive yacht and I certainly don’t want to talk about it now”. It may feel satisfying at the time, but your visitors on your stand may well be less than impressed at your approach!

I honestly think that if every exhibitor politely but firmly rebuffs these salespeople, by the fourth or fifth stand they will give up. And that’s got to be better for all of us. What tips do you have? I’d love to hear what has (or hasn’t) worked for you

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