Visitors from abroad who attend trade shows here in the U.S. are usually higher-level management and executives with greater authority and responsibility for their company’s buying decisions. But understanding their business and interpersonal protocols can be a problem, since U.S. trade show exhibitors are often unfamiliar with foreign customs. Business etiquette varies from country to country, compounding the domestic-trade-show exhibitor’s dilemma. For these reasons it is important to learn how to deal with foreign visitors on an individual basis, so you can properly engage and sell to them at your trade show display.
According to Matt Hill, an exhibit staff trainer and president of The Hill Group in San Jose, California, in order to engage and sell to international trade show booth visitors, your trade show booth staff should follow these tips:
1. Do some research ahead of time on the business and social protocols that you will expect to see at the trade show.
2. Be polite and sensitive to the trade show visitor’s conduct, and be mindful of their individual mannerisms. Be careful to notice how long they hold eye contact and how they greet you, whether with a bow or a handshake. Respond in kind, and do not overdo a bow or make prolonged eye contact.
3. Keep the proper distance. Personal space and norms for physical proximity vary from culture to culture. When you’re having a one-on-one conversation in the U.S., the space between people is usually between 18 and 30 inches. Other countries may have a different idea of how far or close to stand. Your trade show booth staff should be aware that their foreign trade show guests may stand closer to them than they’re used to.
4. Establish a relationship first, and then do business. Many international business executives prefer to establish strong personal relationships prior to doing business. Respect this protocol, and have your trade show exhibit staff engage in getting to know their trade show exhibit guests on a personal basis prior to beginning the business cycle.
5. Introduce your international trade show booth visitors to your top-ranking executives. Many foreign visitors expect to meet the highest-ranking executives first.
6. Out of respect, be sure to read their business cards, both front and back, and hold it with both hands.
7. Avoid colloquialisms. The following can be confusing to international trade show guest and often do not translate well:
• Sports analogies
• Regional expressions
Matt Hill has conducted trade show training for many companies for shows around the world and close to home, including the Henry J Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland, the Moscone Center in San Francisco, and the Convention Centers in Santa Clara and San Jose. He has trained Silicon Valley companies headquartered in Fremont, Hayward, Cupertino, Milpitas, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, San Jose, and beyond to Sacramento and throughout Northern California.
He believes that developing people skills for your trade show booth staff is essential in dealing successfully with international trade show visitors. The more you understand your foreign trade show visitors’ customs, the better your chances for business success. Your primary goal is for every visitor to your trade show booth to have a positive experience.