Lost Humility. Lost Humanity.
I spend a considerable amount of time at trade shows. I am always excited to see friends, clients and new brands that are coming out with innovative products and old brands who are the staples of retail.
The energy of the trade show is always exciting, akin to shopping in an over-glorified retail space with miles of products representing an entire industry. I love to catch those sneak-peeks at what’s to come in the future—innovations that will make hiking, riding or running more enjoyable for the consumer—but trade shows are primarily about community and connection. Of course each community is different, but that sense of connection is the same. It’s here that businesses build their relationships and reputations.
Like many others, I have a few brands that I either love as a consumer, follow because of their growth or am curious about in regards to their next innovation. My natural curiosity gets the best of me and I seek out those top brands and visit their booths first.
Enter: kid in candy store.
Unfortunately, at a recent trade show, my enthusiasm for these brands was not mirrored. In fact, one booth blocked me from entering the “secret section” because I wasn’t representing a relevant retailer. Another brand met my question with an eye roll and the kind of attitude I expect from my 16-year-old daughter, not an adult.
When do we as a community stop supporting the disrespectful, boastful behavior of brands who once hustled for our attention with humility? These businesses either grew too fast and have not had time to train staff on basic human connection or they just don’t care about the humans who made them.
Regardless of the origin story of the behavior, the common thread is simple: a human being decided not to care. Perhaps they were intimidated by the pressure of making a sales quota or tired after a hard day working the trade show or a victim of a bureaucracy—but they still made the stupid decision to not care.
By putting up walls between themselves and the consumer, they isolate themselves. Not only do they destroy any hope for word of mouth, they heap disrespect on someone else (me). By working so hard to not engage (in the vain hope that this will somehow keep them from over-exertion), they end up in the mud, never again to receive the benefit of the doubt. They aren’t the cool kids in high school—they’re the business that will fail at their own hands. What kind of day or week or career is that? To live in a lucite bubble, keeping track only of individuals defeated and revenue generated?
It turns out that while people like to have their curiosity engaged, what they want most is to be seen and to be cared about. I like these trade shows because of the new products and the colors and the lights—but I love them because of the connections I get to make on a personal, soulful level. Compromising those connections compromises your entire company.
On a practical level these moments define your business and its reception. You’re perpetually building your reputation and you never know when you’ll meet a representative of a company who’s constantly making recommendations and whose opinion truly matters (a company like, ahem, The Mann Group).
But the real reason you should extend yourself in these moments when it all falls apart is that this is how you will measure yourself over time. What did you do when you had a chance to connect and to care?
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