There's been a raging debate over "booth babes" in the tech community for years. Should companies hire sexy models to work in their sales booths at events like CES, or is this an outdated, degrading practice? But nobody had ever asked whether booth babes were good for sales. So Frontback head of marketing Spencer Chen decided to do a scientific experiment and find out.
He went to a big tech show, and managed to get two booths on opposite sides of the show floor. One booth was staffed with the usual booth babes, and the other staffed with older women who were chosen for their knowledge and people skills. The results, which he replicated at subsequent shows, were stark. The booth babes generated only a third of the foot traffic and less than half the sales leads as the staffers in the non-babe booth.
My theory from years of being a part of trade show staffs is that the booth babes we hired were actually a drag on lead-gen. Up to that time, it was all empirical evidence based on being at shows where we had money to hire booth babes and events where we didn't. I noticed that we had always done better without the booth babes but it was just silly to suggest that we did better because we didn't have hot babes at the booth. I mean, I had a better chance of convincing my co-workers that the sky was purple.
But here was my chance to put it to the test. So for one booth I flew in professional booth babe talent, and for the other booth I had asked another local agency for a couple of show contractors that knew the local area and had established people skills. I actually had to stress a couple of times that I was not looking for contractors whose only attribute was "smokin'."
Upon arrival at the show, I get an email on my BlackBerry from the regional sales VP to call him ASAP because there's obviously been a big "fuck up" in staffing. I gave him a call and he told me that there were two "grandmothers" hanging around our booth stating that they were a part of our team for the week.
Upon meeting my contractors, my sales VP was right. They weren't just older than your typical booth babe, one was literally a grandmother. Shit, what have I done?? But it was too late now. After updating the sales team on our staffing strategy it was time for the big show.
The results? They were great. The booth that was staffed with the booth babes generated a third of the foot traffic (as measured by conversations or demos with our reps) and less than half the leads (as measured by a badge swipe or a completed contact form) while the other team had a consistently packed booth that ultimately generated over 550 leads, over triple from the previous year.
Everyone on the team was genuinely surprised by the results but duly convinced. It was like showing some hardened sales reps a new golf swing. I was able to replicate this a few more times throughout the year with even better results since we had a chance to further optimize our new "staffing plan."
Chen goes on to offer a few good theories about why booth babes don't convert, and don't result in good sales leads. Most of them boil down to two issues: one, people who are in a good position to do business with your company aren't interested in talking to hired models because they actually want to discuss your products; and two, women who work as booth babes don't usually have the people skills to keep potential buyers interested in the product (as opposed to interested in taking pictures of them). Basically, booth babes attract attention, but not from potential customers.
So next time you or your company is making a booth babe decision, you don't have to try convincing anyone based on ideas of taste or gender equality. Just show them the bottom line.
Read Chen's detailed breakdown of conversion figures, and his analysis, at TechCrunch.