booth-example-cropped“Excuse me, ma'am . . . might I interest you in our cloud-based, mobility-enabled, threat-intelligence powered, machine-learning security solution? . . . uh, why don’t I first scan your badge . . . hmmm, why isn’t this working? . . . oh, good – there we go, now I have it . . . uh, did I tell you that we shrink the attack surface while rendering your adversary useless without the need for complicated agents or signatures?”

With the RSA Conference at T-minus two weeks, I wanted to share some heartfelt advice with those of you now doing vendor booth planning. My advice comes from many years of standing on either side (seller and buyer) of that little porto-table with its stacks of data sheets and bowls of Hershey kisses. My hope is that this advice will help you to maximize the ROI for your little slice of exhibitor heaven in Booth 7002 of the South Expo.

Knowledgeable Staff – The first axiom in security conference boothonomics is that the best people in your company should be covering the floor. When you use greener-than-Kermit sales engineers to staff your booth, you basically shout out that you don’t value the engagement. Look, if you're a CTO or CEO, then ask yourself: During the day-and-a-half of booth-time at conferences like RSA, do I really have something more important going on?

On the other hand, when you staff the booth with knowledgeable principals who can speak with confidence and authority, then you are telling attendees that you appreciate their decision to pause for a chat. And if you cannot deal with this first requirement, then dare I say that it would probably be better to skip the conference entirely. Stated simply: Bad support with thin staff is worse than no booth at all. (Gulp).

Avoidance of Hyperbole – A second axiom of boothonomics for security is that the most powerful claims are based on facts, without nonsensical hyperbole. When the boothmeister starts shouting that their platform does security better than everyone else, and that they can deal with absolutely 100% of every cyber security threat that anyone could ever imagine – well, then you are in the hyperbole zone, and it’s time to move along to the next vendor.

My advice: Coach your team to be calm, reasonable, and understated in all discussions. They should listen carefully to attendees, perhaps taking notes on the conversation. And your team should avoid the temptation to talk faster with big words and passing more spit than should ever be allowed in a public place. Hang a little sign on the back of your booth table that reminds your team to do this: Listen. Do Not Exaggerate. Be Understated.

Non-Gimmick Zone – The third axiom of security conference boothonomics is one that mercifully and thankfully ended those ridiculous Booth Babes of the Evil 90’s. The axiom states that gimmicks do not work in booths (or in life), and that if you need circus games to attract visitors to your conference display, then you should seriously rethink your overall security product or service methodology.

When attendees see hop-scotch, Nerf basketball, or other boothbarker-led gimmicks, then they conclude that you are bored with your own solution – and this can be infectious. So, please avoid the gimmicks at your booth, especially because they inflate that dreaded booth-traffic metric – which relates to boothonomics, as clicks and views relate to flashy web start-ups. Neither generate any revenue. (Deals generate revenue).

And now – a word to attendees: I know that enterprise security is a helluva-tough job, and that your life is one hack away from headhunter hell. But please show some respect for those men and women working the vendor booths. They are as aware of the ridiculousness of this dance as you are, so show some mercy . . . unless, of course, they start talking fast and spitting in your face about their best-in-class AI. Then you can roll your eyes and move on.

I hope you all enjoy San Francisco in March, and please share with me any new security vendors you discover in the Exhibit Hall that you’d like me to cover in an upcoming column. I’ll do my best to get something written (without hyperbole . . . or spit).