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Posted by Todd Hockenberry ● Aug 23, 2022

Should my company still exhibit at trade shows?

This is one of the most common questions I get from business owners. The concern stems from the inability to know whether previous shows were a good investment. 

Business owners know that trade shows are expensive, take a lot of time, and have opportunity costs, but they also feel like they have to do them and struggle with defining an ROI of the investment. 

So should you do trade shows?


My answer to this question: Yes, as long as the show attracts your ideal target companies and personas and you have a plan in place to engage and follow up with leads and measure the ROI of the show.

Planning is the Key

The most important thing to do once you decide to exhibit at the show is to plan what you are going to do with the leads before you go. When you come back, you will be buried with piled-up work (hence the opportunity costs) so having a plan in place is key.

Your plan should include follow-up emails, deciding who is making calls, and plans for what reps and distributors have to do. Most importantly, make sure you plan to follow up with all show leads!

Trade show exhibitors are getting better at following up on leads because more companies now have marketing automation and CRM. But that just means that your contacts will be getting more and more emails after each show they attend. I see people avoiding leaving any contact information in booths to avoid the crush of emails.

And heaven forbid you still use the fishbowl method of collecting business cards. This is really just a recycling bin for unqualified and uninterested contact business cards.

You must make an impression at the show, send them away with valuable resources, and get a commitment for a post-show follow-up.

Pre-Show Prep

Key pre-show steps include:

Promote your exhibit and what makes it interesting - Email your database the details and not just 'stop by our booth.' If you are doing demos, handing out samples, or having a booth special make sure to let your contacts know.

Set appointments with key customers and prospects - Do not leave it to chance that they will walk by; set a schedule to meet before the show starts.

Get in the trade publications for that show - Reach out to the editor of the trade publication and use your content (one of the best uses of great content) to convince them to run articles or other placements (for free) in the magazine or e-newsletter.

Optimize your profiles - Take advantage of the free promotions trade shows offer and ensure your trade show site profile is as complete as possible. Uploading your logo (if possible) and entering your contact info is the bare minimum.

Promote on your website and social media - Use the show as a reason to talk to your persona across your internet presence. Write about how you help your target persona and let them know what is new, special, or different that you'll share at the show.

Plan demos/ training- Set up times with your sales channel ahead of time to do demos or training on new equipment or processes.

Prepare great content to give away - Give visitors to your booth what they want from their perspective: case studies, not catalogs, how-to guides instead of specification sheets, and application stories with your business cards.

Come up with a great offer that only booth visitors can get - Write up a new white paper, ROI calculator, and cost savings tools. Your offer should be something that helps them, gives you a value-added reason to follow up, and serves as a reason for them to be looking for your follow-up.

The Goal

Your goal, of course, is to engage qualified prospects and come away with an opportunity to continue the conversation. Hopefully, you'll be able to guide them to the right solution and to a sale. But guess what? That is every other exhibitor's goal. All of your competitors are playing this same game, so we advise our clients to play a different one.

We advise that your pre-show planning needs to center around your prospects' goals and make sure that they leave the booth feeling like you HELPED THEM, not sold them. 

Remember, a high % of buyers choose the company that is first to add value as they are defining their buying vision.

Many trade show visitors are at the early stages of the buying process or are not actual buyers but influencers. They will remember the company that was helpful, not the one that insulted them with worthless toys and other over-branded SWAG (I am a known SWAG lover, it has NEVER swayed me towards a purchase).

For those prospects that are farther along in the buying process, prepare helpful, bottom-of-the-sales funnel content like price comparisons, long-term ROI calculations of savings or avoided problems, a guide or checklist to purchasing your equipment type with the key attributes to consider, and great case studies and testimonials.

Do not be afraid to ask qualified prospects for a specific follow-up appointment. Do not leave it to chance that they will reply to your emails the following week. It is easy to schedule meetings in the booth for follow-up, but it needs to be a priority.

Measure Success

There are a number of ways to measure trade show ROI, and they will change based on your goal for the show.

The easiest measure is the cost per lead. Take all costs for the show divided by the number of qualified leads to get a cost per lead. The key word in that formula is qualified. You should know your overall cost per lead for all marketing efforts, and you can use that as the baseline to judge the ROI of the show.

If you close x % of qualified leads overall and know your average deal size, you can estimate your potential revenue ROI for the show.

You can then track the actual ROI over time, assuming you have a good CRM and deal tracking process.

There are other trade show objectives, including:

  • branding and market exposure to show your company is a market/thought leader
  • networking with peers and complementary companies
  • commitment to support the host organization to advance industry objectives
  • connecting with existing customers to deepen relationships face-to-face
  • creating new marketing content like podcasts, interviews, surveys, case studies

All of this must be considered before you leave for the show.

Success at trade shows comes from planning the right things, focusing on the right people at the show, and then following up in a meaningful way. Invest more time in creating an experience that leaves prospects impressed with how much you helped them, and you are on your way to making trade shows a great investment.

Our clients grow 10-20% in the first year.


Topics: Inbound Organization, Tradeshows