How to Make the Most of Your Trade Show Investment

February 19, 2019
Andrew Doerfler
Voiced by Amazon Polly

It’s tempting to think of trade shows as boondoggles. They require valuable time, money and manpower. Travel expenses add up, and standing on trade show floors for hours is exhausting. After dedicating so many resources, it’s important to optimize your trade show investment. For a worthwhile return on investment, pre-show planning is a must.

Measuring trade show effectiveness can be complicated. However, setting clear objectives can guarantee a successful exhibition. These trade show tips and strategies will help you make the most of your trade show investment.

Are Trade Shows Worth the Investment?

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There is a reason that top businesses continue to attend these exhibitions and events despite the cost involved: They work. Industry experts agree on the value of trade shows.

Companies spend an estimated $24 billion dollars annually exhibiting at trade shows, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. And not without reason. The same survey found that respondents overwhelmingly agreed that the events are helpful in raising brand awareness and launching new products. About 99 percent find that trade shows give them value that they don’t find in other marketing methods, the survey found.

What sets trade shows apart from other marketing strategies? It comes down to face-to-face interaction with a high concentration of prospective clients. By virtue of their attendance, these visitors are reliably interested in your products and services. The theory bears out: Leads gained at exhibitions tend to take less work to close a sale compared to leads gained elsewhere.

The average return on investment from a trade show will depend on a company’s industry and goals. But no matter what business you’re in, a trade show provides a rare one-to-one sales opportunity -- now it’s up to you to make the most of it.

Why Are Trade Shows Expensive?

There’s no denying that setting up a presence at a trade show takes a substantial investment. The cost only goes up if you want to do it right. But what are the expenses that go into establishing a trade show booth? A trade show exhibit has many moving parts, and the prices add up quickly:

  • Reserving the booth space itself
  • Show services
  • Travel and lodging expenses for your booth staff and other attendees
  • Graphic design
  • Customized branded giveaway items
  • Printing literature and other informational materials
  • Labor for setting up the booth
  • Technology for audiovisual and interactive displays
  • Shipping and storage for booth material

Besides the literal dollar expenses, attending trade shows also demands the use of resources before and after the event. For a strong return on investment, you will need to spending time training the employees who will be on the show floor, preparing your key points and sales pitch, and planning your trip. Afterword, it is essential to follow up on any leads.

Despite the many different types of expenses, companies continue to invest in trade show marketing year after year. The hope is that an intensive trade show experience with others in your industry will pay off manifold.

Setting Your Trade Show Goals

Keep your eyes on the prize. How you go about your exhibition planning will vary based on what you’re hoping to achieve. Before getting started, define the goals you’re setting for the trade show. While your objectives might be specific to your business, there are several common ways to measure trade show effectiveness.

  • Raise brand awareness. A trade show is an excellent way to get your company’s name and branding in front of hordes of industry players. Track analytics to see whether your trade show leads to an uptick in website traffic, email subscriptions, Google searches and other markers.
  • Generate high quality leads. Rarely will you find a higher density of potential leads in one place than at a trade show. Make sure to have a system set up to compile the information of those who visit your booth. Keep an email list for visitors at your booth.
  • Gain new customers. Don’t take the one-to-one sales opportunity for granted. While an attendee might seem interested in your business during an exhibition, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get the chance to talk to them again. Whenever possible, strive to close the sale right then and there.
  • Expand business with existing clients. It’s always easier to augment a relationship with a current customer than to close a deal with a new one.
  • Increase average sale price. With your impressive booth display and an engaged audience, you have a golden opportunity to upsell.
  • Keep tabs on competitors. While your focus should remain on your own business, trade shows are the perfect chance to survey the competitive landscape and see how your company’s approach stacks up.
  • Recruit new employees. There’s more than one aspect of growing your business. While bringing in revenue may be your foremost goal, industry expos can also attract the top-tier talent that can take your company to the next level. Don’t miss a chance to attract them to your team.

How to Prepare for a Trade Show

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Channel your inner boy scout: Be prepared. In the weeks leading up to your trade show, lay the groundwork for a high ROI with thorough exhibition planning, training and promotion.

Optimize location. The old real estate adage applies to trade shows: Location, location, location. Not every business can afford a 20 x 20 island booth in the center of the show floor, but whenever possible, act fast to reserve a high-traffic spot. You want to boost the number of visitors that will see your booth. Look for places where two aisles intersect, spots near the entrance, or booths adjacent to big-name companies.

If you’re not sure how to upgrade your location at your upcoming trade show, don’t be afraid to reach out to the event organizer. Asking never hurts, even if it turns out there’s an extra cost for a supremely located booth.

Invite your audience. Often, you’ll have prospective clients in mind whom you hope to engage with at a trade show. Don’t leave it up to chance. Before the event arrives, send out invitations to your hopeful customers, encouraging them to visit your booth at the trade show. You might want to include customized offers or opportunities to meet one-on-one to ensure them it’s worth their time. The value of trade show marketing isn’t just interacting with people, it’s interacting with right people.

Get social. Social media is your friend. Before the event, hype your appearance on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, always remembering to use the trade show’s preferred hashtag. Tag other businesses expected to attend and reply to those also discussing the event.

Training Your Trade Show Booth Staff

The members of your trade show booth staff are ambassadors of your company’s brand. To maximize your ROI, it is important that your team is prepared to represent the company in the best way possible.

The booth staff is vital to every step leads to meeting your goals: Attracting attendees to your booth, engaging visitors, obtaining leads and closing sales. For your trade show experience to pay off, it’s necessary to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic on the show floor.

Choose the best brand representatives. Don’t start from scratch: Make your job easier by picking staffers who are already informed and passionate about your products and services. A strong base of enthusiasm and knowledge will go along way when conversing with prospective customers and closing sales.

Stick to the script. Make sure your booth staff knows the key points to hit upon when engaging visitors. It’s OK for them to deviate from the talking points -- conversations at a trade show should flow naturally -- but it’s important to stay focused on the main selling points of your business.

Learn trade show booth staff etiquette. Learning how to effectively engage trade show visitors is a skill developed over time. But there are several musts that any booth team should know:

  • Greet people enthusiastically and introduce yourself and the business
  • Make eye contact and smile
  • Avoid eating, drinking or chewing gum at the booth
  • Stand up straight
  • Avoid fidgeting
  • Ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation flowing
  • Listen actively when your guest is speaking
  • Don’t look at your phone while manning the booth
  • Never leave the booth unattended

Creative Trade Show Booth Ideas

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At a trade show, getting visitors to stop at your booth is half the battle. But how do you make your booth stand out on the show floor? Making your booth an attractive and inviting presence on the show floor requires design, creativity and a personal touch. To make the most of your trade show investment, you first need to draw people to your exhibit.

Send a Message

Your message to trade show attendees should be concise and direct. This means your booth design needs consistent branding, with a focused color palette and a simple tagline that communicates your company’s strengths. If possible, have available samples of your products or three-dimensional models of them. You don’t want to miss an opportunity for potential customers to interact with your offerings.

Start Spreading the News

Don’t skimp on ways to get your name out there. Some of the best advertising investments at trade shows include customized banners and fabric displays, unique branded giveaways and take-away literature that extols your company’s virtues.

Avoid wasting money on disposable, outmoded branded items like pens that will just get lost in the shuffle. Instead, think of something that people will actually use, including water bottles, travel mugs or computer accessories.

Have Fun with It

Instantly connect your brand to feelings of joy and excitement by setting up a fun activities like carnival games, spinner wheels or trivia contests. These will attract people to your booth -- and keep them there.

Don’t forget to look to the future -- technology like touch screens, augmented reality offerings and audiovisual displays will go a long way toward establishing your company as a modern, forward-thinking brand.

Recruiting New Employees at Trade Shows

Trade shows can pay off in a multitude of ways. While landing new clients may be your foremost goal, there are other benefits to steeping yourself in an industry intensive.

An industry trade show offers no shortage of high-performing talent from competing businesses. Sometimes even more than bringing in a single new client, finding the perfect person for an open position in your company can eventually pay dividends. An outside perspective joining your team can unlock new, more profitable and efficient ways of doing business.

Even if you don’t have an open position you’re looking to fill, trade shows offer unmatched networking opportunities. Meet major players and influencers in your industry, and plant the seed of the possibility of them working at your company down the line.

Exceptional outside talent can be difficult to attract -- especially if they’re not actively seeking a new opportunity. A trade show offers a special chance not to see the field and pitch your company. Your trade show booth tells a story not only to new clients, but to the talent pool as well.

Following up on Trade Show Leads

Whether hoping to land a new customer or a new coworker, a strong follow-up is a crucial aspect of ensuring your trade show investment pays off. After all the effort you’ve put into generating the lead, it’s important to stick the landing. While face to face interaction goes a long way, the work that makes for a successful exhibition continues after the event concludes.

This is why it’s essential to obtain contact information for quality leads. The goal is ensure your company makes an impression in their minds long after they’ve left the trade show. Email is good; a handwritten “Thank You” note is even better. Don’t dally -- the longer you wait to follow-up, the lower the chance you’ll still be on their mind.

The interactions at trade shows are often hectic, so don’t forget to develop a system for sorting and keeping track of the most desirable leads as you accumulate them throughout the event. Mark down any specific promises you made to a hopeful client -- such as sending samples -- and always follow through promptly.

Calculating Trade Show Return on Investment

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A variety of methods are useful for measuring your trade show ROI. Depending on your goals, you’ll decide which is the best way to determine how worthwhile the trade show experience was for your company.

For any of these methods, the first step is to calculate how much you spent on the trade show, including travel expenses, shipping costs, staffing, materials and per diems. You’ll compare that number to the amount of value you’ve brought in through attendance.

Close rate and average sales amount: The most straightforward way to calculate the return on investment is to compare the revenue gained from the trade show to the total spend. Determine the number of the leads acquired at the trade show that became a closed sale. Then, calculate the average value of each of those sales. Multiple those numbers together to get your revenue. Compare that number to the investment to see how fruitful the event was.

Efficiency and savings: You can also recognize the trade show’s efficiency by counting number of sales meetings and face-to-face conversations with prospective leads. Calculate the cost, time and resources that each of those meetings would typically have required to secure individually. Then, compare that to the amount of your trade show investment.

Measuring your Trade Show Effectiveness

Some of the value that trade shows add to your business can be harder to quantify than a rigid formula. Nonetheless, it’s important to acknowledge the ways that these expos push your business forward.  

Brand exposure: Don’t underestimate the value of getting your company’s name and branding in front of an interested audience. You might manage to gain press coverage from the event, as well. Keep an eye out for an uptick in web traffic, Google searches or email subscriptions for your brand during and immediately after a trade show. Use custom URLs on your trade show marketing materials and trade show-related social media posts so you can track how much interest the event drove to your business.

Innovative ideas: Part of the value of industry expos comes from getting a sense of where your field is headed -- and how you can play a part in its future. Trade shows offer an uncommon look at the industry’s trends. Spending time at other booths can give you chance to separate the buzzwords and fads from the promising and fresh ideas.  

R+L Global Logistics Makes Trade Show Shipping Easy

You won’t see much of a return on your trade show investment if your materials don’t arrive safely. That’s why it’s important to enlist a trusted shipping company for the job. You can count on R+L Global Logistics to transport your trade show booth, products and more to the event safe and on time. Chat, email or call R+L Global at (866) 415-8986 today for more information about trade show shipping services.

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