How to Maximize Your Trade Show Return on Investment

April 11, 2019
Andrew Doerfler
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Trade shows can make a big difference for your business. The top industry expos and conferences offer face-to-face networking opportunities with industry leaders, brand exposure and prospective clients from your target audience. But exhibiting at a trade show isn’t an automatic money-maker. You have to strategize to attract show attendees and maximize the return on your trade show investment.

A successful trade show experience requires substantial resources, and you want to make sure your investment goes as far as possible. Preparation and planning go a long way toward seizing the opportunities at trade shows. Optimize your trade show return on investment (ROI) by budgeting and defining your goals and objectives. 

trade show budgeting

Trade Show Budgeting

Measuring trade show ROI starts with knowing what the investment entails. Planning for a trade show involves so many different facets, it’s easy for costs to spiral out of control. That’s why it’s essential to outline the total cost and determine what you should dedicate to each element of exhibiting at a trade show. To maximize your ROI, you have to be smart with the resources available.

For every trade show you consider attending, it’s worthwhile to do a cost-benefit analysis. These are some items to consider when breaking down your trade show budgeting.

  • Reserving a booth/exhibit space
  • Travel and lodging for staffers
  • Shipping and storage of exhibit materials
  • Materials handling
  • Promotional and marketing items
  • Audio-visual displays
  • Graphic design
  • Show services (utilities, cleaning, etc.)

In addition to these concrete costs, it’s important to factor in the resources that you’ll be taking away from other facets of your business.

Making the most of a trade show investment requires a commitment from employees beyond the few days they’ll physically be at the show. Your trade show team will have to spend time planning, put some projects on hold while they’re at the show and dedicate time to adequately following up on leads obtained at the show. Make sure to factor these costs into your decisions.

The results of your budgeting might seem overwhelming. It can be jarring to consider the impact all of these aspects will have on your company’s wallet. But don’t lose sight of the potential return on investment from a high concentration of potential customers in one location.

Define Your Trade Show Goals and Objectives

What is the justification for the expenses involved in a trade show? These events can help you achieve your business goals. But there are many ways to define and measure success. The dollars earned from closed sales, for example, might not tell the whole story of the benefits your business reaped from exhibiting from a trade show. To maximize your trade show return on investment, you first need to set your goals.

Ask yourself: What are you trying to achieve by attending this event? Try to be as specific as possible, with objectives that are trackable and actionable. Laying out your goals will help you with calculating trade show ROI once the event is over. Here are a few of the different ways to expand a business through a trade show exhibit.

Close Sales

Revenue generated is the most obvious trade show metric for determining return on investment. If you can turn to show attendees into new customers over the course of the event, it’s easy to identify the benefits of the event. To calculate ROI for this goal, compare your total investment to the total sales revenue.

Generate Leads

Many of the sales from a trade expo won’t happen there on the trade show floor. Identifying high-quality leads and relaying them to your salespeople can pay off big. It’s not often will you see so many interested potential clients from your target audience than at a trade show. Don’t forget to prepare your staff to compile and keep track of the essential information from these leads.

To measure the ROI, determine the average value of a lead and then multiply that by the number of leads you generate through the course of the show. Then, compare that to your investment.

Boost Brand Recognition

Especially for startups and other new companies, a trade show can be a great way to introduce your brand, products and services to your target audience. Doing so can establish your credibility, build brand awareness and plant the seeds for future sales. To measure this, keep track of website traffic, social media engagement and email list subscriptions.

Build on Existing Relationships

While seeking out new clients presents new and exciting challenges, don’t neglect your current customers. Make sure to check up on whether any will be attending the trade show, and set up meetings with them to see how you can grow your business relationship.

A longtime client will always appreciate a little bit of in-person attention -- and might be impressed with your exhibit display, too. After all, if they’re at the trade show, they might be in search of products or services they don’t even realize you can provide.

how to decide if a trade show is worth attending

How to Decide if a Trade Show is Worth Attending

Now that you’ve decided what you’re hoping to get out of your trade show experience, it’s important to make sure you’re putting your energy into the right place. These are the factors to consider when weighing whether to take the plunge.

Find Your Target Audience

After dedicating time and money to preparing an exhibit and traveling to the show, you want to be sure your message will resonate with the trade show’s attendees. Research a trade show and its demographics in advance to make sure that your target audience will be there.

Many shows publish a post-show report that breaks down the attendees by industry and job titles. You can also often find an exhibitor list that will show if related industries will be mounting booths at the show -- this can be a great sign that your desired audience will be drawn to the event.

Make the right decision of which trade shows to attend requires research, but it can pay off. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research found that 45 percent of trade show attendees visit only one exhibition per year. If you don’t make an effort to identify the best fit for your business, you’ll likely miss your ideal prospective clients.

Consider the Trade Show’s Reputation and Size

Looking into a trade show’s history can be revelatory -- and can help you determine whether exhibiting will help you reach your goals. An established, long-running trade show with strong attendance year in and year out will have the credibility to draw top-tier exhibitors and attendees.

Many will also release figures that outline how much attendees spend with exhibitors, how many exhibitors find the show valuable, and what percentage of exhibitors plan to attend again. These surveys can attest to the value the show can provide. If you’re looking to swing big and land a major new client, the biggest and most influential trade shows can often provide the best opportunity.

However, that’s not to say attending a major established trade show is for everyone. These events can also be overwhelming, with smaller exhibitors struggling to stand out among heavy hitters. If you’re a smaller or less experienced company, a more niche trade show can be a good opportunity to get your legs under you and target a more specific demographic.

These upstart shows can also showcase some of the most innovative new companies before they hit it big, and offer a more intimate atmosphere for networking and making connections.

What is the Trade Show’s Location?

Just like in real estate, you can’t underestimate the importance of location when it comes to trade shows. Even though the top trade shows can draw attendees from across the country and from dozens of country, most industry expos draw the highest portion of visitors from within a few hundred miles of the event.

It’s beneficial to your business to attend trade shows located in places with an abundance of the types of businesses you hope to target. Simply out of convenience, shows in major industry hubs are the most likely to draw the top players in a given field.

Of course, there’s another important reason why a trade show’s location factors into your ROI calculation: The cost of travel, lodging and shipping your exhibit materials. When weighing different trade shows, opting for a comparable show in a nearby location or one with cheaper hotel costs can save you money. But make sure you’re not simply penny-pinching: You don’t want to pass up the opportunities at a top show just because of the cost of a plane ticket. Weigh the opportunity potential against your costs.

trade show promotion and marketing strategies

Trade Show Promotion and Marketing Strategies

Even with a top-notch trade show booth, you can’t rely on your show floor presence alone to draw people to your exhibit. To maximize your ROI, you’ll have to put effort into getting the word out about your appearance at the event. Not only will these strategies increase your chances of converting sales, but they’ll raise your brand awareness.

Trade Show Email Marketing Campaigns

Well in advance of the event, let your current clients and partners know about your upcoming trade show exhibition. Send out messages to your email list sharing why the expo presents a great business opportunity, and hype up what you’re planning on presenting to the crowd. Preview the products and services your company will have on display. Trade shows can be a chance to reanimate longtime business relationships, so get your current followers excited about what you have in store.

Trade Show Social Media Strategies

Social media platforms are a useful tool for notifying your target audience about your trade show exhibit. The process starts long before the expo starts. Get your followers excited by posting a countdown to the first of the show, and post sneak peeks of what you plan to showcase.

If the trade show has official accounts that are active on social media, don’t hesitate to leave comments and engage with their posts. Follow hashtags for the trade show to see other companies that are preparing for the event.

Once the event gets going, be sure to post photos of your booth -- and the excited staff on the trade show floor. Continue to keep tabs on other companies that are active at the event, and follow the show’s official account to be aware of any updates as the show proceeds.

It Never Hurts to Ask

While casting a wide net can help maximize your opportunities at a trade show, it’s equally beneficial to target the companies who you most want to engage. Targeted outreach is an essential component of any trade show strategy.

Identify the companies with whom you see the biggest potential to help your business, whether that means through a large sale price, a long-term relationship or a mutually beneficial collaboration or partnership. If these firms are already planning on attending the trade show, great. But if not, don’t be deterred.

In either case, reach out directly with an invite to meet with you at the show. Make your pitch for why such a meeting would be advantageous to their business goals. You can do this through email, but a postcard can stand out even more. Scheduling appointments in advance with your most highly coveted prospective clients and partners can lead to a more streamlined trade show experience.

While plenty of opportunities present themselves in the hustle and bustle of the trade show floor, targeting specific businesses guarantees valuable one-on-one, face-to-face time. Inc.com reported that 70 percent of attendees plan a list of exhibitors they plan to visit in advance. You don’t want to be left off of those lists.

Spruce Up Your Website for the Trade Show

If you’re doing it right, your trade show marketing and promotion strategies should lead to an influx of traffic to your company’s website. Make the most of those increased visitors by updating your site to cater to them.

Your emails and social media posts should link to a landing page on your site specifically related to your trade show appearance, emphasizing the products and services that will be on display. Learn which industries are most prevalent at the show, and craft your site’s messaging to those types of businesses.

preparing your trade show booth staff

Preparing Your Trade Show Booth Staff

No small portion of your trade show investment will go toward your people -- and with good reason. Your trade show booth staff will make the difference between simply catching attendees’ attention and converting them into new clients. You’ll be dedicating substantial resources to making sure they’re best equipped to pull that off -- including food, lodging, travel expenses, overtime pay, and taking their attention from other projects.

To make sure that investment pays off, you need to pick the best employees and take the time to prepare them. Here’s how to make sure your trade show staffers will be up to the task.

  • Choose the right team. Pick staffers who are both knowledgeable about your business and personable. At your booth, you want people who not only know the details but can convey them in a natural and interesting way.
  • Prepare your talking points. Write out the key assets of your products and services that you want to pitch to prospective clients. Have your people memorize these points, but allow them to veer from the script to keep conversations flowing easily.
  • Practice the greeting. Greeting attendees warmly on the trade show floor is the first step in starting the conversation that will lead to a sale. In advance, rehearse how you’ll draw people in and introduce yourself.
  • Dress professionally. Instruct your booth staff on what to wear. They should dress professionally, but comfortably. A uniform color can help your staff stand out on the trade show floor.
  • Brush up on etiquette. Follow the basics of trade show booth etiquette, such as not eating at the booth, make eye contact, stand up straight, and always thank guests for stopping by.

Keep Track of Leads

To see a substantial return on investment, it’s essential to have a system in place for retrieving and keeping track of leads. Many trade shows will allow you to rent a badge scanner, with which you can easily gather all of a prospective clients’ information. Failing that, there are plenty of apps and programs designed for capturing leads at trade shows, such as iCapture, CamCard, and Quick Tap Survey. Your sales team will thank you.

Don’t Forget to Follow Up

Much of the pay off from an industry expo won’t be realized until long after you’ve left the venue. Exhibitor Online reported that 98 percent of exhibitors gather leads at trade shows but less than 70 percent have a plan prepared to follow up on those leads. Planning your follow-up strategy in advance will put your sales team a cut above the rest. Don’t wait: Conduct your follow up within a few days of the show’s end.

Networking Opportunities

Formal sales pitches are important, but much of the opportunity presented at trade shows comes from mingling with fellow industry leaders and making connections. While chatting up prospective clients all day on the trade show floor might wear you out, don’t forget to make appearances at mixers and other events meant to bring together professionals.

These connections might not be immediate revenue-generators, but every new Rolodex entry can pay dividends down the line. Make the most of your trade show experience by putting yourself out there and meeting potential future partners.

Shipping to a Trade Show

Your exhibit booth is the anchor of your trade show appearance -- it’s what lets you make an impact on the trade show floor. If you want to maximize your trade show ROI, you need to make sure all of your booth materials make it to the show when you need them.

Don’t leave it up to chance. R+L Global Logistics is a professional trade show shipping logistics company with the tools and expertise to transport your trade show materials. From packaging to storage to delivery, R+L Global will take care of your shipment through every step of the process. Get in touch with our trade show team today by calling 866-415-8986 or using the chat.

Get A Quote
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Get a quote, quickly, by filling out the form or feel free to call at:

Tradeshow Shipping and Logistics Services © Privacy Policy