Your Guide to Trade Show ROI

Categories: Trade Show Marketing, Trade Show Tips

Whether you’re a new or experienced trade show exhibitor you’ve probably thought about measuring your Trade Show ROI (return on investment).

However, many times our customers never go beyond that stage because its deemed too time-intensive or think that it’s too difficult to keep track.

…it’s not!

This post is designed to help new or experienced trade show exhibitors alike and to help them think and measure their trade show marketing dollars in the most effective way possible.

We’ll discuss the various expenses involved with a typical trade show and what to expect after the dust has settled so you can calculate the show’s most important part… success!

Trade Show ROI: What is it and why do we care?

Trade shows falls into its own separate marketing channel (just like print or digital marketing). However, what makes it different is the face-to-face interaction (meaning you actually get to talk directly to suppliers, distributors, and customers alike).

*Far different from digital marketing*

And, like most marketing channels, you have to spend money to leverage it’s reach.

Since we categorize trade show marketing as its own category, we’ll want to separate all expenses and revenues that were not related to trade show marketing.

Consider trade show marketing as its own “profit center” which should be measured on its own.

I like to call it ‘standing on it’s own 2 legs’.

But why measure it?

Well, you need to make sure you’re hitting the goals that you’re setting for your shows. Without all of the data that goes into calculating trade show return on investment (ROI), you’re really in the dark when you make even decisions.

I like to think of marketing dollars as being a renewable resource….

…Hear me out on this one…

$$$ spent on any marketing channel with a well-defined return on investment means those dollars are sent out and then find customers and are returned back to you where you can redeploy them again.

This is hugely important!

Yes, it’s about ROI, but it’s also about how quickly those dollars return back to you.

The faster you see a return, the faster you can redeploy on another marketing opportunity.

Especially if you’re a smaller company where you can’t afford to have your money tied up for long.

Large and more established companies can ride out the cash flow after a show for much longer, but those smaller companies need to see that return much faster.

Trade Show ROI vs Other Marketing Channel ROIs

This was touched on in the previous section here, but what makes trade show marketing different from other marketing channels like print, digital, radio, etc.?

For starters, it’s very hard to beat the face-to-face interactions that come with trade shows. Especially in the industry only shows that aren’t open to the public.

The people that go to those shows are there for a reason: to meet people and companies in whatever industry the show is for and to view new products or innovations tangibly.

Which brings us to our next point.

You go to tradeshows to “show off” and merchandise your new items. It’s very hard to get a comparable experience to a hands-on experience.

This is especially true if the product is a tangible product but still holds true if it’s a software-based product.

Its why we make our website as informative as possible and we also like to have video calls showing how a display is used or setup. Even then we might still send out a demo unit to a company just so they can feel it in hand with their team.

Aside from your products themselves, it’s equally, if not more important to have that in-person connection with those merchandisers or exhibit attendees. You’ve probably worked with a company (or currently are) that you keep doing business with just because you know that they’re reliable or easy to work with, but maybe not the cheapest or the “best” product.

Of course, these “premium” advantage to trade shows can come with a higher cost than the other channels which means you need to be extra conscious about the ROI for this channel.

How to Track Trade Show ROI

If you aren’t doing it already, you’re going to want to start tracking all leads and contacts that your company gets.

Additionally, you’ll want to start keeping a list of people you’ve talked with, their company, the show, and the date of contact. You’ll be using this to reference any leads down the line and see if they came from a certain show.

You can do this with a pen or paper, a spreadsheet, or by gathering business cards (although many people aren’t using those as often).

 Or, you can use a badge scanner or other lead tracker.

With a badge scanner you’d be able to (after permission of course) scan the badges of the people who you’ve talked at your booth. The data associated with their badge is then accessible to you after the show so you can a) know who you’ve talked with and b) get some contact information for them so you can follow up with them later.

You could also look into purchasing what’s called a “show attendee list” which is a list that contains all of the trade show’s attendants.

This means that you can reference that sheet and find people who you’ve talked with or market to people who didn’t get a chance to stop by your booth.

If you’re not set up with a CRM software, you might want to at least create a spreadsheet that contains all leads that the company receives and that all team members or salespeople have access to this document so they can appropriately track and categorize where these leads come from.

Calculating Your Trade Show ROI

In order to accurately measure trade show ROI there are a couple KPIs (Key performance indicators) that you can measure and look at:

  • Sales cycle
    • How long, on average, does it take for a sale to come through after beginning the process with them.
  • Customer Lifetime Value
  •  Lead conversion rate
    • How many sales do you get from whatever amount of leads that you receive? Is there room for improvement here?
  • And of course the Trade Show ROI Formula
    • Trade Show ROI is just the basic profit (or loss) directly related to the show divided by all of the expenses for the show. Check out this google spreadsheet with the most common trade show expenses that you might have.

Of course, you can pick your own KPIs that match the goals that you set for your shows but these are some of the most popular and, we think, useful. 

The Power of One Big Order

If you’re looking strictly at the ROI of a show without taking into consideration the diversification of that revenue you should be careful.

While a single large order can certainly help you boost your ROI numbers, you’ll have to consider the risk of those same results without an order like that one at your next show.

However, that’s not to say that you should discount those big orders, but rather that you shouldn’t be looking at just the ROI.

And if you’re only breaking even on trade shows, you’ll want to consider the LTV of those customers. If you’re making or plan to receive revenue from them in the future, then simply breaking even now isn’t necessarily that bad.

Ways to Optimize and Boost ROI at Your Show

If you’re looking to pump those trade show numbers up, you have a couple of options available:

  • Changing the booth location
  • Marketing for the show before the show
  • Does your trade show strategy line up with your goals?
  • Could you pick a different trade show to exhibit at?
  • Could you squeeze out more success from a specific show before going to a different one? IE increase the efficiency. As you know, trade shows are expensive, so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the most out of the ones you’re already going to.
  • Could you benefit from a larger booth size? If you think that you’ll see better results by upping your booth space, you’ll want to make sure you’ve 100% evaluated the added expenses before upgrading.

The Take-Aways

Yes, Trade Show ROIs are extremely important and you should be calculating them already, but its only one (albeit large) part of the equation that you should be looking at. LTV, sales cycle, and conversion rates are all KPIs that you should be looking at considering at when you’re looking at ROI.

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