Dos and Don’ts for Improving Trade Show ROI

How do you decide whether a trade show was worth your money, time and effort? Chances are, when you follow up afterward with the team staffing your exhibit, you are told: “The show was great—we had good traffic and productive conversations.” But this level of detail does not quite satisfy after you have spent several thousand dollars or more.

Sometimes the argument is made that you have to go to a trade show because competitors exhibit or because people will think your business is suffering if you don’t.

The only good way to decide on events is to set goals, track and measure return on investment (ROI).

This is especially critical when you consider that trade shows cost an average of $10,000 per person participating, including all the show expenses plus the travel, entertainment, lodging and time away from the office.

Trade Show Floor from DistanceDetermine how many leads you’ll need to generate based on your close rate to justify the cost of attending the show. For example, if you will invest $40,000 on a trade show, your average sales per new customer is $10,000, your close rate is 25% on leads from trade shows and you want a minimum ROI of 100%, then you need 32 sales opportunities from the show. This means you will probably need between 250 and 350 leads.

Calculate the number of leads per hour you’ll need to generate (a general rule of thumb suggests that each person will generate three or four qualified leads each hour, but fewer for capital equipment and complex sales; more for commodity sales or where the sales cycle is short). Based on the number of attendees and show schedule, you can then determine whether the show makes sense for you to attend.

Once you’ve made the commitment, here is what you should and should not do to maximize your ROI for trade shows.

What You Should Not Do

  • Show up and wing it. Have a marketing strategy that includes pre-show, in-show and post-show proactive communication with your target audience.
  • Use paper lead forms. Papers get lost, are hard to read and have to be input to databases manually. Lead machines are a step up but collect only basic contact info unless you upgrade to build custom surveys. Instead, create dedicated landing pages with forms to collect information from leads. There are tools that help you design pages quickly. They can include validation to make sure emails are correct and can import leads into your database. They can be used on laptops or tablets in the booth to eliminate manual entry. Check with sales to find out what their definition of a qualified lead is and what they would like to know about prospects.
  • Wait until after the show to follow up. By offering educational content at the event, you can capture lead information on the spot and send nurturing emails right away. This shows your company’s proactive nature and allows you to quickly qualify those people who are actually interested versus those who are just starting to research.
  • Send generic follow-up emails. All the other exhibitors at your trade shows are likely to be sending emails at the same time as you. Set yourself apart with valuable information. First send out a recap of the event. Then send some kind of insightful resource for their reference. You will not seem like a nuisance and you will free up the sales team to personally contact the most promising leads.
  • Guess at ROI. Tag your leads automatically when you import them. This will allow you to track closing rates, adjust your objectives and predict future results. This is much easier when you have marketing automation. Set up a naming convention for all leads generated at an event in your CRM. You can then run regular reports to monitor the amount of deals and revenue that is tied directly to these events.

What You Should Do

  • Attract the right prospects. Your offer should appeal specifically to your target prospects and provide something they can use, versus general contests or giveaways. Traffic will be lighter but you will get higher interest.
  • Focus on helping. Figure out the problem you can solve for customers and promote it. Answers are more compelling than attractive booth staffers . . . to the right prospects! Overall, your approach to trade shows should be to provide valuable information.
  • Publish a white paper. Serious buyers are going to want this material and this is one way to weed them out. People collecting tchotchkes aren’t going to bother taking, let alone carrying around your literature.
  • Be timely. If there is something going on in the community, the industry or the world on which you can capitalize, then do so and your prospects will understand the relevance. We target cable TV and local media. Today, there are newer ways of viewing on demand on computers and mobile devices, which is reducing overall numbers of subscriptions. We can replace declining revenues by enabling providers to offer innovative digital advertising solutions across a variety of media channels.

mediaXchange Trade Show

  • Have quality conversations. Prepare a set of engaging questions for all booth personnel that will help you in your business. For example, Affinity Express might ask newspaper publishers, “what other digital designs are your advertisers requesting?” or “What are the pain points for salespeople selling digital advertising and marketing services?” The answers start positive dialogs and the input feeds into our product development, marketing and sales teams. At the same time, when you ask questions like these, you get prospects excited about your offering and prequalify them for sales.
  • Survey attendees. A more formalized approach that yields lots of good data is to conduct brief marketing surveys with visitors which can be released at future events or an incentive to provide email addresses so you can send results after shows. You can offer incentives or giveaways for participation but only include those people who fit the criteria of your target market.
  • Conduct research. When you understand what is important to clients, you can conduct proprietary in-depth research on subjects and establish yourself as a trusted resource. When you solve problems, you are more likely to win or keep customers’ business over time.
  • Get feedback from the booth staff. Creative Training Solutions suggests some questions you might ask to evaluate a show:
    • What was the most valuable part of the show? Why?
    • What was the least valuable part of the show? Why?
    • Were the pre-show promotions effective? Why?
    • Was the location good? Why?
    • Were there enough (or too many) people in the booth? Why
    • Was the size of the booth appropriate? Why?
    • Was the literature satisfactory? Why
    • Where the right products on display? Why?
    • Did the signage convey the right message?
    • What should we do again? Why?
    • What didn’t work? Why?
    • How could we make it better?
    • Follow-up and measure campaign effectiveness. One way to increase ROI is by sending trade show leads approximately four nurturing emails over the course of a couple of months. Measure the email click through rate (CTR) of each and the rate at which email “clickers” convert to qualified sales leads. After the first few events, you’ll have the basis to understand response rates and good CTRs for your emails. Expect a high CTR on the first email and a steep drop on the second, before you finally end in a long-tail click through rate. According to GoodData blog, you might expect to see CTRs like these:
      • Email 1—25%
      • Email 2—10%
      • Email 3—5%
      • Email 4—3%
  • Measure ROI on other objectives. Depending on your business, you might get additional benefits that affect ROI:
    1. Putting your executives together with several customers in a short period of time at savings over travel to individual meetings.
    2. Accelerating the buying process and moving customers through several stages of the process; saving time and money.
    3. Demonstrating products for many people at the same time or which cannot cost-effectively or easily be demoed in the field (meaning savings can be calculated in the ROI).

Your goal with trade shows is to go beyond driving traffic to attract visitors that are viable prospects. The more you can do to prequalify, contact and reintroduce your company and solution, and open the door for sales, the better. Not every small business marketer has the bandwidth for this kind of hands-on activity. Regardless, it is critical that you track and record ROI to support decisions and enable you to plan for the future.

Trade shows can be a big distraction and time drain for most people participating. So if you can’t make the ROI work, then don’t worry about what anyone such as other vendors or competitors think—you can pay for a lot of effective marketing with that money.

How do you measure trade show ROI and how have you improved it for your business?

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

2 Responses to Dos and Don’ts for Improving Trade Show ROI

  1. Amanda Klein says:

    Thanks Kelly Glass for offering your valued perspective!!!

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