The ABCs of ROI for Trade Shows – Part 1

Be better prepared for your next event with this article that covers understanding trade show ROI and goal setting.

As an equine business, how do you sort and measure if an event is worth it? This week, I’m releasing Part 1 of a two-part series with Nina Richards, veteran trade show manager, to give you some vital information that can help determine an event’s worth.

In this first half, we’re focusing on the vital measurements to determine if a show is worth your time and investment. This article was created with product manufacturers and distributors in mind.

Walking around at the AETA, I heard lots of “We’ll be at WEF this winter.” While not a trade show in the true sense, WEF and other high traffic events such as Equine Affaire and more regional vendor and distributor fairs happen every year. The Kentucky Three-Day, Del Mar, breed nationals and performance championships offer all kinds of opportunities to set up shop and show your products to a large number of potential buyers.

Before you sign up, keep these tips in mind to be sure you can measure the return of this type of event. Understanding the value beforehand is key to measuring what you expect and if you decide to go back again the following year.

“Large events are about logistics! You want to start by organizing your project, identify your target market, plan the budget, and plan your experience and then promote, promote, promote!”

Determine why you are going. Shows are expensive. Space rental, shipping, booth design, set up costs, giveaways, and promotion all add up quickly. Depending on your company and what you offer, as well as the type of show (aimed to gain distributors vs. direct sales), you may need to slightly change the list of benefits that you are going after. It would be best if you had a clear idea of what you need to accomplish during this time.

If you have a large staff going, this keeps everyone on the same page. Agree on three main goals for each person, and have them report back on if they reached them all. Keep them measurable and reasonable. Setting a goal for ten new high-end distributors may not be achievable at a particular event. Maybe three is reasonable.

“Exhibiting is beyond the booth. Having your executives or technical staff presenting at the conferences provides additional brand exposure. Make certain the topic is relevant. Be prepared with a take-away piece (literature, giveaway, or business cards) provided at the session. As an example, our product manager presented a new product at a scheduled session. We scanned attendees as they walked in and offered a token gift as they departed. Approximately 50% of those people came by our booth afterward for further discussions.”

Nina brings up a couple of great points here. Lead scanning is not always offered, but you can purchase a bar code scanner and download the new leads at the close of each day if people are issued bar tagged name cards at registration. At huge events, these are fantastic timesavers that keep all of your data in one place. If you connect it with a laptop, it allows you also quickly to type in additional notes for that leads for followup after the show. Do they need a call, a mailed item, samples, or to speak with someone particular in your company? In the end, you have a complete database to download into your CRM or Excel system.

The other main point of this is finding a way to invite and interest people into your booth that is trackable. When you scan a group in, your sales team knows who attended and who followed through to speak with a rep afterward. Presentations are lovely, but work to put together. Knowing the actual outcome is key to deciding if it was worth it or if you would do it again.

Measuring is critical. Keeping track of how many orders or sales, how many QUALIFIED leads, connections gained to the right person (Sales Manager/ Director/ VP), how many impromptu meetings held, speaking engagements or presentations, and sponsorships. Set your goal and weight the value of each item ahead of time, as this is important for later.

Are you planning to sell directly during the event? If you are there to sell inventory directly to customers, how much to you need to sell to break even vs. make this a profitable event? Are you launching a new product at this event? Be sure to have a good product launch plan before you go to be sure you have all promotion channels ready to support this as part of the show.

Here’s the squidgy part. This process will never be 100% accurate. However, it is key to understanding if you have received your investment’s worth. Add up all of your expenses as well as the estimated dollar value of the returns. Select and assign a total value amount for everything you expect to gain from the event – meetings, web traffic resulting from the event, # of sales, and what the desired goal amount of those sales would be. Do you need 100 prospects in order to get one sale? Weight that data point accordingly.

Dump all of this information into a spreadsheet to show spend vs. gain.

Was the return more or less than your cost to attend? If you spent that same amount on something else (social media support, a published article, broader advertising), would you expect a better result? This data also makes it much more comfortable when approached to exhibit for the following year, when months have gone by, and the details are fuzzy — no more relying on a gut feeling to make an expensive decision.

Keep in mind that some information is better than none and will help you to make more educated leaps of faith than no data. There is no wrong answer, and the more you practice this exercise, the easier it gets.

Next week: Part 2 – Tips for getting the most out of trade shows.

About Nina Richards – With over 23 years as a trade show expert, Nina brings insight and superb show management skills honed while supporting worldwide companies to gain visibility, launch technical products, and increase sales.

Amanda MacDonald

Amanda MacDonald

Founder of Full Gallop Communications

Amanda is a marketing veteran that works with businesses on improving brand communication, marketing strategy, and creating content marketing. When not in the office, Amanda can be found at the barn with her horse, walking her two dogs on Lake Ontario or baking something carbtastic in the oven.

Contact her at to inquire about how your marketing efforts can become more successful.

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