How to Succeed at Trade Shows

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A little strategy session for business owners, from


How to Succeed at Trade Shows – Part 1

Cheryl Powers

According to the Center for Exhibition and Industry Research (CEIR), 46% of executive decision makers make purchasing decisions at trade shows. Even in today’s difficult economy, buyers attend trade shows in record numbers.  Decision makers are actively attending trade shows, ready to do business. This is great news for exhibitors.

Trade shows, well planned and executed, are one of the very best ways for a company to grow their business. Where, other than at trade shows, do customers line up to meet with you to learn about how your products and services can help solve their business problems? Even so, many companies struggle with making trade shows pay off and most don’t actually know whether their programs are truly successful. You can’t manage what you don’t measure and many exhibitors simply don’t collect, analyze, or implement the data to paint an accurate picture of their results.

There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that calculating ROI for a trade show can be complicated since most companies don’t actually sell anything at the show. And the longer the sales cycle, the less likely you are to keep track of whether the lead originated at a trade show or by some other marketing means. But if you are to truly know whether or not you are succeeding at shows you must measure your effectiveness, which means you must first decide what to measure.

Here are a few of the Key Performance Indicators I suggest measuring. Whichever KPIs you choose, remember that they must be quantifiable and they should reflect your overall goals for exhibiting.

Return on Investment

Return on Investment (ROI) is one of the most important measures for a company’s overall business success. That said, to accurately calculate your trade show ROI, you will need to track your data over an extended period of time. For those unfamiliar with how to calculate ROI here is the formula:

ROI = (Gross Profit – Marketing Investment) ÷ Marketing Investment

Many managers make the mistake of substituting Gross Revenue for Gross Profit. That will not give you an accurate ROI. You will also need to know your Gross Profit. There are several ways to get to this number.

Here is one way to correctly calculate Gross Profit:

Gross Profit = Gross Revenue – Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

It can also be useful to measure your Projected Return on Investment based on the data you collect at your show. In order to do this you will need a reasonably accurate lead capture system with specific data about your prospects’ budgets and needs. The more accurate you can be about what they may buy and how much you will spend on COGS the more meaningful your projection number.

There are several other important measures to consider when measuring your trade show success.

Cost per Qualified Lead

It can be tempting to measure costs based on total number of contacts instead of qualified leads because justifying trade show expenses to your CFO or CEO can be intimidating. While measuring Cost per Contact or Cost per Raw Lead is important to marketing, it may or may not be a useful sales measure for the sales department. If you want to be successful at increasing your business through trade shows, you are going to want to focus on the numbers that matter to sales. Qualified leads are the only real sales leads. And, if you don’t have a system for qualifying and categorizing prospects in your booth, you have lost before you’ve begun.

Yes, it’s important to drive traffic to your booth as long as the lion’s share of it is qualified traffic. Otherwise you are wasting precious human capital, time, and money giving away samples and demos to people who aren’t ever going to buy your products and services. Every booth will have it’s share of swag seekers so determine what constitutes a qualified lead and make it easy for non-prospects to opt-out before you spend time and money.

Cost per Customer Acquisition

What impact if any do your trade shows have on your costs to acquire new customers? This can be a particularly useful measure when planning your sales and marketing strategy and for use in setting benchmarks for all of your sales and marketing activities.

Cost per Demo Minute

Do you know how much it costs to demonstrate a product to a prospect at a show? What about in relation to your other direct selling activities? What is the cost differential per minute spent with a prospect on the show floor versus on a typical sales call?

Budget versus Actual

This number is important on many levels. Sadly, most businesses don’t do a very good job budgeting for shows.  Many don’t budget or plan at all for sales and marketing activities, preferring the classic “throw it against the wall to see if it sticks” method. The problems with this method are too numerous to mention here. But I will say that a budget provides a financial framework for your trade show plan, helps to limit expenditures, and creates a road map for future shows and sales events.

There are many opportunities for measuring KPIs at trade shows. Don’t feel like you have to use them all but pick a few you can commit to analyzing over time. It can be fun to work with the information and make small adjustments along the way to increase performance or lower costs. Dig into the data and you may be surprised at what you find.

Email me at to schedule a meeting and let me help you make your next trade show a success. You can also connect with me through my blog, Transform Your Sales at

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