Ready or Not, It's Trade Show Season

With the largest helicopter trade show just 20 days away, there is no denying that trade show season is upon us.

Your company likely spends significant resources each year on industry trade show-related expenses in an effort to market current offerings and achieve future growth objectives. But what value are you getting from the trade shows you are attending, and are you optimizing the return on the objectives set for each event?

BDN recommends the following process to ensure trade show success:

1. Choose the Right Show

Take a zero-based approach. Choosing shows out of habit or just because the competition will be there is not in the best interest of the company. Target audiences should be assessed and the show should be evaluated on how it aligns with the overall marketing strategy. This Trade Show Evaluation Checklist can help.

2. Determine a Pre-Show Strategy

Don't walk into a trade show empty handed. Plan ahead for your show publicity and schedule meetings ahead of time. This will ensure that you get noticed and have adequate face time with your key prospects.

Here is a complete checklist that should be considered for your Pre-Show Strategy.

3. Have an At-Show Strategy

Your booth and staff presence will have a direct impact on your brand. It is critical that your staff understand the event goals and that you have the correct staffing levels at all times to achieve those goals. Some companies bring so many staff members that there’s no room for customers! This formula may help:


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Here also is a complete checklist that should be considered for your At-Show Strategy.

4. Calculate the Show ROI

We can’t emphasize this enough: Every trade show should be evaluated on its own merit every year. Below are some metrics to help assess effectiveness.

Cost Per Lead (CPL)

Total Program Cost / Number of Qualified Leads Generated

A few caveats:

  • Use the full program investment number as the numerator. Eliminate unqualified contacts from the denominator.
  • Add in to the denominator the percentage of contacts that are still in the qualification and nurturing process but are expected to convert to qualified leads, in effect, the pipeline revenue generated from the event.

Benefit: CPL helps you analyze costs on a consistent basis over time, and to compare the value of competing marketing tactics. For example, ranking the annual trade show calendar by CPL results can serve as a benchmark for making future event-selection decisions.


Cost Per Contact (CPC)

Entire Program Investment / Gross Number of Contacts Generated

Note: Only a percentage of these contacts will convert to sales revenue.  The others can be qualified, nurtured, and otherwise managed in the marketing database.

Benefit: CPC is an important benchmark for evaluating competing marketing tactics. However, CPC can be dangerous if used on its own to evaluate the relative value of the business event, as it may overemphasize contact quantity in lieu of quality.


Expense to Revenue Ratio (E:R)

Total Revenue Associated with the Business Event / Total Expense Incurred

Benefit: Understanding the E:R makes the relative cost of a marketing tactic easy to compare with other tactics. The company might impose a maximum E:R threshold, 2.5%, or 6%, for example, to control expenses.


Business Event ROI

ROI = (Gross margin - Expense) / Expense

Note: The result is expressed as a percent. A zero indicates a program that broke even, and a negative number means a loss on the investment. If you spend $1 million to generate $1.2 million in new margin, you've achieved a 20% ROI.

Benefit: This formula uses margin versus revenue. Margin represents the true contribution to overhead that was generated by the incremental marketing activity. Using gross sales overstates the benefit that the marketing activity generated, and also disguises any unprofitable sales transactions that may have resulted.


A simpler approach to ROI metrics is often used in the world of trade shows

Sales Revenue Resulting From Trade Show / Total Trade Show Expense (Including staff travel & expense) but not salaries)

Note: The resulting number is expressed in dollars, and represents the number of gross dollars returned for every incremental dollar invested. 

Benefit: This approach to ROI is relatively simple to calculate but overstates the value of the revenue to the company, and fails to express profitability.


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The content of this blog is based off a more detailed white paper called “Exhibiting at a Trade Show.” You can download the full white paper here.
  Download: How to Exhibit at a Trade Show