Creating ROI for Trade Shows

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We all agree in-person meetings are the best means of creating meaningful relationships with clients and prospects. That’s why trade shows and industry conferences are so valuable. During the height of the pandemic, face-to-face interactions almost entirely vanished. Finally, several years later, in-person trade shows are returning.

But as you likely have realized – attending trade shows costs time and money. It is estimated the average company allocates 31.6% of their total marketing budget to events and exhibiting (source).

With so much money being invested in trade shows, how can companies get the most bang for their buck? Learn 5 key ways to create a return on investment (ROI) for your upcoming trade shows.

1. Selecting the Right Show

There are presumably a vast number of trade shows and events for every industry, and it is unrealistic to attend every possible event. So choosing the ones with the most potential benefit towards helping you achieve your goals will allow you to maximize your potential ROI.

Before selecting a show, you should strategically assemble a list of potential events and carefully compare and contrast each event to see which ones are likely to help you achieve a healthy return on exhibiting.

Consider these criteria when selecting which trade shows to attend and exhibit:

  • The estimated cost of attending and exhibiting at the trade show
    • Do you really need to exhibit?
  • How many qualified potential customers attended the trade show in the past
    • Ratio of exhibitors/vendors vs. target clients
  • How likely will your brand, product or service stand out on the show floor
  • The significance of the trade show within your industry
  • The location of the trade show (closer shows will have smaller traveling, lodging and shipping costs)

2. Formulate a Pre-Show Strategy

A strong pre-show strategy is essential to maximizing trade show ROI. It’s not enough to simply show up and have a pretty booth. The legwork you put in ahead of time is critical in generating excitement beforehand.

Here are some ideas to jump-start your pre-event marketing:

  • Promote your company’s booth: Most importantly, tell your clients where they can find you. Give them a booth number and a map or nearby landmarks to help them locate your booth. Since trade show exhibit halls can be large and crowded, it is important to make it easy for prospects to find you. Your pre-event marketing efforts can also advertise any giveaways, demos, contests, or perks visitors will receive if they stop by your booth.
  • Customize content to the type of event: Many industry events have a particular focus area, such as an oncology trade show or an infectious disease trade show. First and foremost, make sure this focus area aligns with your company’s focus area. Then incorporate that theme into your content calendar and create different types of materials such as blog posts, white papers, videos, and sell sheets that highlight your strengths. Next, distribute this content to a list of event registrants or prospects. This is a great way to offer content that is relevant and educational, but not overly promotional.
  • Tap into social media: Promote your company’s presence at the upcoming trade show, and leverage event hashtags and specific pages to promote your content. Social media allows you to piggy-back on any traction the event has garnered and use it to build your own buzz.
  • Partner with vendors: Work in tandem with industry vendors that are also attending the event to help promote your presence. Through partnering with a trusted vendor, you can strategically tap into their audience and reach more prospects ahead of time. This all helps to amplify your brand’s reach leading up to the event.
  • Schedule appointments ahead of time: Find out if you have access to a conference attendee list. Review the list and reach out to everyone who seems like a qualified fit for your services. Share with them with a high-level overview of your company and ask for a brief meeting at your booth. Prospects will be less apt to no-show your booth if they have a standing calendar invite to meet with you.

3. Invest in Your Trade Show Booth

In the category of obvious statements – you need your booth to stand out if you want to attract visitors and prospective clients. While it is important to attract visitors, keep in mind the ultimate goal is to actually convert prospects into customers. Trade show attendees will be drawn to booths with eye-grabbing designs, but you’ll only boost your ROI if you offer something of substance and value.

Consider these best practices when designing your booth:

  • Your marketing message should be short, clear and easy to grasp, so eliminate buzzwords and stress benefits of your product or service.
  • Put yourself in the eyes of the customer. You should clearly communicate the value or benefit they will experience from working with your company.
  • Maximize your booth space to make your exhibit as traffic-friendly as possible. Cluttered booths are often passed by prospects looking to make the most of their time on the show floor.
  • Think of your signage as the first impression you make on the audience. Your goal is to have signage that attracts the type of people you want to meet.

Here are some additional best practices to attract visitors to your booth – and convert them into leads before they leave:

  • Convey your strengths and services. When it comes to trade show booths, too many companies will mistakenly prioritize flashiness over substance. While it is important to have an eye-catching design, what is even more important is clearly displaying your message front and center. Visitors should leave with a strong idea of what you offer, why they need it, and a next step or call to action.
  • Schedule a post-show discussion. The majority of visitors will forget about you shortly after stopping by your booth. This is why it is critical to map out next steps, such as a post-show capabilities presentation or meeting with one of your subject matter experts. This will enable you to obtain their contact information, but also get something on your calendars before they leave.
  • Use giveaways (if allowed) to aid conversions. If the event allows you to do giveaways, use them wisely. You don’t want to just give out free stuff to everyone walking by your booth. Make sure you get something in return, such as their business card or contact information. Only offer a larger prize or giveaway only to attendees who provide their contact information or sign up for a next step—such as a capabilities presentation or a second meeting.

4. Follow-Up After the Trade Show

Assuming your team did well promoting your services and forming a relationship with prospects, you should already have next steps schedules on prospects’ calendars.

But, your post-show follow-up strategy is just as important. Use these tactics to improve your trade show ROI:

  • Be prompt. Follow-up in a timely and professional manner to stand out from the bulk of emails attendees will receive from other vendors a few days after the event. To help be ready to act quickly, you can create your follow-up email template in advance so it’s ready to go immediately after you receive the new leads. Experiment with sending follow-ups at different times to help find the sweet spot where your email is not too early or too late.
  • Personalize your message. As with any client correspondence, don’t send out the same exact email for every single event. Make mention of the show in the subject line and body of your email to avoid confusing people who attend many events. Remind them of your discussion at your booth. Remember, your booth is just one of many your prospect may have visited at the event.
  • Provide options. Not everyone you meet at a tradeshow is ready to buy. So, offer a few different options for next steps, so prospects in any stage of their buyer’s cycle can find something of value.

5. Measuring Trade Show Success

As with any other expenditure, the only way to assess the financial success of an event is to track your results. It is critical to know if your strategy generates results, improves over time, or grows stale.

For the purposes of better tracking your trade show success, separate your trade show goals and objectives into two categories: communications goals and trade show marketing goals.

Common Communication-Related Objectives

  • Building awareness of your company’s reputation and capabilities
  • Promoting a specific brand message, re-branding campaign or slogan
  • Differentiating your company and its capabilities from competitors
  • Announcing a new product, service or capability

Common Quantifiable or Numbers-Based Objectives:

  • Total number of meetings
  • Total number of qualified leads gathered by staff
  • Perceptions of attendees with market research, such as industry trends and surveys
  • Revenue generated through on the floor sales

When it comes to trade shows key performance indicators (KPIs), two return metrics are equally important – return on investment and return on objective.

  • Return on investment is a measure of how much revenue a trade show generated for a company compared to the associated costs of participating. ROI can be distilled down into a relatively easy formula: (Profit – Expenses) / Expenses. The only complicating factor is that this takes time, since your “Profit” only includes sales made as a direct result of your trade show appearance. In an industry where the sales cycle is long, you of course won’t have these figures right away. In the meantime, there are ways to monitor and report on performance such as number of leads, opportunities, proposals generated, etc.
  • Return on objectives is a measure of how participating in a specific trade show helps the company meet its defined non-sales objectives. Unlike ROI, your return on objectives is mostly empirical and depending on the objective, can likely be measured right after the show has ended.

Finally, it is imperative to properly tag each trade show lead in your CRM. This way, you can identify attendees and attribute the sale back to the event once these leads start to convert into paying customers.

Alison Cundari
Director, Marketing & Corporate Communications - Linical

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