Should You Be Exhibiting at Trade Shows?

Most sales and marketing teams carefully review their budgets each year and make changes if something isn’t working. But when it comes to trade shows, many teams seem to be operating on autopilot.

If a company has attended the same show for many years, they might think they have no choice but to continue. It’s what customers expect, they might reason. All of their competitors are doing it, so it must be worth the expense.

The truth is that these companies could be wasting money—money that could be better spent elsewhere.
How can executives determine whether a trade show is worth the cost? A trial year can help. As their next trade show draws near, companies should follow five steps:

1.   Set objectives. A company should never go to a trade show without knowing what they hope to gain from exhibiting. Objectives should be specific and measurable; for example, “hold 10 productive meetings” or “collect 100 qualified leads.”

2.   After the show, determine whether goals are met. Attendees should constantly remind themselves of their goals before and during a trade show. Once a show ends, they should be able to quickly assess whether the show was worthwhile, because they will have either met their goals—or not.

3.  Calculate the show’s true cost and then cost per activity. After the show, marketing should calculate the shows true cost and then the cost per activity.  For example, let’s assume that exhibiting at a trade show costs a company $30,000. If the objective was to have productive meetings and they held 10 successful meetings, each of those meetings effectively cost $3,000. If the goal was to gather qualified leads and they gathered 100 leads, they paid $300 for each.

4.  Evaluate alternatives.  With a clear set of objectives, a company can evaluate the benefits of a trade show versus other alternatives.Let’s say our goal was to have productive meetings and it cost $3000 per productive meeting at a trade show.  One alternative would be to pay to fly a customer in for a tour of your facility (and golf/hunting/other afterwards).

Or let’s say your goal was to gather 100 leads and it costs $300 per lead at a trade show.  One alternative would be to hire a firm to gather prospects for less.   Another alternative would be to redesign your website so customers can more easily find you.

5.  Decide how to proceed. Thinking about objectives and costs this way helps companies put trade shows in perspective. With this new knowledge, companies can do one of three things:

·  Keep going. After setting objectives and doing the math, some companies may find that going to trade shows is indeed worthwhile. New companies, for example, may benefit from trade shows in getting their name out to industry players for the first time.  Regional trade shows are often a great investment if your goal is to have meetings with existing customers.

·  Scale back. If companies are getting value out of trade show appearances, they could seek ways to cut costs. For example, they could send fewer employees, commit to attending only every other year, or choose a smaller exhibition package.  These cost cutting measures often have only a negligible impact on a company’s ability to reach its objectives.  Instead, they just reduce the overall cost of attending the show and cost per activity.

·  Spend their money elsewhere on better alternatives.  Change is hard, but it might be in your company’s best interest to do so.

Each of these choices is valid. What companies shouldn’t do, however, is let inertia make decisions for them. If they do, they risk wasting money on an activity that offers a less than ideal return on investment.

Finally, consider this: a trade show lasts only a few days while an updated, relevant website lasts far longer.  And a one-on-one meeting with a potential client leaves a much bigger impression than a few minutes of small talk at a trade show booth.  Exploring these alternatives may help you reach your overall objectives better than what has historically been done.

For companies worried about life after trade shows, our advice is this: do the math and then select your best option to connect with customers.

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