Is your tradeshow marketing delivering ROI?

Let’s face it, tradeshows are expensive. In many cases, the total cost of participation can rival an entire year’s advertising spend online or in an industry trade publication. And just like branding campaigns, tradeshows are a long-term investment, where sales cycles can draw out for weeks, months, even years. So how do you know if your tradeshow participation was worth it? There’s a simple answer: Measure, measure, measure. Before you tune out, read on just a bit more. You don’t have to be a mathematical modeling wizard to assess ROI, and we can help.

First stop: Check your expectations

Remember that few tradeshows actually generate sales at the exhibitor hall. Sure, you’ll work your networking A-game inside the booth and at every conference seminar you can squeeze into an already frenzied schedule, but that’s just teeing things up for your sales team, really. And unless you’re launching what truly merits the title “the next big thing” in your industry, don’t expect to be writing orders by the hour. It’s the exception, not the rule. Above all, don’t set your sights on being the most talked about exhibitor at the show. You can try, of course, but the mountain of marketing cash required to create that level of buzz would be better off spent on a trunk full of scratch-offs.

Next up: Set your focus

It’s all too common in the trade show planning phase for vision to become blurred by shiny objects—as in, marketing gimmicks. Avoid them. A petting zoo might generate foot traffic, but probably not the sort you want if your company makes high-end kitchen fixtures or heavy-duty truck parts. Make sure every element in your booth—from displays and press materials to SWAG and refreshments—aligns squarely with your brand story. Remain singularly focused on why you’re there in the first place: To foster existing relationships and build new ones. Tradeshows are about showcasing your brand and products, for sure, but shows are first and foremost an opportunity to learn more about your customers. With current customers and new prospects all convening at the same time and place, there is simply no better or more efficient way to continue former conversations and begin new dialogues. Go ahead and monitor your competition and note what they’re doing in between caffeine fixes, but don’t obsess over your observations. This information is useful only as it assists your company in connecting with customers.

Time to dig in: Define metrics

Too many marketers go into tradeshows with vague goals, or worse, none at all. In many cases, the c-level suite may not even be asking you the feared question, “Was the show worth it?” Still, and even if you’ve never faced that question from management, you should be asking it of yourself to ensure what you spend and how you spend it produces results. Be specific with your metrics so you can measure success. Goals such as “connect with new prospects” or “boost sales” aren’t very helpful. “Generate 200 sales leads” or “increase sales by $250,000,” much better. You’ve got to start with a concrete metric to measure against.

Once you’ve established goals, track conversations, contacts, and sales during and after the show. One of the best ways to do this is by using a CRM application, and by making sure all leads generated are tagged with a unique naming convention tied to the show. As every marketer knows, warm leads can grow cold, while even the most casual connections may develop into a big sale over time. So track show leads over your sales cycle—monitoring once per month is worth it to give you an ongoing bird’s eye view of any event’s ROI.

From this point, do the math to gauge performance, and to start answering the all-important question, “Was the event worth it?”

A smart businessperson once told me that running a business is easy, you just have to know how to add and subtract. A little division helps, too. ROI in its simplest form looks like this:

(Revenue – Investment) / Investment

For example:
($150,000 – $30,000) / $30,000 = 400% ROI

Beyond the ROI percentage, an understanding of cost per lead is also useful, especially when comparing your tradeshow expenditures with other marketing channels and determining which are most efficient and effective.

Cost Per Lead

Cost of Show / Leads

$20,000 / 175 = $114 per lead

How you define a lead and the value of each lead is a topic for another article. Each business will have their own definition of an acceptable ROI and CPL. But most have no idea what those numbers are. So just knowing gives you a great place to start.

Final thoughts: Rinse and repeat

As you assess performance, make use of all available email lists. The post-show hangover may result in a flurry of unsubscribes, but they’re easy to identify and track. Remember also that there’s no magic number for the things you’re monitoring. But with a long-term investment mindset, evaluating tradeshow performance can start with reasonable baselines that are adjusted over time. You may need to reset revenue expectations, for example, if you realize the sales cycle is shorter or longer than originally anticipated. You’ll also be likely to find that certain shows give your company far more bang for its buck, which may warrant a larger investment in terms of booth space, staffing at the show, or additional special events. Compare individual shows so you can optimize your annual calendar and invest in the events that consistently deliver expected or above-average returns.

So make the plan. Monitor the plan. Rework the plan. Be ready to answer the all-important question, “Was it worth it?” Even if it’s only for your own peace of mind. And call us if we can help.