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2 Simple Ideas to Improve Trade Show ROI

April 03, 2019 / By Bruce McDuffee

Manufacturers love trade shows. 9 out of 10 manufacturers allocate the majority of their marketing budget to this venerable marketing institution. Therefore, it is more critical than ever to ask, "what is the return on investment for our last trade show?" It's not unusual to spend 10s or even 100s of thousands of dollars on a single show. When I ask manufacturers about the ROI for a trade show, it is a rare VP Marketing that can answer conclusively. One of the easiest benchmark metrics is the cost per lead or cost per qualified visitor. These days, that number is likely to be in the hundreds of dollars. One strong, and valid, argument sales people like to throw in the mix is that they get to see a large group of prospects and customers at one time. When you compare the cost of travel to see a bunch of prospects to the cost of a trade show, that alone could make the business case.

10 years ago when I owned a marketing production company, as a pioneer in content marketing, I taught small Chambers of Commerce and other Associations about trade show best practices. As I reflect on the best practices, it is clear to me that trade shows require a lot of work to make them successful. The fundamentals that drive booth traffic and increase ROI have not changed in 20 years. Reflecting on the last trade show I attended, as I strode along the aisles, I observed a myriad of booth sizes from the large 60'x60' to the small 10'x10' with all kinds of booth components, slogans, dress, giveaways, ad nauseam.  Remarkably, if you asked people who stood at similar booth sizes and locations how the show was going, some said "great show", others said, "it's kind of slow".  How could this be?  It's the same booth size, same show attendance, same location but different results.  I would bet that the ROI directly correlates to these different perceptions as well.

If you add just these two actions to your trade show plan, your ROI will soar:

  1. Let them know you'll be there and why they should visit your booth.  80% of trade show visitors decide which booths they will visit before ever setting foot on the show floor.  Let your target audience know ahead of the show that you will be there and give them a compelling reason to put you on their list of booths to visit.  What's that you say? Of course, our customers will seek us out. They love our company and they love me! How could they resist our charm, wit, magnetic smiles and funny jokes?  Think again my friend, it is imperative that you give your customers a reason to visit. The draw doesn't have to be complex. I remember a show where we offered a very simple promotion; stop by to see some new products and pick up a free t-shirt while you're in the booth.  It worked like a charm.  We had more qualified visitors than any previous year.  I couldn't help but feel sorry for the booth across the aisle as they watched our packed booth from their empty booth. Undoubtedly, they were relying on their smiles and jokes to draw customers to the booth.
  2. Follow up quickly.  After 3 days, every day that goes by causes an exponential decrease in your show ROI.   Make sure to follow up on specific requests immediately. Same-day follow-up is not too soon. Make sure that everyone who visited the booth gets some type of follow-up correspondence or contact before 3 days time. You would be amazed at the number of companies who spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a show but never follow up with the visitors after the show.  It's hard.  The poor salesperson spends 3 days at the show, offline or partially offline and when they gets back, there's just too much "real work" to do, so the leads go into the CRM or sit on their desk, never to be heard from again.  This scenario is the BIGGEST killer of trade show ROI above and beyond any other issue.

It's up to the marketers. Trade shows aren't going away. We marketers need to make sure they pay off.  These two rules will help you make it pay. Shoot me an email and I'll be glad to chat with you about your trade show challenges.

Manufacturing Marketing Group Louisville, CO US 303-953-4361