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I worked a lot of trade shows during my career, and I was lucky enough to be in the booth when there was a long line of people waiting to talk to us. But I’ve been in a booth where it feels like the show will never end. Most people fear the latter: waiting in the booth for people to come by, thinking about how much money was wasted on the show.

Trade shows might be something you’ve already budgeted for, or perhaps you’ve thought about exhibiting at one but aren’t sure. That begs the question: How do I know this is the right show for my business?

Taking a few easy steps in advance of committing can set you up for success.

Trade Shows are Scary

First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Trade shows are scary. It can be a big investment of time and money, although it doesn’t have to be. And it can be difficult to identify one that’s best for your product or service – whether it’s software, Virtual IPT, IPT, elearning courses, instructional design services, etc.

Every trade show organizer thinks their show is the best, and it’s easy for them to create a flashy website with great images and statistics. After a while they all start to look the same.

Finding the right show is about more than simply knowing your budget. It’s important to be confident – almost certain – that the show will generate the right leads.  We put together these 5 essential steps to remove the scary from committing to a show.

Step 1 – Know Thy Customer

At FlashWorks, we’ve recommended previously the mantra to Know Thy Customer. It’s difficult to market your product or service if you haven’t identified your ideal buyer, and this is true for exhibiting at trade shows, too.

Identify your buyer:

  • What industry are you targeting?
  • What type of companies within that industry are ideal?
  • How many employees does the ideal company have, and/or what is the revenue range for your buyer companies?
  • What are the titles/positions/departments of the people in those companies who will make the purchase decisions about your product or service?

Pro Tip! Don’t simply say “CEO.” Yes, the CEO may be the final decision maker, but it’s more likely that a senior- or mid-level manager will influence the CEO’s purchase decision. Often lower-level employees are doing legwork to research vendors.

Step 2 – Know Your Marketing Budget

Yes, this is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get too excited about booking a show and end up spending more than the budget can bear.

Before looking at any shows, take an honest look at your operating costs and estimated revenue for the year and determine the level of spending you can afford. Set a minimum and maximum amount that you’re willing to spend and commit to that range.

Pro Tip! A standard trade show booth can cost upwards of $10,000 before furnishings and travel costs. Smart companies budget an additional 25% more than the basic costs.

Step 3 – Know Your Sales Cycle

Evaluate the previous 10 or 12 sales you’ve made and identify the length of time to close the sale. If sales are quick – within a month – you’ll likely recover your trade show costs quickly. But if your sales cycle is longer than a month, it will (obviously) take longer.

Why is this important? Because companies often exhibit at a show, get a few leads – many of which don’t turn into sales – and determine that the trade show wasn’t worth their money. That’s not exactly true. If sales come farther down the pipeline, the show may have been worth it.

It’s important to set realistic goals and expectations for a show, understand exactly what results you desire, and understand when you can expect a return on your investment.

Step 4 – Know the Show’s History

Now you’re ready to evaluate some shows. Start digging in!

Most websites report how long the show has been running (with exceptions for COVID-19 years). If it’s not on the website itself, read the Exhibitors Prospectus to find its history.

If it’s a relatively new show, prices will be less, but it may not have built a robust attendee base yet. (See Step 5!)

On the other hand, longer-running and well-known shows typically have large audiences and tend to deliver better results – that is, your target audience attends them. While booth expenses can be more with an established show, it’s more likely that you’ll reach your target audience.

Step 5 – Know the Show’s Audience

Be sure that the audience for the show matches the target audience you’ve defined. Your target doesn’t have to be the sole audience, but they should comprise a large part of the attendees.

Pro Tip! The Exhibitors Prospectus usually provides the composition of the show’s attendees, reported in percentages. Calculate your target audience’s percentage against the show’s total attendees, and you’ll get the approximate number of potential leads for that show.

For example, if the trade show’s Exhibitor Prospectus reports that 2,500 attendees were at last year’s show, and 5% of them were your target audience, then about 125 attendees were from your target audience. Is that enough? That depends on your overall goals for the show.

Remember, marketing is a blend of art and science, and science is partly a numbers game: the more people you reach, the more likely you are to get leads. And the more leads you get, the more likely you are to get sales and a return on your investment.


About the Author

Barbara Sanner is the Founder of Complete Marketing Solutions. They specialize in business-to-business marketing for organizations around the world, delivering marketing strategy and implementation, from advertising to webinars.

Contact Barbara SannerLinkedIn

Barbara Sanner Complete Marketing Solutions