Increasing Your Trade Show Return On Investment (TS-ROI)

  • Jun 13, 2017

If your boss made you pay for your next trade show out of your own pocket and then reimbursed you a percentage based on the show’s ROI, what would you do differently? 

If you’re the boss, are you asking the right questions when it comes to TS-ROI?

In this 3 part series we will look at the 3 stages of a trade show to help you determine your TS-ROI.  Knowing which show(s) to attend is key to your overall trade show strategy.  Once you decide what shows you will be attending, properly planning the 3 stages for each show will help in the execution of your show strategy for greater impact and ROI. 

Once you have decided to attend a show the next most important part of the show planning process is knowing what you want to accomplish. Do you have a new process to present, will you be launching a new product, are you trying to generate new business, or is it strictly PR?  Once you have determined why you are shelling out the money to go then it’s time to plan the show.

There are 3 stages to every trade show and your success depends on where you focus your time and money.  We will expand on Stage 1 in this part of the series. 

STAGE 1 - Pre-show planning:

Before you even start to plan for a show you need to know if it is worth the time, resources and expenses to attend the show.  For most companies it is simple math:

  show related sales

- show related expenses



For some, the formula is quite different and more complex.  For this series we will simply use the easier math. 


The questions that everyone should be asking are: Why should we exhibit?  How many staff members will we need to engage our potential audience?  How will we handle their absence from the office during the show? (It is often forgotten how important this question is to current business)  How much space is required to attract and accommodate our potential audience?  Too little space and as it gets crowded people will walk by; too large and people will ask why no one is visiting this company. 


Learn all you can about the show: Who will be exhibiting? Who will be attending? What is the number of pre-registered attendees? Historically how many same day registrations are there? Will there be education offered? What is the host city?  What is the host hotel and are there any event specific functions at the host hotel?  What other shows are at the venue at the same time?  Will the show organizer provide you with a list of exhibitors? Will they provide you with a list of pre-registered attendees?  Knowing who is going to be attending is part of the formula for attending the show.  The mix between current customers and prospects will be key to over-all show goals and planning process. 

The answer to these questions will help you develop your pre-show planning and will also play a role in your actual show marketing.  With a list of pre-registered attendees you can now check that list against your current customer list and prospective customer list. 

The marketing to your current customers will be different than the way you will market to your prospective customers.  You already have an established relationship with your current customer.  Their time in the booth should be spent further developing that relationship, reaffirming why they have chosen you as their supplier. 

Prospects are those you want your key staff to have a conversation with.  This is your chance to really make a good impression and start to build that relationship. With the invitation send part of a promotional item and ask them to stop by the booth to pick up the other half; or send an item with a number printed on the item and ask them to stop by and check their number to see what they have won.  The goal is to get that prospect into the booth. 

When they present the item it identifies them to your staff as a prospect.  When your staff looks up the number in their show information it will provide them with valuable information about that prospect and their needs.  As the staff works with the prospect to get their free gift you are starting to build that relationship. 

As you can see, having a solid plan in place beforehand is very important to the show’s success.  Therefore it is vitally important that you build your plan with the assistance of those departments with some level of accountability for the show results.  Know your deadlines for deliverables and hold everyone accountable for their portion of the pre-show work from the actual booth to the invites, graphics, staff training and preparedness, show reporting and collateral materials, and promotional giveaways. Set up a gantt chart in weekly blocks starting at 12 weeks out.  Fill in as much detail as you can and then set up your internal planning meeting.  Make sure to list the show goals on this sheet as well so that they stay part of your focus throughout the entire pre-planning process. This will provide for a better show experience and greater ROI.  

Use a 3 ring binder to hold all your important documentation for the show.  It will become a useful tool for the same show in the following year.  Separate out important sections of the show such as who is attending, their cell phone numbers, travel itineraries, lodging, transportation and events (such as customer dinners and reservations, team meetings and rooms, and presentation and technology), all aspects of the booth including exhibit company contacts, booth rental, assembly, delivery, decoration, electric, fixtures and furniture, internet, carpet and trashcans.  Move in time and move out times.  Phone numbers for key contacts.  If you are in charge of the show for your company, start to build relationships with the key people you need to work with at the show.  You never know when that relationship might come in handy down the road. 

Work with sales and marketing on developing the questions you will be asking or the data you will want collected at the show.  Consider using a tablet with preloaded software and questions to make it easier for your staff to collect the data such as, or  Tablets can also allow your staff to email specifics to the attendee as their conversation is happening. 

Make sure that you test the survey questions, the software/app, and how the results are stored and the data is retrieved in week 8 to 10.  Never leave this detail until the very end as a key part of your at-show image is how well prepared you are and how efficient your technology works.  A huge part of the post-show planning is mining the data that you have collected at the show and then using it to contact both current customers and those prospects you want to convert.  Make sure that as part of your pre-show planning you make one of your goals post-show prospect conversion rate.  Increased conversion rates increases revenue and TS-ROI. 

Spend the extra money to get a high speed wireless access point in your booth.  It will make a huge impression on your customers and will keep your staff from becoming stressed. 

The booth layout, fixtures and signage make a big impact on attendees, but so should the professional look of your staff.  Make sure that each staff member has been provided with a clean, company logoed staff shirt for each day of the event, and insist that it be clean and pressed before they arrive at the booth.  A tailored and professional look at your booth will tell those in attendance that details are important to your company.

Another important part of your pre-show planning should include your social media marketing at the show.  Proper use of social media will let your customers and prospects know that you’re a savvy company and where to find your both at the show and after.  If you are offering a free gift, demos or presentations at your booth, make sure to share those details via social media at the show.  Plan to set up your booth as a Foursquare location and invite people to stop by for a check-in.  Knowing the location of the show, and a little pre-planning will allow you to set up a Tweetup with customers at a fun location after the show. 

In the week prior to the show, one of the last but important items is staff training and expectations.  From the minute the staff leaves the office until they return, they’re representing the company and should be dressed appropriately and understands the expectations for professional behavior attending the show.  This should be discussed at the same time you provide them with the pre-show training.  Each should receive their show materials and, if supplying them with tablets, the necessary training.  Each should receive their show shirts along with the dress code expectations for the show and the day and hours they will be expected at the show. 


The display has shipped, the staff is traveling and you have arrived in advance to start the show set-up.  Part 2 of this series will address “THE SHOW” and key aspects that will keep things running smoothly.  

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  • Tags: Trade Shows