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How to Measure and Maximize Trade Show Return on Investment

Trade shows can be powerful platforms for showcasing your products, growing your brand, and winning new customers. However, figuring out how much your business actually benefits from attending trade shows can be challenging. 

To make the most of these events, you’ll need to measure the return on investment, or ROI, of the trade shows you attend. When you understand your ROI, you understand how much each trade show is worth to your business and get insights on how to improve your trade show performance and better allocate your marketing budget to drive optimal results.

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Understanding ROI in the context of trade shows

Before we dive into how to measure trade show ROI, let’s cover the essentials, including what ROI is in the context of trade shows and why tracking your return is so important.

What is return on investment (ROI)?

Return on investment, or ROI, measures how much a business earned from a particular activity compared to the expenses related to that activity. It tells you how much profit your business gained from something and helps you evaluate whether it’s worthwhile.

In the context of trade shows, ROI tells you how much revenue attending a trade show brought your business compared to the costs of attending. Revenue includes new sales and opportunities resulting from the show, while expenses may include entrance fees, booth rental fees, employee time, and other costs.

What is return on objectives (ROO)?

Another common, related metric for assessing the value a business gets from a trade show is return on objectives or ROO.

ROO measures how well participating in a trade show helped your company meet its non-sales objectives. Since many companies attend trade shows with goals other than new sales and revenue, ROO can help you evaluate all the other business benefits trade shows can provide.

What your ROO calculation looks like depends on your goals. For example, you may want to measure brand awareness or connections with potential collaborators. ROO is typically a more qualitative measurement, while ROI is more quantitative.

Why measure your return from trade shows?

After attending a trade show, it’s important to measure the return on your investment. Measuring your ROI or ROO tells you whether you met the goals you set for the event and gives you insight into whether it’s worth attending again.

Measuring your trade show ROI can benefit your business in the following ways:

  • Cost justification: Trade shows can be expensive, from booth rental to travel expenses. Measuring the return helps justify these costs and ensures the investment is worthwhile.
  • Performance evaluation: By tracking metrics such as leads generated, sales closed, or brand exposure, companies can evaluate the effectiveness of their trade show participation and identify areas for improvement in their trade show tactics.
  • Budget allocation: Understanding ROI allows companies to assess the profitability of their participation in trade shows compared to other marketing strategies, which helps in allocating resources efficiently.

How to measure ROI from trade shows

Calculating ROI isn’t too difficult, but gathering data on all your revenue and expenses can take some time. This is especially true if your business has a long sales cycle, which means it may be a while before you actually see the revenue from your latest trade show.

The formula for calculating trade show ROI is shown below:

(Revenue – Investment) / Investment = ROI

In this section, we’ll discuss this calculation in more detail and provide step-by-step instructions for measuring your trade show ROI.

1. Determine your goals

Before you start calculating your ROI (and before you attend a trade show), you need to define your goals for the event. This will determine if you use ROI, ROO, or both.

Decide which key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use to measure your success, whether that’s revenue, sales, leads, social media followers, or website visitors.

To set better goals, use the SMART framework, which says you should create specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals. In particular, it’s important to assign specific numbers to your goals, such as revenue amount earned or leads generated.

2. Add up revenue

To calculate your ROI, you’ll start by adding up all your revenue from the trade show.

This is relatively simple if you only have on-site sales and purchase orders. Simply look at the sales or orders you received at the event and add up the total sale amount. Retail and other direct-to-consumer companies often fall into this bucket.

Adding up your revenue may be a little more complex for other exhibitors, such as those in the business-to-business (B2B) space. You may need to look at sales as well as things like vendor contracts and partnerships. You could also consider leads, even if they won’t close right away.

If you have a longer sales cycle, and it will take some time to see the revenue from your trade show efforts, you can use predictive analytics to estimate what your ROI will be. You can use past close rates and deal sizes to calculate approximately how many leads from the trade show will close and how much revenue those deals will produce. You can use these estimates in your ROI calculations and adjust your figures as the deals close.

To track your trade show revenue accurately, you need a way to mark which sales and leads came from the show. Options for adding this tracking include:

  • Tracking codes or UTM codes
  • Unique landing page for attendees
  • Tags or a specific pipeline in your CRM

Adding up non-sales wins

If you’re measuring ROO, your calculations will be a little less exact, but it’s possible to add up your non-sales wins and estimate your trade show ROO. The exact steps vary depending on your objectives. For example, if your goal is brand awareness, you could measure things like foot traffic at your booth, social media interactions, website visits, and the number of email addresses collected.

You may also be able to estimate the dollar value of achieving your objective. For example, you might determine that about one in five new social media followers will become customers and spend $100 with your company. Then, each new follower is worth approximately $20 to your business.

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3. Add up expenses 

Next, you’ll add up your expenses related to the trade show. These costs vary, but standard trade show expenses typically include:

  • Passes to attend the trade show
  • Booth rental
  • Booth design
  • Display and giveaways
  • Travel, room, and board for employees
  • Marketing campaigns to promote your trade show booth

4. Calculate your return

Once you have your total revenue and expenses, you can plug those numbers into the ROI formula. The ROI formula is:

(Revenue – Investment) / Investment

For example, let’s say you spend $10,000 on a trade show and bring in $16,000 in revenue. Your formula would look like this:

($16,000 – $10,000) / $10,000

When you subtract $10,000 from $16,000, you get $6,000. Then, you divide that by $10,000 to get 0.6.

ROI is typically expressed as a percentage, so multiply 0.6 by 100 to get 60%. So, you made back your initial investment plus 60% of that initial investment amount—an ROI of 60%.

Remember that if you have a longer sales cycle and you won’t see all your revenue right away, you can estimate your eventual ROI using predictive analytics. Estimate your ROI based on past metrics and adjust your calculations as more deals from the trade show close.

If you’re measuring ROO and can estimate the monetary value of achieving your objective, you can use this same formula to approximate your return from the trade show.

5. Evaluate your success

ROI is essential for understanding whether attending a given trade show is worthwhile and how much that event is worth to your business.

You’ll also want to consider other factors, though, to get a full picture.

You may have had other objectives besides direct revenue when attending a trade show. If you achieved these goals, attending an event may be worthwhile even if the ROI isn’t impressive.

It’s also important to consider that while ROI typically considers a short-term time horizon, you can use customer lifetime value (CLV) to make your ROI calculations more accurate over the long term. CLV is the average revenue a business earns from a customer over the entire time they’re a customer rather than just the first sale or the first year.

Another vital consideration is opportunity costs—the opportunities you could not take advantage of because you were attending the trade show.

For example, when a salesperson is attending a trade show, they may miss out on sales they would have made if they had been in the office. Consider whether your team can bring more value to your business at a trade show or elsewhere. Ideally, the show will result in more sales—or at least more overall value—than if the salesperson had stayed in the office.

Utilizing your CRM to enhance trade show preparation

Your CRM is one of the best tools for making the most of trade shows. Preparing for trade shows using your CRM can help improve your ROI and ROO, and using a CRM to track new contacts, leads, and customers enables you to stay organized, follow up with leads, and track your ROI.

Here are some of the ways you can use your CRM to prepare for your next trade show:

  • Create tags: Before the show, create a tag in your CRM that denotes which leads are from the trade show. When you input new contacts from the trade show, add these tags to them. These tags enable you to track leads and conversions from the trade show, allowing you to track ROI.
  • Set up forms: Before the trade show, set up online forms that either interested leads or your team can fill out. Some form tools, such as Nutshell Forms, can automatically add contacts created through forms to your CRM, tagging them to indicate they’re from the trade show.
  • Create a pipeline: Consider creating a dedicated pipeline in your CRM for trade show leads. Creating a pipeline helps you quickly follow up with leads, personalize your follow-ups, and nurture them toward becoming customers.
  • Set up automation: If your CRM includes email and other outreach tools, you can set up automated outreach that you can personalize to each lead. You can set this automation up as part of your pipeline or create one-off email sequences. Either way, your team saves time and effort, and you ensure quick follow-ups with new contacts.
  • Reach out proactively: If you have event attendees’ contact information before the show, you can email them beforehand to introduce yourself and let them know your booth’s location and what you’re offering. This can increase foot traffic at your booth. Plus, you’ve already started warming up leads before meeting them at the event.

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Not seeing a positive ROI from trade shows? Here’s what to do

If you’re not seeing a positive ROI from trade shows, you’ll want to look into why that is. You can then determine if you should take steps to improve your trade show performance or redirect some of the marketing dollars you spend on trade shows.

In addition to evaluating your ROI, getting qualitative feedback can help you determine what to do about less-than-ideal trade show performance. After a trade show, gather feedback from team members who participated about what went well and what could be improved.

You can also send out surveys to attendees to find out what they thought of your trade show exhibit. Either ask attendees to fill out our surveys in person or send them to new contacts via phone or email afterward.

Tips for improving trade show ROI

If you’d like to improve your trade show ROI, here are four areas to focus on:

Improve your booth experience

Your booth is your first impression at a trade show. To improve your ROI, try upgrading your display designs and making your booth more interactive. You can provide giveaways such as free coffee, candy, or branded swag like hats, pens, or T-shirts. You can also integrate games or other interactive elements into your booth. Bringing along more team members can also help you engage more attendees.

Promote your booth beforehand

Along with making your booth more engaging, create a plan to promote your trade show booth before the event starts. Post about the show on social media before, during, and after the event, and use hashtags related to the event to help people find your content. You can also reach out to attendees before the event to introduce yourself.

Prioritize follow-ups

For many businesses, meeting people at the event is just the first step in the process. Following up is essential for converting those new connections into customers. 

Don’t wait to send your follow-ups. Reach out right after the event or right after you meet someone while the connection is fresh in their minds. And if you don’t hear from them after the first email, reach out again. Creating an automated but personalized email sequence can help you keep up with your follow-ups. It’s also important to include clear calls to action in your emails so that leads know precisely how to further the relationship.

Focus on the most relevant events

When trying to improve your trade show ROI, attending as many shows as possible can be tempting. However, it’s often best to focus on a few shows that are more precisely targeted to your ideal audience. If you’re just starting out with trade shows, it’s especially important to start with just a few highly relevant events.

Alternative marketing channels for boosting ROI

If you’re still not seeing sufficient ROI from trade shows or you just want to try redirecting some of your marketing dollars, there are many other marketing channels you can invest in to boost your ROI.

Some of these channels include:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising: PPC advertising includes online ads on search engines and other websites. These ads are an excellent way to boost visibility, leads, and sales online quickly. And since you pay per click, they’re quite cost-effective as well. 
  • Search engine optimization (SEO): While PPC focuses on online ads, SEO focuses on getting your website to rank well in search results organically. Rather than paying for ad space, you invest in quality website content relevant to your business and potential customers. One benefit of SEO is that it provides long-term visibility. Once you create a piece of optimized content, it can continue driving results for a long time with minimal ongoing investment.
  • Email marketing: Email marketing is another effective online channel for converting leads. You can manage email marketing campaigns through CRMs such as Nutshell and other email marketing tools. Email marketing ROI can be as high as 4400% or $44 for every dollar spent. A well-designed email marketing strategy is essential for maximizing your email ROI.
  • Social media marketing: Social media marketing includes organic posts and social media advertising. It’s a powerful way to reach new potential customers and boost your brand awareness online.

While you can get started with many of these channels on your own, working with a professional marketing agency is one of the best ways to get results quickly and maximize your ROI.

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Make the most of trade shows with Nutshell

So, there you have it—a whirlwind tour through the world of trade show ROI, from understanding the basics to diving into measurement techniques and optimization strategies.

Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to showcase your brand, connect with prospects, and drive business growth. But to make the most of these events, you need to be savvy about tracking your returns. By setting clear goals, leveraging data-driven insights, and embracing innovative approaches, you can supercharge your trade show ROI and propel your business to new heights.

So, next time you’re gearing up for a trade show, remember to keep these tips in mind. With the right mindset and a solid plan in place, you’ll be well on your way to trade show success.

And if you’re looking for a CRM to help you make the most of your trade shows and other lead generation channels, consider Nutshell. Nutshell is an easy-to-use CRM with features for pipeline management, sales automation, built-in email marketing, and much more, plus free customer support. To learn more about Nutshell, sign up for a live demo or free 14-day trial today!

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