Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Trade Show ROI

Trade Show ROI featured image

You just finished up a trade show, and on the surface, it seems that everything went great. A few appointments were made with top prospects, staffers gathered promising leads, everyone loved your trade show booth, and the new product you launched was well received. For once, everything went as planned, and there wasn’t a single issue throughout the entire event!

A few days later, your boss asks you how everything went, and you know that saying, “everything went great!” is not going to be an acceptable answer. Without hard data, it’s impossible to prove to management that your exhibit program succeeds at meeting its objectives. 

The warm and fuzzy feelings you have about the performance of your trade show program aren’t likely to generate much excitement when it comes times to renew budgets. Management wants facts, and there are no better facts than cold hard data.

For management, there is one metric for measuring trade show effectiveness that really matters – return. More specifically, management wants to know how much money is being made back from their investment and how investing in the trade show program helps the company meet its objectives. 

The process of evaluating and reporting return on investment can be difficult – it can start weeks before a trade show begins and last months after it has ended. In the following post, we will show you everything you need to know about trade show ROI, examine how the experts evaluate their trade show performance and teach you how to evaluate your trade show performance properly.

Return on Investment vs. Return on Objective

When it comes to trade shows (specifically trade show KPIs), two return metrics are equally important – return on investment and return on objective.

  • Return on investment is a measure of how much revenue a trade show generated for a company compared to the associated costs of participating.
  • Return on objectives is a measure of how participating in a specific trade show helps the company meet its defined non-sales objectives.

Return on investment is calculated rather easily, although it can take some time to gather the required data if your business has a long sales cycle. The formula for calculating trade show ROI is shown below:

(Revenue – Investment) / Investment

Trade Show ROI Example Infographic

Knowing What To Evaluate

Before a proper evaluation can take place, an evaluation objective needs to be defined. Evaluating your entire program as a whole may tell you how it is paying off on average, but doesn’t allow you to examine exactly which shows are performing well and which ones aren’t.

Here’s a tip – start with one or two of your most important shows; specifically, one that has been historically successful and one that’s been on the margins. By applying the same evaluation technique to both shows, you’ll learn more about what makes a show “successful”.

When evaluating a show, there are two main questions that you want to answer, using statistics and trade show ROI metrics:

  1. Should we continue to exhibit at this show?
  2. How effective are we at exhibiting at this show?

Several aspects must be assessed when considering an answer for both of these questions, including the effectiveness of the show, its target audience profiles and its attendee demographics, and the trade show industry market size.

To get the deeper information needed to evaluate both of these questions, consider the following aspects of your business:

  • How do you draw a crowd to your display?
  • Are you using the best methods to reach your audience?
  • What kind of impression are you making at the show?
  • How much revenue does the show bring in?
  • Are you saving as much money as possible in your trade show expenses?
  • Are you building solid customer relationships at the shows?

Prepare for Your Trade Show ROI Evaluation

Collecting data and information is a critical part of the trade show ROI evaluation process. Before the trade show, decide which method, process or software you will need to do your research most effectively. While many aspects of your trade show can be recorded, keeping track of the details of each lead serves dual advantages – you can easily contact them later for further sales and you can also keep track of them over the purchase process for more accurate ROI results.

Before the show, identify which factors are important to track at the show. For example, are your promotions generating the number of visitors you expected, and are they leaving the impression on your audience that you hoped for? Preparing to calculate the ROO on some objectives will take place before the show ever begins. You will want to calculate ROO and ROI to get the full picture. Make sure that all of your objectives are clarified and that you have planned exactly what will be required for your team to conduct the evaluation successfully. To illustrate, a successful trade show evaluation may require CRM software to collect data during the trade show and additional staff/labor to perform surveys and interviews during and post-show.

Collecting Data From The Trade Show

During the show, use a CRM to enter leads generated at the event and tag them to what specific show they attracted them. After the show has completed, the behavior of these leads can be followed until they make a purchase. As those leads turn into customers, their sales can be calculated into the Return on Investment or Return on Objective (depending on objective) formula.

Furthermore, exit interviews can be conducted right at the show and will help you obtain immediate feedback on your exhibit’s effect on attendees, as well as their buying intentions after visiting your exhibit. With the results you obtain through these interviews, you can determine the effectiveness of your exhibit, your booth staffers, your product presentation, and your follow-up efforts.

Post-show, a host of data can be collected by communicating directly with the shows attendees through phone interviews and email/snail mail questionnaires. Here is what the experts suggest when conducting this type of research:

    1. Telephone Interviews – If you’re doing research in-house, it will be your responsibility to develop the content of the questionnaire or script that your phone interviewers will be using. Creating the actual questions will be different for each reader, but in general these rules apply – keep it short, keep it simple, and make it specific with yes/no or multiple questions. Open-ended questions will make comparing results more difficult.
    2. Email or Snail Mail Questionnaires – These type of questionnaires will give you information about demographics and trends. They are best used to obtain statistical data on the attendees’ attitudes toward your company or product, and their objectives prior to the show. They can also be used after the show to determine any changes in attitude or buying decisions as a result of their visit to your exhibit. A large sample size is necessary to gather enough information for valid data.  

Additionally, it is important to be clear on the additional costs you will inherit in order to perform your surveys and evaluation. The costs and efforts required for your survey/interview campaign will be dictated by several factors:

  • The amount of phone interviews to be done, and the length of those calls.
  • The number of questionnaires (email of snail mail) to be sent out.
  • The number of people required to handle on-site exit interviews.
  • The time involved in completing the project.

Evaluating Your Research

Unlike ROI, ROO is mostly empirical and depending on the objective, can likely be measured right after the show has ended. For example, you could now calculate the marketing cost associated with attracting a single visitor by dividing total marketing costs by total number of visitors.

ROI calculations on the other hand, can’t always be performed immediately. Some businesses have longer sales cycles and it may take weeks or even months for show leads to become purchasers. Instead of simply waiting, run predictive ROI calculations each month until the final analysis can be completed.

How Is Your Trade Show Program Really Doing?

When your boss asks how your trade show went, your answer will be backed by hard numbers, survey answers, and results; not just a hopeful feeling that the investment the company made into your program is actually paying off. Furthermore, this will allow you to see whether your program is working, and if it is, what specific aspects are lending to the success of the program and which aspects need to be adjusted for better performance to create a trade show ROI strategy. To increase ROI, you have two options: increase your revenue or lower your expenses. To meet your trade show ROI goals, you may need to change your trade show marketing plan or your trade show budget and expenses.

Once you have your evidence written up, hold a post-attendance meeting with your team. Go over the findings of your trade show ROI and ROO report and discuss what should be done better at the next show to increase returns and how to show ROI to management and a clear path on how to increase ROI. If you’re lucky, you’ll find that your gut feeling was correct and you’ll have the data to confidently present your plan to management.

Trade Show ROI FAQ

Still have questions about trade show ROI? Check out the answers to some of the more commonly asked questions to learn even more about maximizing trade show ROI in the future.

What are key performance indicators?

Key performance indicators, or KPIs as mentioned above, are the set of quantifiable measures used to evaluate performance over a set time period. These metrics can be used to compare your performance to that of others within the industry to gauge your progress when it comes to achieving your operational and strategic goals. 

What requirements are needed to help determine KPIs?

Before KPIs can really be identified, you need to find qualitative and quantitative measurements, clear business objectives, a predefined organizational process, and an active approach to identifying and repairing enterprise variances.

What trade show metrics should be considered when measuring ROI?

When measuring ROI for a trade show event, you need measurable and trackable ROI customized to the unique needs of your particular business and industry. The following are just a few metrics you can use to analyze the overall effectiveness of your marketing efforts:

Preshow promotions: investing in a preshow promotion is important because of how competitive each industry is getting. This is a good way to attract attendees to your trade show booth, to begin with. It also offers people more of an incentive to visit the booth, which can drive more traffic

Average cost per opportunity: tracking your average cost per opportunity is a good way to get a good level of return on the investment you made in a trade show event. To calculate this, you need to know how much you spent for the event and the total leads you could generate that were then converted into opportunities.

Website traffic: this is always a good indicator for any business to analyze and tell you what kind of impression you are making on potential customers. When analyzing website traffic, determine the average number of visitors you had before your trade show event, the average you had during the show, and immediately after, and then compare the two. You should notice an increase in organic searches and direct traffic.

Social media: this is another metric you need to analyze after an event because this is the number of people you could reach during the event. A potential customer could ultimately turn into an email contact, fan on social media, or a new blog subscriber.

Budget vs actual cost: creating and following a budget is essential when participating in trade show events. Keep track of what you spent and what your budget was and see how far off you were. A budget is essential for a more accurate ROI. When calculating the budget, be sure to include the pre and post-show marketing you used, the banners, display accessories, and booth costs you incurred, as well as travel and shipping costs. 

How can exhibitors boost ROI at the next trade show?

To boost ROI at the next trade show event, it never hurts to promote the event through marketing efforts on social media, email, and your website’s landing page. You should also consider personalizing your booth so you can better highlight your services and products. 

How do trade shows generate leads?

A good trade show booth with an effective marketing strategy can realistically generate an average of 5-6 leads per hour, which means they can have up to 48 qualified leads in 8 hours. To do this, staff at your booth need to be disciplined and motivated to draw in and speak with the potential customer. Having an eye-catching and visibly pleasing, memorable display is also good for lead generation and booth traffic. 


If you need help getting started or finding a research firm that can help, give us a call. We’ve helped dozens of companies make their programs work more effectively and find their trade show strategy, and we can do the same for you. You can also read our article discussion on measuring trade show ROI.

Whether you need to improve the appearance of your trade show exhibit or purchase a new booth completely, we can help with that too! Contact us today for more information.