Measuring Trade Show ROI

Measuring Trade Show ROI 1
Return on investment – ROI, on a virtual screen presentation

You know it was a good show, but how do you go about measuring trade show ROI so you can prove it?

Appointments were made with top prospects and customers, staffers gathered lots of promising leads, and the new product launch was well received. There were no strategic or logistical problems. Everything went just as you’d planned.

But you’re still a bit uneasy. Why?

You don’t have any solid, quantifiable results—no hard data to prove to management that your exhibit program is succeeding at its objectives. Sure, you’ve been at this a while, and your gut instinct is that the show was successful. But when you’re called on to prove the trade show ROI, you’re on shaky ground.

Management isn’t likely to approve your warm, fuzzy feelings about your trade show program when it comes time to renew budgets. So what do you do?


That’s the answer: structured, statistically sound and measurable verification of all that goes into your program, and all that your company gets out of it—so you can provide that to your management in a cohesive, well reasoned and persuasive manner.

But it’s daunting to launch a project that costs time, money and labor, especially when everyone in your marketing and sales departments is probably already overworked.

Let me suggest that you approach this task with some simple, preliminary steps that will help you plan and implement a workable trade show template and help you in measuring trade show roi.

1) Don’t evaluate your entire program

This could be a recipe for failure, because you’ll be going from zero to sixty too fast, without enough experience behind the wheel. Start with one or two of your most important shows, where your staff can gain experience and insights, while they work out a functional, cost-effective approach that can then be scaled up to a larger evaluation program.

I’d suggest you work on two shows, with very different parameters: one that’s been historically successful and one that’s been on the margins. By applying the same evaluation techniques to both shows, you’ll learn more about measuring your trade show ROI and determining what makes a show actually “successful”.

By starting small, you’ll also discover potential shortcomings in your evaluation process that can be fine-tuned before you roll it out on a bigger scale.

2) Create a trade show ROI Template to make your evaluation goals clear

The most important questions your research should answer are

(A) “Should we continue to exhibit at this show?” and

(B) “Can we be more effective at exhibiting at this show?”

To answer these questions, you need information about overall trade show effectiveness, target audience profiles and the demographics of the show’s attendees. To get at deeper information about both main questions, consider these issues:

  • How do we draw a crowd?

Does the audience for this show come from a specific geographical radius? Does the season, time of the month or day of the week have an impact on attendance in general, or on our target market specifically? Is the educational track at this show an important draw? If so, should we participate?

One of the most effective ways of getting the word out about your presence at a show is through personal invitations to hot prospects and valued customers. Once they’re at the show, make certain these invited guests feel welcomed and appreciated.

  • How do we become more visible at the show?

You can work with the show organizer to provide speakers or presenters from within the ranks of your company to host the seminars or workshops. This enhances your presence at the show, and demonstrates that your company is a source of expertise on issues relevant to show visitors.

  • Is this the best way to reach our audience?

A trade show needs to be evaluated against all other means of reaching prospective customers. You need to use all the tools in your company’s arsenal: advertising, PR, direct mail, your online presence, trade shows, and even cold calls. There’s no one “right way” to close a sale, and a trade show is only one tool in accomplishing that objective.

  • What kind of impression are we making at the show?

This is where you have to evaluate the effect your trade show exhibit has on show attendees. And it’s not just the booth design and architecture that needs to be studied. You also need to consider the role of the booth staff, the presentation of your product or service, the ways attendees were able to involve themselves with the booth, and the degree to which they did so.

All these factors will inform your evaluation of your exhibit program as a whole. Once you’ve studied each of these elements, you can establish benchmarks for the research that will help in measuring trade show roi, by showing how well or how poorly your exhibit has performed at the shows you’re evaluating. What you’re looking for is how well the show being researched is reaching your target audience.

At this stage in the process, you’ll begin designing interviews and surveys to help you determine whether your plans for the show are getting you in touch with that audience. To accomplish this, you’ll need to consider some additional questions:

  1. What makes our prospects and customers want to attend this show?
  2. Does visiting the show have an impact on potential customers’ buying plans?
  3. Are we on our prospects’ list of exhibits to visit?
  4. What are our customers and prospects looking for at this show?
  5. What are the buying plans of attendees in general, and our prospects specifically?

Remember, management is looking for hard data to justify the expense of a trade show program, and it’s up to you to provide the information that will convince executives that trade shows are an effective and efficient way to reach new prospects.

They’re simply not going to trust your hunches that exhibiting at trade shows is a good idea. So you need to do research without breaking the bank or overtaxing an already overburdened marketing and sales staff.

So let’s get back into this subject by determining the ways attending a trade show affects show visitors. Your objective is to establish a buyer profile for customers or potential customers. To do this, ask a few questions:

  1. Did attendees purchase your product or service after attending the trade show? If they did, what was the total dollar value of their purchase?
  2. Are attendees considering future purchases? If so, when will their decisions be made?
  3. Who’s responsible for the purchasing decisions: show attendees or management, relying on attendees’ recommendations?
  4. How did the exhibit and your presence at the show affect the buying decision?
  5. How did the booth staff influence attendees?

3) Determine the survey tools you’ll need to do your at-event trade show ROI research effectively

You have a wide array of tools available for research—actually more than you’ll need. Let’s look at three ways of gathering information that will help you create a well-reasoned argument for your trade show program.

  • Telephone interviews will help you get the most in-depth information.

You’ll need a substantial sample to gather enough information to make your research meaningful. A few phone calls won’t do it. You’ll also need to have a script or questionnaire for phone interviewers to follow, and they should be trained to not only ask the questions, but also to gauge the interviewee’s mood in responding.

A good phone interviewer will be able to gather a deeper level of information by being attuned to the enthusiasm (or lack of enthusiasm) in the respondent’s voice. This is information you can’t obtain with any other research tool. It will help you gather not only quantitative data, but also perceptive information, as well.

  • Email or snail mail questionnaires will give you information about demographics, as well as trends.

These are best used to obtain statistical data on the attendees’ attitudes (toward your company or your product, for example), 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. Again, a large sample is necessary for valid data.

  • Exit interviews, done at the show, will help you obtain immediate feedback on your exhibit’s effect on attendees, as well as their buying decisions.

Using the results you obtain here, as well as those obtained in a later follow-up interview, you can determine the effectiveness of your exhibit, your staffers, your product presentation, and your follow-up efforts.

Now let’s move on to the fourth and fifth elements of a successful exhibit survey:

4) Determine the resources you’ll need to conduct the evaluation

If you have in-house research staff, consider yourself blessed. However, even your in-house team will frequently subcontract the fact-gathering aspects of the project to an outside supplier.

If you don’t have this option available, you can still do effective research. You could recruit a group of telemarketers to do the phone calling. Handle the email or snail mail portion within your own group, and consider using interns or junior staff for the exit interviews. This offers the added benefit of giving these people helpful training in your product or service that can be valuable to them as they rise through the company’s ranks.

Alternately, you may choose to hire an outside firm to handle this project entirely. But outline the project yourself, so you can communicate your needs appropriately to the contractor. This way, you’ll have done the homework necessary to be sure you’re getting what you want.

Review the consulting firm’s previous clientele, to make sure they can do what you’re asking of them. This isn’t a job for an ad agency or marketing firm. Hire them, and they’ll likely subcontract the job to a dedicated research group. Skip the middleman and find the right subcontractor yourself.

5) Evaluate the cost in comparison to expected results

In taking on a project like this, costs 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 or snail mail) to be sent out,
  • the number of people required to handle on-site exit interviews, and
  • the time involved in completing the project.

Any changes you make after you begin the project will also have a bearing on the price. That’s why I suggest you outline the project clearly and completely.

I should mention that there’s a sixth step involved here, too: actually doing it. So let’s focus on how to conduct the research through telephone interviews, email or snail mail questionnaires, and exit interviews.

How to create your phone interview questionnaire or script

If you’re doing the research in-house, you’ll be responsible for developing the content of the questionnaire or script your phone interviewers will be using. Creating the actual questions will be different for each reader, so I can only offer you advice for making your survey effective:

keep it short (five minutes or less), and tell respondents how long the survey will take, updating them during the call with how many questions remain.

keep it simple to make sure respondents understand the questions. Avoid jargon, catch phrases or acronyms respondents may not be familiar with.

make it specific by asking yes/no or multiple-choice questions. Open-ended questions will make comparing results more difficult.

make it logical so one question leads to the next, and your rating scale remains consistent (ten is always the best answer, while one always expresses a negative).

offer an enticement for completing the interview that has value to the respondent, such as a product discount, a coffee house gift card or something similar.

start with your most important questions, saving demographic questions for the end of the interview, since they are less important to the overall process, and interviewees may begin to lose interest near the end.

Creating Your Email or Snail Mail Questionnaire

An app like Survey Monkey can help you create an effective survey questionnaire, whether from scratch or by using a template. It offers you options for several types of questions, which can provide you with information about how prospects, customers or booth visitors feel about your exhibit program. Here are the most frequently used types of questions:

Multiple-choice questions allow the user to select one or more options from a list of pre-defined answers. Use this approach when you have a limited number of response options.

Rating scale questions allow the survey taker to choose one response for your question from a continuum of choices. Use the Likert Scale ( to develop the range of possible responses.

Survey questions require respondents to enter their answers into a comment box, without providing pre-set answers. This requires you to analyze the responses manually, but you get the benefit of a broad range of information

Demographic questions give you information about the respondent’s years of experience, position in the purchasing decision, age, gender, etc.

Exit interviews and how to use them

These interviews allow you to gauge your exhibit’s impact on prospects, customers and booth visitors. The best advice I can offer is to keep it short—no more than two minutes.

position interviewers at every exit point from your booth, so you get the best coverage of people who’ve experienced your exhibit and (hopefully) interacted with your booth staff.

create a questionnaire with no more than 10 or 12 questions that can be answered with yes/no or 1-10 responses. Interviewers should have clipboards or computer tablets for recording interviewee’s answers.

consider equipping interviewers with recording devices so interviewers’ questions and interviewees’ responses can be verbally recorded.

Measuring Trade Show ROI

Your first step in evaluating your research is to enter the data into a spreadsheet program. Set up the document so it allows you to sort by answer and by demographics. This may take more time, but it will be helpful in allowing you to find the information you’re looking for.

If you can’t cross-reference information, you’ll be able to determine how many people answered a specific question affirmatively, but you won’t be able to find out whether that person was a customer, a prospect, or just a booth visitor with no purchasing plans or authority.

Run your first set of results, looking at just the raw numbers without any sorts. You’re looking for how all respondents answered specific questions, regardless of demographic data.

This may give you insights on questions that need further examination. You may also discover that your previously held beliefs were incorrect, given the survey’s results.

Next, run several sorts in order to determine how people answered questions by whatever factors are important to you. You might run a sort to discover how many people had the opportunity to see a product demonstration and cross-reference that against future buyers.

Without cross-referencing, you can get misleading results. For example, if 65% of your respondents talked with a booth staffer, you might think you’re doing well at reaching show visitors. But further study may show that many of those interactions did not end with a call to action. Using this information, you may want to place more emphasis on getting booth staffers to close, schedule an appointment or take some other action to further the sales process.

I hope you’ve found this article valuable in outlining how to go about creating a research study that sells your program to management. If you need help getting started or finding a research firm that can help, give us a call. If you’d like another perspective on measuring trade show ROI, here’s an excellent article on the keys of trade show ROI posted by one of our manufacturing partners, and another blog post we did on defining trade show ROI.

Your exhibit has an enormous effect on the success of your participation in any trade show. That’s one way we can help. We’ve got an enormous catalog of modular display components to choose from that can help you create the exhibit of your dreams.

But that’s not all we can do. From help with new graphics to a full range of exhibiting accessories like literature racks, lighting, table covers and tablet kiosks, we’ll support you in making your exhibit as effective as possible. For more information, Contact Us or call us: 1(800) 676-3976.