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The Foolproof Way To Measure Your Trade Show ROI

You’ve been asked the same question time and time again:  “What’s the ROI from our trade show program?”  You grit your teeth, take a deep breath, force a smile on your face, and answer, “I don’t know.”

The Fool Proof Way to Measure Your Tradeshow ROIWhy not?  It might be because you can’t get your sales team to share which leads turned into sales with you.  Or because you don’t have a unified database that tracks it automatically.  Or because you simply don’t have time to chase it all down.

But it’s not rocket science to figure out your trade show ROI, just a lot of busy work (that you don’t have to do all by yourself).

Here’s the foolproof steps on measuring your trade show ROI:

1. Get Your Leads:  Gather up your list of trade show leads from each show.  If that’s too much to take a bite on, do the shows you really want to track first, like your expensive or largest shows. Put the list in Excel.  You’ll need the spreadsheet for extra columns and calculations.

2.  Get Your Customer List:  Somewhere in your company is a list of all your customers and what they bought.  It may be in a nice neat database, it may be the invoices in your accounting software, it may be in your warranty files.  But it’s out there.  Don’t have access to it?  Ask for it.  Get turned down?  Ask your boss to get you access.  Your boss will be pleased you are being proactive about both revenues and costs, and will help you get by the gatekeepers, or at least get the gatekeepers to work with you.

3.  Compare Leads To Customers:  Look up every company listed as a lead that visited your trade show booth to see if they are also in your customer database.  Are they there?  If yes, add in your leads Excel file a column that says “Bought” and mark them as Yes.  Then add a column and type in how much they spent.  Match them by eye, not by exact match, so if Company XYZ was the lead, but Company XYZ Inc. is the sale, you can match (using geography as your guide).  Does this sound like a lot of work?  Yes.  So if you don’t have the time, ask your boss for a temp.  You’ll either get the temp, or your boss will help you find someone on your staff that does have the time.

4.  Calculate ROI:  When you total up the sales you can attribute to the show, compare that to the cost to exhibit at the show.  So if your sales were $100,000 and your costs were $10,000, then you’ve got an ROI of $100,000/$10,000 = 10 to 1.  Now you have a yardstick to compare which shows to exhibit at and which ones to drop.  And you have a metric to compare trade shows to other marketing media.

5. Bonus #1: Tracking New / Repeat Business:  Keep track of the date of all sales from leads from the trade show.  Were they already a client before the show?  So you helped influence a repeat client.  Did they buy repeatedly after the show?  Then total up all those sales, not just the first one.  Did they buy for the first time after the show?  Then your trade show lead became a new client.

6. Bonus #2: Tracking Product/Segments: If your client database has the info readily available, you can also check out and record on your handy-dandy spreadsheet what products and services they bought.  Did they buy the new product you introduced at the show, or your popular existing products?  Do the products and clients fall into more than one market segment for you?  If so, see if the biggest segments were the ones you targeted at the show.  You may be surprised, and you may want to change your exhibit messaging and promotions.

So don’t despair if your sales team doesn’t report back to you what happens to each lead, or you don’t have a unified sales and marketing database that automatically calculates ROI for you.  I have used this method to find out the ROI from our own shows, with a lot of help and some time.  It gave us the insights we needed to not only eliminate poor performing shows, but also justify expanding our remaining shows and even alter our overall strategy.

It takes some work, but it’s so satisfying to finally really know.  Especially the next time you get asked, “What’s our trade show ROI?”

Measurement Made Easy CD programTo help prove and justify the value of your trade show program, request the Measurement Made Easy CD. With 19 calculators and planning templates, this CD will help you make sound exhibiting decisions and report them to your internal team. Click here to get your free copy. 

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

5 responses to “The Foolproof Way To Measure Your Trade Show ROI

  1. Great piece Mike.

    A slight variation to #5 – I’d like to add that exhibitors should really examine some shows to track whether or not on-going contact with existing leads have provided enough traction to push them to action/conversion.

    In many industries it takes three or four points of contact to display that your business is ‘around for the long haul’ and is willing to build a relationship over time.

    I see a lot of times that these ‘old leads’ are never properly associated with the 3+ events it took to build the relationship.

    1. Thanks, Barry. Great point, to think of your lead conversion as a longer process. All too often we want magic marketing fairy dust that instantly turns all new prospects into satisfied customers. But customers in the real world often take longer than that.

  2. As a Summer Camp exhibitor, we will often get parents who like our program, but their children are too young. Years later when they attend and we ask them how they heard about camp, they reply, “We got a flier, saw an add in the paper, got a direct mail piece…” – but their initial positive impression came from the face to face meeting at a trade show, with some later marketing piece triggering the purchase. All of which makes ROI calculations very difficult.

    1. Hello Chris,

      Yes, it can take multiple touches to get a sales, and it’s common for marketers to credit either the first or the last touch with the sale. Perhaps you can ask your staffers to still record leads from those interested parents, but include in the notes that they are long-term development prospects for when their kids come of age. Then, you can look at your own database to see the entire chain of lead contacts.

  3. Great article Mike! I especially liked #6 as a way to personalize your targeted marketing efforts as each client (current or future) is different. Being able to determine the ROI for trade shows will assist in determining ones that generate the best return as well as the best long-term relationships.

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