Trade Show ROI

Boosting Trade Show ROI and Maximizing Impact as an Exhibitor

Are you new to the world of trade shows or just signed up for a new show? Every company always asks their events team for the same thing, why is this show worth the investment? How are you going to bring back the right connections? Our team wrote this guide after working with exhibitors and attendees on a daily basis. We have spent many years thinking through the best way to carry back value to your office. This is the first part of a series to bringing trade show return on investment (ROI) back to your office.

Our team loves trade shows (or expos as they are often called.) It’s like a mall and a party wrapped up in one. You get to flaunt your innovations, rub shoulders with potential customers, woo investors, and buddy up with partners. It’s all about cranking up that brand volume while also making the right connections.

But here’s the issue: you can’t just wing it. Most event teams re-visit the same shows over and over and are familiar with who to talk to and how to reach an audience. But if it’s a newer show for you, take the time to strategize and plan ahead to learn trade show ROI.  

Define Your Objectives

Most of the feedback that we get from exhibitors goes along the lines of “we didn’t make the connections that we wanted.” Or, “we don’t know if these contacts will be good for us. They seem like decision makers, but we don’t know if they will pan out.” If you have a clear picture of what you want to achieve from exhibiting, talk to the show organizers to make that happen. A good show organizer should be working to assist the exhibitor in achieving the goals for exhibiting. They want you to come back, so they are invested in your success. To communicate clearly with the organizers, you need to be able to do the following:

Identify your goals: Determine what you want to achieve from the trade show – increased sales, lead generation, investor interest, partnerships, or brand visibility.

Set measurable objectives: Define specific, quantifiable goals such as generating X number of leads, closing Y deals, or gaining Z social media followers.

Selecting the Right Trade Show

The last thing an organizer wants in their show, is the wrong type of exhibitor for their audience. RNA Associates tends to organize shows in the engineering and research spaces and always vets companies when they register. One or two companies register without researching the show every year. One time, we had a cosmetics company register to exhibit at an electric vehicle show. They would have stuck out like a sore thumb!

When research a show, ask the organizers to prove why your company is a good fit. Ask them to provide data on who attends and what the audience is looking for. It’s not always enough to see that competitors are at a show, you need to know who attends in order to come prepared with the right content.

Pre-Show Preparation

Booth design and layout: It’s true that the mega sized booths with the 30 foot hanging signs and espresso bar will probably get the most traffic, but you can do a lot to maximize a smaller budget that draws attendees in. Consider investing in re-usable fabric pop up signs. While they are more expensive at the beginning, they create an eye-catching booth that reflects your brand identity and communicates your value proposition clearly. Some of the common mistakes for these banners is to add too much content that will change over time. Any re-usable sign should only showcase a consistent message so you can re-use it for years to come. Logo, brand colors and tagline are the most important and will make your booth pop. Signs with too much detail are hard to read and can turn off attendees.

Develop engaging content: Prepare captivating visuals, demos, presentations, and interactive displays to engage visitors. One of the most attractive things is to have a moving element to your demonstration. If you have software that you are showcasing, have a moving model displayed on a TV screen versus a printed sign. If you bring hardware, it’s worth investing in a small version of the equipment that demonstrates how it’s made or how it works.

Promotional materials: Design brochures, business cards, flyers, and freebies that highlight your products or services. One tip from doing years of tradeshows, avoid freebies that are overdone. Everyone has too many pens and USB’s and will not be driven to pick them up! Choose unusual or practical items to get people curious. Laughter can make an attendee remember you more than anything else.

Staff training: Train your team on product knowledge, pitch delivery, and effective engagement strategies. A common issue that we see as organizers are team members sitting in their booth on their phone with no one to talk to. Tradeshows are amazing opportunities to meet people and network. If possible, send two team members so that one can man the booth and the other can go out and talk to attendees. For smaller shows this is even more important.

Marketing and Promotion:

Pre-show marketing: Generate buzz by promoting your trade show participation through email campaigns, social media, and press releases. If the show you are attending has a Facebook or LinkedIn page, follow the page and see who is interacting with the content. Join member groups and create a list of potential attendees that you want to meet. RNA Associates organizes a lot of meetings for IEEE. Many of these shows are sponsored by smaller societies and members attend all of the time.

Schedule meetings: Reach out to potential clients, partners, and investors in advance to schedule meetings during the event. Organizers often provide meeting spaces complimentary or for a small fee to exhibitors to meet on site. Which can save you money in labor time and travel to go off site.

Media engagement: Contact relevant media outlets and influencers to secure coverage or interviews. Ask your show organizers if they will have media attending or if you can schedule interviews during the show.

At the Trade Show:

Booth presentation: Set up your booth early and ensure it’s organized, visually appealing, and inviting.

Get out and engage visitors: Greet attendees with enthusiasm, offer product demonstrations, and engage in meaningful conversations. Walk around the expo floor and listen in to conversations that are taking place. Introduce yourself to people who are key decision makers or at breaks.

Collect data: Use lead capture tools to collect attendee information for follow-up. Most shows offer lead retrieval tools using your smart phone or with a scanner.

Social media: Share real-time updates, photos, and videos on social media to increase visibility and engagement. Tag the companies that you talked with to reinforce the connection and remind yourself who to follow up with later.

Post-Show Follow-Up

Lead nurturing: Sort and prioritize leads based on their potential and develop a personalized follow-up strategy.

Prompt communication: Reach out to leads within a week or connect with them on LinkedIn as soon as you meet them with a personalized message. It can be as simple as “It was lovely to meet you at XYZ Show. Looking forward to discussing more on how we can partner for the future.”

Data analysis: Evaluate your trade show ROI by comparing the costs incurred with the results achieved, such as leads generated and deals closed. Don’t discount leads that are slow to result in a deal. Often those are the highest ticket sales and so take months or even years of nurturing.  

Continuous engagement: Stay in touch with leads and connections made at the trade show through email newsletters, social media, and targeted content. For those high value clients, make sure to connect with them again the next year at the same event. Set a reminder in your calendar to shoot a quick note to meet up at the event. “Hey, I am going to be back at XYZ show next week. Will you be returning? Can I grab you coffee and catch up for a bit while we are there?”

Post-Event Analysis and Improvement

Gather feedback: Seek input from your team and booth visitors on what worked well and areas for improvement.

Measure performance: Analyze key performance metrics, such as lead-to-customer conversion rates and revenue generated.

Adjust your strategy: Use insights gained to refine your approach for future trade shows and marketing initiatives.


Participating in trade shows can be a game-changer for any company, small to large, but success requires careful planning, execution, and follow-up. This guide is an intro to the steps you can take to ensure the time, marketing spend and effort was worth it. For more information from one of the biggest trade show companies in North America, read what Freeman has to say on the topic:

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