Are Trade Shows Worth It?

Was that last trade show really worth the time, money, and energy you put into it? That’s a tough question to answer for many small businesses, especially in the short term. Having a few criteria for review and analysis established before committing to an exhibition can help you quickly and easily evaluate the success of (and potential future participation in) a given trade show. Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind at your next show. 

If you establish goals at the outset of a trade show, it will be easier to track your relative success. How many new contacts or leads will make this worthwhile? Are you looking to grab a percentage of the overall attendance? Are you scheduling sessions or demonstrations at which a minimum number of attendees determines your success rate? These kinds of objective goals are the easiest to track, and can give you hard numbers the minute the doors close. They can be helpful, but don’t always paint a complete success vs waste-of-time picture.

Spend the time and energy analyzing your trade show contacts as they happen. Is this contact/lead a potential long-term benefit to the business or merely a passerby who was courteous enough to stop for a minute? Keeping a written log of conversations nearby will help you remember who the key players are in the follow-up stage. Of course every contact should be followed up on, but remembering content from key conversations will help you be more authentic. Jot down anything from important contact conversations that will help you make a personal connection with them in the follow-up. This is just one more step leading to a long-term relationship with a potentially valuable customer or investor. Though the success of these follow-ups isn’t easily tracked in the short-term, it is incredibly valuable in determining the success of your time at the trade show.

Some small businesses stay glued to their booths for the duration of the trade show, believing that potential customer contact is the way to make the show a success. But many have found that keeping the booth staffed while sending other workers out to network is just as important. If networking is a key component of your business, these shows can be the jackpot. As with the customer contacts/leads, determining how many professional contacts you’d like to make at a show can help determine if the show was successful in that way. Track the contacts in the same way you would a customer lead.

Was the trade show worth your time, money, and energy? You can answer that question with a little goal-setting, planning, tracking, and quick follow-up. These are the objective approaches that can help determine whether the exhibition is time- and cost-efficient. But keep those subjective criteria in mind, too: what was the general feel? Were there extenuating circumstances (weather, crisis, industry issues) that contributed to the feel and outcome? These can be entirely out of your control, but may play a part in determining the success of your show.