The Foolproof Way to Measure Your Trade Show ROI

December 10, 2011

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.”

Why 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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bonus No. 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.

Bonus No. 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?”

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