In most industries, calculating your return on investment (ROI) for a particular marketing campaign is fairly straightforward. But with trade shows, things can get complicated. Do you measure ROI based purely on revenue generated during and after the show? This would account for the amount of money saved by being able to speak with hundreds of prospects all at one location. Or do you tally the promotional value of the hundreds of marketing impressions made? In truth, trade show ROI calculation is a multi-layered combination of all of these.
Calculating the return on investment of a trade show is a little bit like rock climbing: If you’re willing to explore and assess the different nuances at each level of your ascent, you’ll end up with a superior view of the entire situation once you’re finished.
Costs and Budget vs. Value and Opportunity
Before we get into the actual ROI calculation techniques, let’s first get the lay of the land with a quick review of the general costs of exhibiting at a trade show, as well as the value that attending a trade show as an exhibitor can offer your business.
General industry guidelines suggest that companies should budget for tradeshow expenditures as follows (percentages rounded up for convenience):
30% = renting floor and booth space
10% = designing and purchasing a new exhibit
20% = travel, accommodations and entertainment
10% = exhibit shipping and drayage costs
20% = trade show services (Internet connectivity, on-site labor, storage space, etc.)
10% = other miscellaneous on-site expenses on the day of the show
Obviously, if you’ve already purchased your trade show display in a previous year, you have the luxury of investing that 10% into other things, such as event advertising, on-site promotions, swag, social media campaigns, or special marketing collateral to be distributed at the show.
Assuming you’ve chosen the right trade show, the value of exhibiting — i.e., the potential for identifying new prospects and generating sales — should be exponentially greater than your costs and expenses. In fact, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) has reported that it costs 22% less to contact a potential buyer at a trade show than it does to connect with them through traditional means (field sales calls, etc.).
Additional CEIR statistics further drive home the value of trade shows, particularly for companies in the B2B sector:
- 7 out of 10 trade show attendees plan to buy one or more products
- 76% asked for quotes and 26% signed purchase orders (average of all shows)
- 72% of show visitors say the show influenced their buying decision
- 87% of attendees will share some of the information obtained at the show
- 64% of attendees tell at least 6 other people about the event
- 58% attend only the show at which you are exhibiting
- 40% are first-time attendees
Resources and Techniques for Calculating Trade Show ROI
In an earlier blog post, we discussed a variety of ways to measure trade show success based on your goals and reasons for attending a particular show. Those goals can include anything from closing “x” number of business deals, gathering “x” qualified leads, or obtaining survey feedback to getting media coverage, recruiting talent for future hires, or gathering competitive intelligence.
But what about the real, raw numbers themselves? And how many factors do you need to calculate in order to get a true and accurate picture of your trade show ROI?
If you’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves and go old-school, this article published by Exhibitor magazine in 2016 is truly a thing of beauty. Featuring nine different calculation formulas, the article walks you through, step by step, how to estimate potential show revenue, how to tally the savings of exhibiting versus traditional sales methods, how to calculate the value of promotional activities and impressions and — perhaps best of all — how to evaluate specific shows based on payback ratio. Readers can also download the formulas in PDF or Excel format.
Another handy option is the ROI Tool Kit created by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), which offers both pre-event planning and post-event measurement tools in simple, online calculator formats. All input fields are clickable, so users can see immediate, in-depth explanations and descriptions of the types of data required. After signing up for a free account, users are able to input data, then save and/or print the results for future use.
Don’t Take Score Too Soon … But Do Take It Multiple Times
Whichever post-show calculation methods you decide to utilize, it’s important to remember that the ROI for a given trade show often cannot be accurately calculated until many months after the show — particularly for companies in the B2B sector, in which purchases by prospective clients are often slowed down or delayed by internal corporate budget approval processes.
The best tact is to actually calculate your ROI for a specific trade show multiple times — at quarterly intervals — adjusting the number of leads versus closed deals throughout the months following the show, as qualified prospects gradually convert and become paying customers.
Then, by the time that annual shows roll around again, you’ll be in a better position to decide whether that show will provide you enough payback to make it worth exhibiting.