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Judge the ROI of a Trade Show: 4 Steps

Trade shows can either be a sinkhole for your money, or a great way to uncover new customers. Find out fast.
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In the wholesale world, one of the best ways to help new customers find you is by attending industry specific trade shows.  For smaller companies, the expense of doing so can seem very high--and even more so if you do not get the results you hope for.  I wrote in a previous post about how to get the most out of your company's presence during a show.  But once a show is over, how do you determine if it is worth going back, especially if your first appearance fell short? 

Here are a few guidelines that have been useful for me:

1. Evaluate the show, not who or what you bring to it.

The only way to determine whether a trade show is the right venue for your business is, first and foremost, to remove all other variables.  If you send staff members who have not been trained to make the most of the contacts they meet while at the booth, it may be your team that is cutting your chances for success rather than the show itself.  The same risk arises if you do not carefully plan the merchandise you show.  When I want my company to try out a new trade show, I usually attend the show myself.  I know I will work the convention for all it's worth, and can evaluate accurately whether the customer base, the show ambience, and the timing are the right mix for us.

2. Consider how seasonality and show venue may influence your success rate.

Oftentimes the same trade show is put on several times a year, in different cities. In the accessories industry, the important shows are usually those that happen early in the year, when customers are buying for the whole year in fashion.  At the later shows, they are traditionally planning for the following year, rather than making purchases.  For this reason, for one of the shows my company attends, I send people to both the spring and fall events, even though actual order-writing at the fall show is significantly less.  I want to be there in the fall to make sure our products are considered for the following year.  Conversely, I found that it's really not profitable to go to the spring event of another trade show because not enough buying or planning happens there.  You may need to show up at all the events that are part of a given trade show to determine which shows are really worth your time and money.  If one event turns out significantly less business, pull the plug on the low-performing show as soon as possible--it won't get any better. 

3. Always go to the same show twice before making a definitive call. 

You may have a great product and you might be at the right show, but depending on the size of the show and the scouting habits of the customers attending it, if your business is the new kid on the block, you may not get the visibility and business you are after the first time.  Customers often go to a show with an idea of which companies they want to see.  Trade show appearances are like advertising.  The first time you show, you get noticed.  The second time you show, you get shopped.  If you go to the same show twice and you still don't get the results you want, it's not the right show for you.

4. Track all show sales carefully.  

Not all contacts you meet buy on the spot.  Make sure you consider post-show sales to show contacts when you are determining whether it was worth it for your company to exhibit at a particular show.  If the show allowed you to meet a contact that generated great business later, you need to be able to track that contact and those dollars back to the origin, and take them into account when deciding whether a show was a valuable way to build your business. I've been to shows where little business happened at our booth, but follow-up netted great customers who were happy they found us on the show floor.

The key to being successful at a show is to do your homework before signing up, make your presence the best it can be, give the show a real chance to work for you, and then carefully weigh the costs against the business you do there.

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Feb 28, 2013

VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG | President, Metal Mafia

In 2004, Vanessa Merit Nornberg opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009.




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