With tax season coming to a close, our focus is on money more so than at other times of the year. As such, I wanted to capitalize on this opportunity to discuss your exhibiting return on investment (ROI). This is a topic a lot of professionals struggle with because exhibiting is just one piece of their overall sales and marketing strategy; and, because your efforts at trade shows incorporate so many different elements of your business with so many different goals/benefits, it can be difficult to understand exactly what needs to be done to improve your return.
In this article, I’ll break down five simple steps to maximize your exhibiting ROI. I hope you’ll take advantage…
Step 1: Do the math.
In order to improve your return on investment, you must quantify it first. Establish a starting point by calculating how much you spent (ie. booth space, literature/giveaways, travel, staff time, display, furniture, etc) on your most recent trade show participation and create a spreadsheet where you can organize your expenditures for future events (according to the categories you used here).
Then, because the ultimate goal is to calculate your return on investment (by subtracting this amount from the results (ie. sales, increased market share, team building, etc) you obtain), you will need to choose to use a unit of measurement to be used consistently (like dollars) that will enable a clear comparison moving forward.
Note: For each event, this should be an on-going process; instead of scrambling before and after the show, input receipts for expenses into your spreadsheet as you receive them and add the values for any results you can quantify as soon as you are aware of them.
Step 2: Plan ahead.
Proper planning is important because its absence causes two problems:
(1) Too much is left up to chance; even small oversights/mistakes can require a significant amount of additional spending (either individually or by adding the cost of multiple “last minute solutions” together).
For example, if you plan ahead, you can purchase an extra SD card for under $5, bring it to the show, and copy over your scanned leads before returning your rented lead retrieval unit; but, if you forget this, you will either have to delay your follow up until your information is processed (and risk losing the leads you’ve acquired during your show) or spend $25-35+ (5-7 times more) to purchase an SD card from the lead retrieval company before returning your rental unit.
(2) There isn’t enough time to build momentum. You should want professionals to know who you are before arriving so they can plan to seek out your company (on purpose) instead of hoping that they happen to stumble by your booth on their way to someone else’s.
For example, starting your promotional efforts from scratch on the first event day means that you’re already at least a day behind (until attendees realize you’re there and can make time to do the necessary research to decide if they’d like to meet you); but, starting from scratch two months (or even two weeks) before the first event day means that your promotional efforts can be working by the time you arrive.
Step 3: Be present.
As a leader for your company during your event, you need to step up and act as such. Model the behaviors you would like your team to exhibit. As the saying goes, “you can sleep when you’re dead” so schedule meetings, walk the show floor with purpose, attend/speak at sessions, and take full advantage of spontaneous moments to connect with your target audience. Focus on being present in the convention city because, by doing so, your efforts will directly contribute to maximizing your ROI and they will motivate your staff to do their part as well (as you might imagine, if you’re slacking off – your staff won’t want to continue working through their pain/boredom/etc either).
Tip: Remember your investment from step one? Write the specific amount on a piece of paper you keep in your wallet or save a dollar sign as your cell phone background to help you keep your breakeven point in mind.
Step 4: Educate your team.
Once you are aware of what you are spending (your investment) and have made a plan, share this knowledge with your team. This step serves two purposes:
(1) Educating your team holds you accountable. As we discussed in step 3, in order to accomplish your goals, you cannot think of your trade show as a vacation – you have to step up and do the work on-site. By explaining the importance of your company’s trade show participation and what action items will be required to accomplish your goals, your team will be looking to you to set the example and, if you start to shirk your responsibilities, they will notice and think it is okay to do the same. You may be able to justify your own misbehavior in the moment, but watching your team fall apart will surely offer the motivation required to snap yourself back into focus quickly.
(2) Educating your team enables them to participate with the end in sight, taking ownership of their task to help you accomplish your collective goals. When you treat your staff as a valuable part of your team, they are empowered to take care of their responsibilities on their own without your constant urging. Give your team the authority to take your suggestions and run with them. If you do this, your staff may even find ways to grow beyond your expectations (taking advantage of their objective perspective to recognize ways to improve upon your suggestions even further and then to actually see their ideas through to fruition).
Step 5: Follow through.
Don’t leave anything on the table after your trade show.
Note: This doesn’t mean that you should pressure your visitors into a purchase, but instead, it means that you should do your best to provide each attendee with enough information and opportunities to choose your solutions (for their own good).
Create a realistic follow up plan that makes it possible to succeed, ensuring that the required resources (time, money, staff, etc) are fully available and that your proposed plan will meet each prospect’s needs. For example, having the resources to complete a proper follow up effort six months after your event will not be very effective because your top prospects are likely to have made other arrangements by that time… whereas, if you were to follow up promptly, in a personalized manner, you would enjoy much better results.
It should be clear that each of these steps is important. Do what you can (but really, find a way to do it all by prioritizing your time accordingly). Trade shows offer so much potential, but they require your time, energy, and resources to actually see that potential be shaped into results (like diamonds, which are formed through massive amounts of pressure, trade show results are formed through a fully focused effort). Contact me or a trade show professional you trust to help as needed. Good luck and enjoy the returns – you’re earning them!