maximising the ROI from exhbiting

How to maximise the ROI from exhibiting at a Trade Show

maximising the ROI from exhbiting

Trade shows can be a great way to generate leads and new business for your company. They can also be a great way to make a big hole in your bank balance. These are our tips on how to maximise your ROI from exhibiting. This article was prompted by our recent attendance at the 2019 B2B Marketing Expo. Unfortunately, we saw many exhibitors both following and ignoring these tips.  We hope they will help you not make them.

Book a great position

At any trade show there are some great stands and some lousy ones. Those at the back of the hall, away from the coffee bars, networking areas and seminar theatres definitely fall into the latter. To maximise the ROI from exhibiting you should:

  • Book a stand on a corner if possible. You can then be seen from two directions and you can see people coming too.
  • Look at what will draw the crowds and position yourself close to those. Networking areas and seminar theatres naturally attract people who linger. Lingering is good because they will look around and you get the chance to say hello and get them talking to you.
  • Never be on the way out of the event. People are looking to simply go home, or get back to the office, and aren’t likely to stop.

Bag yourself a speaking opportunity

Assuming you’re confident you can stand in front of a crowd for 20-30 minutes and give them a highly educational session (that isn’t simply a sales pitch), the seminars are a great way to raise your profile and attract people back to your stand.

You are allowed to promote your business, to offer the audience something and to tell them where your stand is, but the majority of the seminar has to be useful for them. At the 2019 B2B Marketing Expo, Tim from Exposure Ninja gave a great presentation around SEO. That included a number of overt sales pitches but he built them in well and so it didn’t cause anyone to walk out. A sign you’re doing well is if the seminar theatre fills up and has people hanging around the doors too.

To do this, talk to the organisers early.  They are always looking for speakers, as they are a key part of how they attract visitors to attend.

Tell your network you are going to be there

Once you’re all booked, tell your network you are going. Ask them to spread the word. Some of them may be going to the event anyway and it’s a great opportunity to catch up. Taking a break from the stand is always good, as you cannot be effective for 8 hours straight.

If they’re not going, they probably know a bunch of people who may be. Send them a link to the event, including your Profile page and the visitor booking page.

Tell your mailing list you are going to be there

Your mailing list is full of people this trade show will be useful for, assuming the vast majority are your target audience. Don’t worry too much about them seeing your competitors. They can do that online just as easily as in the room. If your sales and marketing have been effective so far, you will be fine.

Choose the right messages to go on your standa great set of questions on a trade show stand

If you want people to talk to you at the trade show, make the stand talk to them. The messages should be about them, about what success looks like when you help them, rather than something along the lines of “We are the UK’s leading provider of…”

Make the visitors feel like you care about them

Complete your online profile

Every trade show website lists the exhibitors so visitors can see who is going to be there. Use this opportunity to list what you do, how you help and the stand number. At the very least, it will be an inbound link to your website to help your SEO.

Design a great looking stand

If you want to maximise the ROI from exhibiting, your stand should be inviting. It should be somewhere the visitors want to go and where they can clearly see how to get more information about how you can help them.

Think carefully about the type of stand and how this will fit into the space you have booked. You can spend very little or you can spend a lot. It depends on how often you will be exhibiting at trade shows, whether you always book the same size stand

Think about the furniture you need too.  You will definitely need somewhere to display marketing collateral so people can take it without talking to you. It also needs to be close at hand for when you are talking to them.

Consider what type of table(s) you want. If you have space and conversations are likely to be long, you may consider a low table with chairs.  If space is limited, a bar-style high table you can stand around will be better. Remember that sitting down will encourage longer conversations and that stops you talking to more people.

Finally, remember that you have all the boxes and containers that your stand, collateral, laptops etc. come in. There is rarely exhibitor storage space, so all of this either needs to go into the car/van or it stays on the stand.

Engage with the organiser’s social media activity

The organisers always run an active social media programme. They want to attract more exhibitors (that’s how they make their money), more visitors (to keep the exhibitors happy) and to promote the sponsors (to keep them happy). Engage will all of these and your network to maximise the number of people who know you are exhibiting and what they can expect when they visit your stand.

Take your best marketing collateral to give out

If you already have printed marketing collateral, pick what best helps visitors understand what you do and how you can help. Case studies make great collateral, so ensure you have some of them to give out.

If you haven’t got any, it can be designed and printed to specially address the needs of the visitors to that event. Digital printing means you don’t need to print 1,000s of copies to make them cost effective, although litho printing in volume is still cheaper per unit if you can justify the volumes.

The collateral visitors take away should give them a positive memory of your business, so don’t skimp on the design to save a few quid.

Network with other exhibitors to maximise your ROI

In reality, few other exhibitors will be direct competitors. Networking with other exhibitors (once you’ve set up your stand) can be a great source of new connections. They can, over time, refer people you way, become new suppliers or maybe even new clients.

Take your best communicators to your trade shows

Perhaps the biggest issue seen at trade shows is staff sitting/standing around either “playing” on their phones or waiting for people to come and talk to them. Even worse are those who stand on the edge of the stand, blocking it so nobody can read your graphics or get onto the stand.

The whole idea of exhibiting is to generate leads. To do this, you have to talk to people, so take the people who love to talk to others.  Impressions of Monty Python’s Black Knight won’t help and looking completely disinterested will really turn people off.

Smile and say hello

To get people talking to you a simple smile goes a long way. Follow up by saying hello and an open question to get them talking. If someone stops to read your stand or collateral, go and talk to them.

Collect their contact details

Visitors’ badges always have barcodes on them, allowing easy collection of data. The organisers will rent you a scanner or provide access to an app you can use on your phone. It’s quick and easy and people rarely say no when you ask to “scan them”.

At the end of the event, the organisers will email you a spreadsheet of all those you scanned, unless they said their data should not be shared. The other issue is that some people (a growing number) use their personal email addresses to book. Whilst there aren’t any GDPR issues here, it does mean you don’t have their work details – at least until you do more research.

If you don’t want to pay for the scanner, you will need paper forms. People are less likely to fill in a form, but they are usually better quality leads.

To maximise the ROI from exhibiting, you need a good set of quality leads.

Offer something of value in return

What can you offer to entice visitors to give you their details? It’s no longer a simple case of running a prize draw, giving away an iPad. People know you’re simply after their data.

Sweets and branded merchandise may tempt them onto the stand to give you a chance to talk to them and competitive games can do a similar thing. Of course, they need to leave you their contact details to enable you to contact them if they win…

Can you do a free review, for example? Is this is something you can do online from your office in the next few days?  If the cost to you is low, this could dramatically increase the number of leads you generate. If you have to go to their office, the cost is higher, but you are gaining access to the inner sanctum. The choice is yours, but it needs to be something you can deliver and that will deliver value.

Stay until the end

Whether a one, two or more-day show, there are always a few companies that pack up in that last hour before the end. Whilst it may be quiet and you may have a long drive home, think what it says when you pack up early. That you don’t care about the visitors that are still there!  If there are very few visitors, take the time to network more with other exhibitors.

Follow up on all your leads

The biggest sin of all is the failure to follow up. The investment of cash and time can easily add up to £7-10,000 so why would you waste that money? If you don’t follow up, you may as well flush £50s down the loo!

To maximise the ROI from exhibiting, it’s best to get your followup emails out within 48 hours of the trade show ending, so you should seriously consider drafting and building them before the event.  You can always make minor tweaks afterwards, but far better to be prepared than try to rush things afterwards.

A combination of email and direct mail may be best, but think about the costs vs. the potential return on investment.  Print and postage costs can stack up, so it may be that you just use email. You can always use direct mail once you’ve started the followup phone calls.

Every sales opportunity is a multi-touch process. Stats suggest anything from 8 to 23 touches to make a sale, so it makes sense to start soon. After all, the sooner you start, the sooner you get to 8/23.


The final step is to measure your performance.

  • Did you get the number of leads you targeted?
  • How much awareness did you generate (perhaps in the form of followers on Twitter/LinkedIn), and
  • how many new clients have you acquired?

Be careful with the last one. Sales can take time to come to fruition. A client of ours measured sales a month after a trade show and was disappointed. They measured again six months later, to find over £100,000 of sales that were attributed directly to the event.


With shell scheme space costing at least £350 per square metre at most trade shows, you are making a considerable investment in every trade show you book. The 17 steps listed above will help you maximise the ROI from exhibiting at a trade show.