[box type=”note”]

Step #1 of “Trade Show Preparation Strategy: Easy Steps”


We won’t mince words: Trade shows are expensive. That’s why the most important step in any trade show preparation strategy is deciding which trade shows are right for you.

We’ve seen companies literally blow tens of thousands of dollars because they did not properly research a trade show they attended in advance. They didn’t carefully consider if their potential customers would be attending that trade show. They didn’t do the math.

[quote]Has your sales rep insisted on attending this trade show? Still, do the research, or make them do it. Sales reps aren’t spending their own money to attend expensive shows. For them, a trade show’s ROI for your company is often a secondary consideration.[/quote]

Research the Trade Show.

Review your Target Market
Before researching trade shows, review your sales goals. What target markets do you want to reach? Consider the following…

  • Who are your customers? (by industry)
  • Who are the decision-makers in that industry? What roles do they hold in their organizations? Example: Director? Tech Manager? Wife?
  • What trade organizations (and thus trade shows) serve that industry? Make a list.


Create a Spreadsheet
Create a spreadsheet to track your research. We like Google Docs because it is free and easy to share with any staff you need to work with.

Add each trade show you want to research in a ‘tab’ and include the same criteria for each like this:

The question you are trying to answer is: “Is this Trade Show right for me?”

Trade Show Criteria
Go to the trade show website. Get the answers to all the following questions.

This information should mostly be available in the Exhibitor section of the Trade Show website. It might be called ‘Profile of Attendees’ or ‘Exhibit Information’ or ‘Exhibitor Prospectus’ etc.

  • Who attends this trade show? Are the industries in your target market?
  • Who exhibits at this trade show?
  • What % of attendees are likely to be decisionmakers for your type of product?
  • What will it cost to attend? Use the spreadsheet.
  • ‘Official’ presentation opportunities – Are there any?

This should give you a snapshot of what industries attend and what roles the attendees have in their organization. These stats are based on previous shows. Here’s an example:

Look at the exhibitor list– are your competitors on it? If you are also a B2B company, you might also look to see if your customers are exhibiting. Just remember that exhibitors are there to sell, so pitching your wares to other exhibitors should be done by setting up meetings off the show floor.

Do the Math!

In addition to creating a profile for the Trade Show, you’ll want to estimate all the critical costs, including…
[box]Estimate Trade Show Costs

  • Booth Cost – This is just cost for the exhibit space. You will need to calculate costs of signage, carpet and electronics separately.
  • Carpet – Is it included with booth cost? Is the exhibit hall already carpeted
  • Shipping Fees – Fees to ship stuff you’ll need in your exhibit space.
  • Union Fees – Read the fine print to see if any may apply
  • Signage – What will it cost to print signage and rent booth properties from the trade show? If you own already, what will it cost to transport that to your exhibit area?
  • Electricity – For lights, televisions, computers, etc.
  • Internet – Will you need access to internet?
  • Marketing Promo – Brochures, business cards, handouts, price quotes etc.
  • Hotel Cost – Trade Shows typically have ‘show rates’ during the exhibition. Rates can differ from night to night depending on when your staff arrives.
  • Travel Cost – Flights? Train? Car rentals? Taxis?
  • Email List Rental – Great pre-marketing depends on letting show attendees know where your exhibit is and what you offer. Cheapest and easiest way to do this is by email. Find out attendee email list is available to vendors and how much it costs to rent.
  • Exhibitor Attendance Fees – Hard to believe, but yes in addition to paying for exhibit space you may have to pay an entrance fee for each staff member working the exhibit. Sometimes there are a limited number of ‘complimentary’ passes for exhibitors.


Pricing Exhibit Space; Booth, Travel and Hotel Costs
You’ll quickly realize that calculating the cost of a trade show depends on the size of the exhibit space.

At small shows (a few hundred attendees), exhibit size is less important from a traffic standpoint. You still want to choose location well, but when the show floor is small, attendees will typically pass by all the exhibits at least once.

At large shows, exhibit size is much more important. Big players in an industry tend to spring for exhibit spaces. Bigger exhibit spaces are more often found along main aisles where traffic is more frequent. Without fantastic pre-marketing, a small poorly-located booth in this kind of venue could literally go hours without seeing a potential customer pass by.

[box type=”info”]Plan for at least 2 exhibit staff for every 10x10ft of exhibit space
In a small 10×10 space (usually called an ‘inline booth’) you can sometimes get away with just one staff. However, then you cannot accommodate food and restroom breaks, guarding valuables in the exhibit area, scheduled meetings with potential customers during exhibit hours, etc. [/box]

Below is an real-life example of a Trade Show Cost Estimation we did a few years back:

Decide: Which Trade Show is worth it?

You’ve created a snapshot for each Trade Show under consideration. You’ve done a rough calculation of what it will cost you to exhibit at each of these trade shows. Now, ask yourself:

How many of the show’s attendees are decisionmakers for your product/s in your target market?

Let’s say a show will cost $5k to attend. That trade show expects 300 attendees. Only 10% of attendees have ‘decisionmaker’ roles for any product (that’s 30 people).

Of course, only a fraction of those 30 people will be decisionmakers for your type of product based on the industries you see are attending.

[box]In this case, you need to decide:
Is access to around 10 potential customers worth a $5k investment? How many ‘sales’ would that trade show have to result in for the ROI to be worth it to your company? [/box]

Choose wisely. When Less is More with Trade Shows!

The cost of deciding to exhibit at a trade show too hastily goes behind the money invested. Believe it or not, there is often a PR price to be paid for deciding NOT to exhibit the following year.

For you, the decision to not exhibit again at a trade show might be purely economical– it wasn’t profitable or you want to invest your marketing dollars elsewhere.

For them (your potential customers) this is the message that not exhibiting again often communicates:

  • “They aren’t prioritizing our industry!”
  • “They can’t afford to attend this year– The company is in trouble!”

It takes very little to start the rumor mill flying in many industries. You can be sure that your competitors who ARE still attending the trade show will spin your absence any way they can to their benefit.

This can be especially frustrating if your company is a start up. The first time you attend a specific trade show is just considered an introduction for risk-averse customers. They are waiting to see you at that trade show repeatedly to confirm to them that you are a real player.

That’s why it’s often better to exhibit at less trade shows, but choose them wisely. Especially if you are a new company or introducing yourself to a new market!