In the final installment of Budget Matters, we’re tackling those six (not so) ugly words that we hear so often: do I need to calculate ROI? Our answer is, emphatically, YES!
When it comes to maximizing your budget after the show ends, there’s nothing that comes anywhere close to conducting an ROI calculation, in order to understand the value (not the cost) of your investment. It’s the only way you can understand what attracts qualified leads and what doesn’t; where to spend in the future and where it might make sense to pull back. Understanding your trade show exhibit ROI is the best way to demonstrate what learnings you have gleaned and help gain incremental funds for future innovation. And maybe most importantly, for you personally, it is also the best way to clearly communicate the breadth of your skills and demonstrate to the organization that you are committed to helping ensure a fiscally responsible path for the future.
We cannot express enough the importance of conducting some form of ROI calculation for your trade show exhibit. But, there are many factors that make calculations for trade show ROI seem a bit more nebulous than any other tactic. From the lack of historical data, to a longer-than-average sales cycle, to the inability to identify qualified leads, and the fact that the responsibility of post-show conversion often shifts in responsibility from marketing to sales; it’s often challenging to determine where to begin and what level of ROI calculation is right (or possible) for you. When all those factors come into play, we recommend listening to Alice Walker’s advice from The Color Purple, “we all have to start somewhere.”

Here are Exhibitpro’s tips for getting started calculating trade show ROI:

1. Set expectations before you begin. Before any ROI calculations happen, it’s important to understand what level of information your organization is looking for and why; and how the analysis will influence future decisions. Establishing foundational expectations before any work begins allows you to deliver the right level of information in the right way.
2. Start small. If you are just beginning to calculate ROI, or if you need to try to attempt it quickly, our best advice is to keep it simple. Calculating true, holistic ROI is going to require time, access to past data, a collaborative session with marketing and sales, and an understanding of the organization’s cost/value ratios. If none of that is possible, then the best place to start is simply by calculating a cost-per-lead analysis (below). While this approach may not get down to an infinite percentage of value on the total investment; it does provide you with a solid understanding of the investment, as well as a better foundation for building smarter return scenarios in the future.

  • Average booth visitors (for the show attending) x percentage of likely qualified leads (based on industry numbers) = YOUR COMPANY LEADS
  • Exhibitpro Extra: A great way to gather the inputs for this formula is by partnering with an experienced exhibit house, like Exhibitpro. By leveraging their industry and show-level expertise, your exhibit partner will be able to help you accurately fill in the blanks to gather the most reliable information.

3. Set measurable objectives during pre-show planning. One of the most crucial steps in calculating post-show ROI happens during one of the very first steps of the planning process. Before any concept or production work happens, set measurable (quantitative and qualitative) objectives that will serve as the foundation for post-show analysis. Having clear, aligned-upon objectives will set the course for every decision that is made during the process, from strategy and exhibit design, to program engagement and messaging; and it will make it easier to evaluate the success of every decision after the show concludes. Measurable objectives that are established up front are necessary for you – and your exhibit house partner – to demonstrate the value of your investment after the show.
Exhibitpro Extra: when developing your objectives, make them SMART:temp-post-image

4. Audit, audit, audit. While not part of the physical ROI calculation itself, we can’t stress enough that one of the most important (if not the most important) aspects of maximizing your experience is to use a trusted source to audit your show bill. By conducting an audit with a trusted source, such as an experienced exhibit company, you’ll likely uncover incremental funds that are due back to you after the show has ended. Secondarily, the audit will also provide you with better awareness of budget considerations for future planning efforts. This will provide you with an arsenal of data that can be used in future calculations, as well as in future planning efforts.
If you are looking for a more specific way to calculate ROI, our friends at Exhibitor Magazine recently published a tool[1] that we find helpful. In this tool, we believe they do a nice job of organizing the information and providing a framework for calculating ROI for trade show exhibits.

Are you in need of more specific information pertaining to your ROI? Or, need a partner who can help set up the stages of ROI calculation on your behalf? Let’s talk. Exhibitpro has 25 years of helping clients deliver successful exhibits that improve ROI.


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