Trade shows serve as valuable sales and marketing vehicles to generate business through qualified leads and build brand awareness and relationships. Recent data from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) indicates the total cost of closing a sale without trade show participation averages $1,140 compared to $705 for a show generated lead.

An economic downturn provides an opportunity for companies to look at their marketing programs holistically. This process may reveal that cutting all trade shows from the budget is not the best way to reduce spending. Instead, by implementing a focused methodology companies can achieve greater results and a better ROI.

The guide offers top reasons to exhibit and how to maximize trade show participation in an uncertain economy.

1. Efficient Use of Time.
Trade shows are one of the most efficient methods of marketing. It is an opportunity to connect with a lot of customers and specifiers in a short amount of time–in one location. After all, trade shows are about people connecting with people, brands, information and business solutions—under one roof. This focus translates into efficiency of time and effort, and therefore, dollars.

2. More Focused and Isolated Leads.
During an uncertain economy, budgets may tighten, but the need for new products and services does not necessarily stop. People attend¬ing trade shows are serious about doing business; by not being pres¬ent companies risk missed business opportunities. Also, there are trade shows that are very targeted and specific so you know exactly who will be at the show and on the floor. Think in terms of the quality not quantity of the trade shows in your program.

3. Effective Use of Marketing Dollars.
Few marketing activities show a clear ROI. Trade show impressions, contacts, leads and sales are measurable results that have an actual value. Overall costs are easily computed. When reporting results to upper management and boards of direc¬tors, ROI is not a luxury—it is essential.

4. Bold and Unique Advertising Channel with Minimal Risk.
A different course to take is to exhibit at a vertical trade show, which allows your brand to connect with a specific audience with¬out the distraction of your competitors. Since you can qualify with the number of leads collected at the show, this can be a good investment. For example, a high-end auto brand exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show, which put this luxury vehicle in front of a huge, affluent audience.

5. Greater Risk in Being Absent.
Consider the long-term effect of not exhibiting at trade shows. Especially in a bad economy, being absent from key shows instant¬ly makes you a non-player in the field and puts your competitors top of mind with customers.
However, simply showing up is not enough. You have to plan how you will attract new leads at the show and how you will follow up with them for effective results.

What You Can Do Now for Better Results

While it is important to continue participating at trade shows, simply showing up is not enough. Very few companies measure their trade show participation. With measurement motives in place you can fine tune your program—which is a lot easier to do in advance of the show—for better return on your marketing spend.

• Before you reduce the number of trade shows from your budget, quantify and qualify your investment. Why are we cutting our trade show schedule? Why are we not benefiting from our trade show participation? What are we not doing right?

• Establish a process for following up with sales leads to get the most out of your trade show experience. Are you using all the necessary tools to measure and weigh results properly? Are you gathering and analyzing the right information?

• Engage staff and clearly communicate your company’s strategy to ensure everyone is on the same page. Do you mandate staff training in order to run a well choreographed, efficient show?

• Consider the architecture of your exhibit to enhance each visitors experience with your company and its brand. Are you using or incorporating rental property in your exhibit? Is your booth design consistent with your branding and messaging platforms?

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