Achieve Results by Leveraging a Smart Exhibit Strategy

- Brett Marriner - Trade Show Strategy - May 23, 2019

Trade shows provide a tremendous opportunity to you and your company, but it takes focus to deliver great results. The days of exhibiting at shows without aligning your trade show goals with your company’s business objectives are gone. This article will cover the importance of thinking strategically, tactically and analytically with your shows. You will learn how to use a smart exhibit strategy to achieve results.Table of Contents

  1. Define Your Objectives
  2. Evaluate Show Attendees
  3. Align Marketing Tactics
  4. Create KPIs
  5. Build a Scoreboard
  6. Measure Success
  7. Provide Reports


Define Business and Trade Show Marketing Objectives

It’s frustrating to think you’ve won only to find out afterward that you were playing the wrong game. That sentiment is how many trade show managers can be left feeling when asked to justify their budget at the end of the year vs. the results it returned. There is a transparent process to stop this from happening, and it starts with reviewing two key terms (business objectives and marketing objectives) and focusing on how to align them specifically for your trade show program.

Business objectives are set by the leadership of your company to steer the business towards a long-term goal. They can include but aren’t limited to increasing new business revenue, increasing profitability, new product introduction, entering a new market, building new facilities, or recruiting new employees. These objectives are typically set by company executives yearly during an offsite strategy and planning meeting.

Marketing objectives are the marketing strategy set to achieve overall organizational goals. They can include but aren’t limited to lead generation, customer retention & growth, improving internal communications, and brand awareness.

The alignment of these two areas in regards to trade shows is an easy thing to do but too often skipped or based on assumptions. In thinking about the shows you’re exhibiting at this year, pick one or two of your company’s business objectives that make sense for you and then build your trade show marketing objectives to support them.

By aligning your marketing objectives with your company’s business objectives, you gain the power of focus which is a crucial first step in winning the right game and justifying your trade show budget.

Imagine two of your company’s business objectives are to increase new business revenue and enter a new market. These align well with trade shows. You can assign a specific marketing objective to each of these. To increase new business revenue you decide the best marketing objective is lead generation. For the business objective of entering a new market you pick increasing brand awareness as the best marketing objective. Now that you know your business and marketing objectives. It’s time to find the right shows and target audience.


If you’re unsure of your company’s yearly business objectives, there are a couple of ways to learn this information. If you work for a publicly-traded company, you can review the annual report. If you work for a private company, meet with your management or a member of your company’s executive team to make sure you understand the vision for the year.

“Focus like a laser, not a flashlight” – Michael Jordan.

Evaluate Show Attendees

As a marketer, you understand your target audience and the importance of communicating with influencers and decision-makers. It is just as vital to understand the attendee numbers you receive from the show organizers. At face value seeing that there will be 14,000 attendees at an industry trade show that fits your product or service is great. The reality is these numbers include your competitors, spouses, and other guests which means the show’s audience is much smaller. Compound that with the fact that not all attendees potentially have a use or interest in your product.

To gain clarity into the attendees of a show ask the show organizers for a breakdown of professional attendance numbers and their Audience Interest Factors (AIF). AIF is the percentage of the show’s attendees that have an interest in your company’s specific product category. That’s a much more significant number than the show’s total attendance. Generally, show organizers derive the AIF percentage through working with a third-party auditor.

Through your research, you’ve discovered a trade show named PTMI in the automotive industry which is an excellent fit for your services and a new market for your company. PTMI seems like a great opportunity for building brand awareness and lead generation which aligns well with your company’s business objectives.

The PTMI show is expected to have 14,000 total attendees. By contacting the show organizers, you learn that 48% of attendees totaling 6,720 would be decision-makers with an AIF score of 30%. You also learn that 7% of attendees are influencers totaling 980 attendees with an AIF of 3%. The rest of the attendees are other exhibitors, students or guests. Based on those AIF scores, there are a total of 2,016 decision-makers and 29 influencers who are interested in your product or service that you can expect in your booth. That’s a big difference from the 14,000 people attending the show. Knowing to expect 2,045 in your booth allows you to plan your booth staff and adequately set goals.

// Calculate Potential Decision Maker Audience
6720 x 30% = 2,016

// Calculate Potential Influencer Audience
980 x 3% = 29


If a show organizer isn’t willing to share with you a detailed attendee breakdown and the Audience Interest Factor (AIF) don’t be afraid to push back and let them know you require this information to exhibit.

“Everyone is not your customer” – Seth Godin

Align Marketing Tactics

Marketing tactics are the actual means used to achieve your focused business and marketing objectives. There are hundreds of trade show tactics to deploy. It’s essential to evaluate the options and parse down to a small, focused list of tactics that will directly support your objectives.

For example, you have two marketing objectives for the upcoming PTMI show: brand awareness and lead generation.

With brand awareness you could gear your tactics around becoming an event sponsor, running ads on the Google Display Network and through Geofencing. Both of those campaigns would drive traffic to a custom-built landing page on your web site. Once on the landing page, visitors would be educated on your company, products, and learn about a game in your booth tied to a giveaway. People can use these to monitor the effectiveness and impact of each tactic.

For lead generation, you’ll need to define the tactics that will allow you to efficiently capture leads in the booth, qualify the opportunities, and properly follow up. Using badge scanners solely can be a waste of time at events as you end up with an unqualified list of people. Instead, you could use a game’s leaderboard as a way to track marketing identified contacts and a lead qualification app such as BizBOOK for qualified contacts. These two sources of leads can be imported into your CRM post-show to help with follow up.


To qualify leads properly, you want to understand how your company’s sales pipeline is set up especially if you’re using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software such as Salesforce, Dynamics, SugarCRM or Zendesk. Depending upon how your company is structured you may or may not have this info meaning you should talk with your sales manager to ensure you understand the different stages of the sales process.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

Create Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

Only the most essential items get listed on a scoreboard during a football game; score, play clock, timeouts, down, yards to go, ball location, quarter and time remaining. Each one of these is a KPI. Someone at some point decided what the most important things to track for a football game were, and this became a standard.

It would help if you decided on the most important things to track for your trade show program. From there, create a standard to use at all your shows. These Key Performance Indicators (KPI) will help you measure performance and help steer your team to hit your trade show objectives.

Taking this a step further you’ll need to determine the required metrics for each KPI. A metric is nothing more than a number within a KPI that is used to calculate progress. If a metric is lower than expected, you can make changes on the fly during your trade show to ensure you’re positively impacting your KPIs.

Imagine one of your marketing tactics for the PTMI show is to do an in-booth game. The KPI that makes the most sense for this tactic would be the engagement rate which will tell you what percentage of attendees played the game. To know the KPI percentage you need two metrics, the number of show attendees and the number of people who played. If you had 400 players during the show and knew you had a potential audience of 2,045 (decision-makers and influencers), you could divide the number of players by the number of attendees to get an engagement rate of 19%. You could do this same exercise at the end of each day of the show to see if you were on track with participation. If not, maybe you could promote the game heavier in the booth to drive the number of players metric up which would positively drive our engagement rate KPI.

Engagement rate % = (number of players/potential audience)*100


Great KPIs are easy to understand and measurable just like the score in a football game.

“If it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed.” – Peter Drucker

Build a Scoreboard for Your Tactics

If there’s no scoreboard, you have no way of knowing if you need to play harder in the 4th quarter to get your team into a position for a game-winning field goal. Build your scoreboard around your business objectives, marketing objectives, and KPIs. Each of the KPIs you’ve established for your trade show should have a goal and be in its own row.

Business Objective Marketing Objective Marketing Tactic KPI Gathering Tool Current Goal
Increase New Business Revenue Brand Awareness Game Engagement Rate Game Leaderboard 6% 10%
Increase New Business Revenue Lead Generation Lead Capture & Qualification Quality Lead Conversion Rate BizBOOK 11% 10%


Just like a real-life game of football, sometimes losing provides valuable lessons to a coach and team. If you didn’t hit your goal, evaluate the marketing tactic by looking at the data, learn what worked and didn’t, and evolve the tactic to ensure you win in the future.

“Without having a goal, it’s difficult to score” – Paul Arden

Measure Trade Show Success

Since you understand your business objectives and have defined the marketing objectives needed to drive success, it’s time to focus on how you’re going to measure victory. Return on Investment (ROI) should be selected as a methodology when there is a direct relationship between objectives and revenue or profit.  Select Return on Objective (ROO) to measures areas not tied easily to sales.

Return on Investment (ROI)

ROI measures the return relative to the investment’s cost. Determining ROI could take three to six months or even longer depending on the length of your company’s sales cycle.

For example, to calculate ROI for the PTMI show, you need to know your total show investment including exhibit design and construction, travel, meals, entertainment, marketing, show services, and anything else required for the show. You will also need to know the total sales volume generated from the trade show. Once you have all of these numbers, you can determine your ROI percentage by subtracting sales from the investment to get your profit. Then, divide the profit by the investment to calculate your ROI percentage.

By investing $80,000 at the PTMI show, you were able to generate $96,000 in sales for a 20% ROI.

ROI % = (salesinvestment) / investment

sales = $96,000
investment = $80,000
ROI = 20%

Return on Objective (ROO)

Before the show, pick one or several of your key tactics and come up with a plan to measure them.

For example, to calculate ROO for the PTMI show focus on brand awareness. One method is to look at your web site’s analytics before the show and then after to see if there has been an increase in direct and organic traffic. Direct traffic indicates the number of people typing your URL into a web browser, and organic traffic measures the number of visitors who arrive at your site via a search engine.

Track the landing page to which you send your visitors, and look at how much traffic you have to that page before and after you promote it at the trade show. Then calculate percent change to see if there’s a significant difference. Reviewing this data will help you figure out whether or not your landing page promotions were successful.


I recommend running an ROI report quarterly for a year after the event ends to make sure you accurately capture any sales made in relation to a show. Some sales take longer to close than others.

“One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.” – Grace Murray Hopper

Provide Post Show Reports to Your Team

Your post-show report should be visual, concise and provided promptly following the show, preferably within 30 days. Build your report based on your target audience even if that means creating multiple documents.

The report should include the following:

  • Photos of the booth taken at the trade show.
  • Show information (total attendance, # decision-makers, # of influencers, and AIF scores)
  • Your scoreboard detailing the marketing tactics, your goals, and outcomes.
  • List any leads, meetings or sales that happened at the show.
  • Budget information
  • Key learnings from the show.
  • Notes detailing any challenges you experienced.
  • Recommendations on how to evolve your exhibit strategy for the next year or show.


Senior Leadership of your company is interested in different aspects of the trade show than the team that reports to you. The reports need tailoring to their interests.

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” – Elon Musk