April 20, 2023
By Mike Fletcher

Trade shows provide you with an important strategic marketing channel for generating new business leads, getting face-to-face with existing customers, launching new products and driving brand awareness.

But trade show marketing entails so much more than simply letting show visitors know what to expect when they arrive at your stand.

Scheduling pre-event appointments, enabling consistent lead capture and having accurate reporting in place to prove ROI are all crucial to the success of what is often one of the biggest line items in a company’s marketing budget.

When planning a trade show, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. That’s why we’ve created this step-by-step guide to creating an effective trade show marketing strategy.

You’ll discover what you should do before, during, and after each event and how to measure and report on trade show success.

How to set your trade show KPIs

People Interacting at a trade show

The right KPIs will help you to measure the impact of your trade show activity, clearly understand what’s working and why, and allow you to optimise and make improvements where necessary.

Use the following six KPIs across all your trade show marketing activity.

Six critical trade show marketing KPIs


1. Total number of appointments

The number of appointments your team schedules before getting onto the exhibition show floor will demonstrate the effectiveness of your salespeople, pre-event marketing and messaging.

Set your sales team targets for scheduling on-stand appointments with both new and prospective customers. Always launch your pre-event marketing early enough to allow you to tweak the messaging and creative, depending on what drives the highest number of pre-booked meetings.

You can take the strain out of physically arranging meetings by using automated appointment scheduling technology. A tool that allows attendees to sign up for an on-stand appointment will also enable you to set custom questions, which will provide real-time data to set booth staff up for success when they meet with show attendees.

2. Booth check-ins

When any visitor arrives at your stand, you’ll need to check them in so that you capture relevant data for potential follow-up.

By comparing the total number of check-ins with how many turned out to be serious buyers, you can build a clearer picture of the importance of each event. This will allow you to make future decisions on those exhibitions which aren’t converting new business or getting you in front of enough qualified leads.

Lead capture technology allows you to automate the lead-gathering process and keep your data format consistent. Choose a tool that integrates with your CRM platform so that data can be transferred seamlessly for analysis and follow-up.

3. Qualified leads

Qualified leads are crucial in helping you measure the overall ROI for each trade show. They will help you to assess how much each event influences new and existing business within your sales pipeline.

A qualified lead is a prospect who fits your ideal buyer profile and has a current or future need for your product or service.

Everyone else you may meet at a trade show is either just a contact or only a partially qualified lead - so make sure your qualifying custom questions can quickly draw out the details needed to determine if someone is ready and willing to engage and potentially become a customer.

4. Opportunities and pipeline generated

Not every visitor to your stand will require follow-up, so you need to better understand where qualified leads sit within your sales pipeline and your post-show next steps.

By documenting lead qualification information in a consistent way, you’ll achieve better visibility over a self-generating sales pipeline and the opportunities it presents for follow-up appointments.

Again, make sure your event management solutions are integrated with your CRM and marketing automation platforms for clear attribution.

5. Revenue generated

The amount of revenue generated by your trade show activity demonstrates the quality of your exhibiting and the top-line financial impact of the events you attend.

It’s critical to track revenue from the moment you qualify an on-stand lead to the moment they sign a contract for new business so that you can accurately measure the ROI.

6. Return on Investment (ROI)

ROI is the cost of trade show involvement (booth, staff, lighting, production etc) compared to the overall revenue generated from qualified leads.

When carrying out trade show analysis, you may also choose to include evidence of ROO (Return on Objectives) such as increased brand awareness, customer testimonials, lead referrals and PR / media coverage.

Tracking and reporting on all six of these KPIs, in addition to qualitative insights from your team, will give you a clear and comprehensive view of the effectiveness of your events. It will also allow you to better prove the value of your programmes (and demonstrate your personal impact).

How to build a successful trade show marketing plan

A successful trade show marketing plan features activity before, during and after each exhibition to ensure you’re making the most of every available opportunity.

Before the trade show

To create an effective pre-show appointment-setting campaign, select the best channels (email, social, event website, event app etc) to reach your audience.

You can then tailor messaging to your target buyer profile. Be specific about whom you’re targeting and how your company can solve their needs. Include several iterations of creative and messaging so that you can test and learn what works best.

Once appointment requests start coming in, the administration involved with scheduling timeslots can quickly become a full-time job. Automate and streamline the process by using trade show appointment scheduling technology.

Ensure that your event technology integrates with the rest of your MarTech. For example, Cvent Universal Appointments syncs with your sales and executive teams’ calendars so that you can be sure they’re busy (but not too busy). It will also feed all key data directly to your CRM and marketing automation platforms.

Next, make sure your stand design is up-to-date, impactful and matches your goals and objectives for each event.

For example, if you’re entertaining guests on-stand, you may need to incorporate a kitchen or cold storage for food and drink. If you’re planning on hosting talks or presentations, you’ll need a PA system, additional seating, a lectern and a screen, plus you may wish to consider hiring a host or moderator.

Read more: Trade Show Stand Ideas to Wow the Crowd

During the trade show

Pre-scheduled appointments with qualified buyers are only half the battle. Collecting and managing leads on the day is crucial for analysing event ROI.

Make sure that booth staff and sales reps are trained in how to engage with visitors. Don’t let them stand back hiding behind your booth. Get them out into the crowded aisles, starting conversations with open questions and being friendly but not forceful, available but not pushy.

Once booth staff have got the conversation started with potential leads, encourage them to capture people’s details by checking them into your stand.

Lead capture technology lets you capture someone’s business details by scanning a QR code, name badge or business card. You can then qualify, rate and add notes for each lead stored in the app.

Rather than expecting sales staff to come up with qualifying questions on the spot, have four to five questions programmed into your lead capture system so that your reps can rapidly log, qualify and score. After each on-stand meeting, your salesperson should be entering notes and giving each prospect a score based on their likelihood to convert.

After the trade show

Can you believe that after all that hard work collecting and managing leads during an exhibition, far too many companies never bother to follow up or wait too long before attempting contact with a qualified lead? This means you’re likely missing out on valuable opportunities to add to your sales pipeline.

Once the exhibition has finished, make sure that all captured lead data has been directly imported into your CRM and analysed by sales for faster follow-up on those that qualify.

Event technology that integrates with your existing MarTech can ensure that your data can flow seamlessly through your tech stack.

Use the following three-tiered approach to ensure timely, personalised and relevant follow-up that will win your sales team more business.

How to measure trade show marketing success

Measure your trade show marketing success by using the previously mentioned six critical KPIs. Other metrics to consider include:

Meeting frequency

A certain number of meetings need to be scheduled in order for an event to be successful. The leads generated and the number of opportunities successfully converted derives from the number of meetings scheduled. 

Average time spent in meetings

The average time spent on booth meetings helps you to understand issues that may hamper sales efforts. This metric will build an understanding of how well a sales rep is performing. 

Win rate

The win rate is the number of opportunities that have been successfully converted into customers. By analysing the win rate, you can understand a salesperson’s strengths and weaknesses.

Average deal size

Larger business wins equate to a more successful trade show for your on-stand team. By analysing the size of confirmed deals, you could potentially streamline your lead generation process by prioritising meetings that could have a more profitable outcome.

Meetings per deal closed

Those meetings where your salespeople have moved qualified leads along the sales cycle should be prioritised for follow-up. By then analysing which of those meetings resulted in a deal, you’ll be able to determine the effectiveness of your trade show process.

Once you’re ready to present your trade show ROI to your stakeholders, you must have all qualifying information to answer questions like:

  • Why was a certain meeting important?
  • What was the attendee interested in?
  • What problem or challenge were they looking to resolve?
  • What concerns or reservations did they have?
  • Why should they be moved to the next phase in the sales pipeline?

Trade show solutions with event reporting and insights can help you answer such questions and compare the revenue generated from exhibiting.

Level up your trade show marketing strategy

Your trade show marketing will ultimately be judged on how investments are used and how much top-line revenue was brought in. Presenting positive results can not only help you to establish the value of your company’s trade show investments but can also help you to influence higher management to allocate bigger budgets for other shows and face-to-face experiences.

Sales are the lifeblood of every company. By clearly demonstrating that your trade show participation is driving sales and contributing to the overall business goals, you’ll be in an optimal position to get recognised (and rewarded) for your ROI.

To learn more strategies to elevate your in-person events, download our Ultimate Guide to In-Person Events.

Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.

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