Was That Trade Show Worth It?

I was talking the other day to a friend who runs marketing for his company, and he was describing their plans to increase their presence at various trade shows and marketing program valueconferences. At the same time, he expressed a certain degree of frustration – how it was incredibly difficult to actually measure the value of the shows. How do you determine which trade shows are worthwhile and which are not?

It had me reflecting on my own experience making those decisions as CEO of a software company. The first conference I exhibited at was called VBits – a developer conference for what was then a new language called Visual Basic. It wasn’t much of a risk; I think our total cost to exhibit might have been $1000. And it was easy to measure the value of exhibiting – vendors were allowed to sell product from the exhibit floor, and there was such a high level of demand that the booth staff were swiping credit cards as fast as people could wave them at us. We cleared about $15,000 at that show – which was pretty good for a tiny startup. Trade shows in that industry at that time weren’t just a marketing tool, they were a sales channel.

As time went on, between increasing regulations (from unions to taxing authorities) and a desire to go upscale, selling products at conferences became less common and ultimately was prohibited. With that change it became harder to figure out whether exhibiting was worthwhile. In fact, one of the main arguments to attend was that if we didn’t  it would somehow be noticed and it could harm our brand or business.

Even that argument lost its persuasiveness as the Internet became the dominant business communication tool. Your web site was infinitely more important that a booth at a show. Not that shows didn’t have value, but it was hard to measure. Justification came in the form of anecdotes instead of numbers and return on investment.

I can only imagine how things would have looked if we had Salesforce and our Marketing Performance Measurement application available then. We’d be able to give each trade show its own campaign, and every name we collected would become a response on that campaign. After we followed up with attendees, those that showed interest would become another response to the follow-up campaign (whether it was by mail, email or phone).

And when it came time to decide the next year whether or not we should attend that conference again – it would be a simple matter of pulling up a report that showed the amount of revenue that was generated by the trade-show campaign – because our campaign influence models factor in every response and interaction for a lead or contact, not just the first, or last, or the one that happened to be the most recent when the opportunity opened. And it doesn’t care if the person who stopped by our booth at the show was a new lead or a long time customer – we would still capture the visit as a response, and if it led to a new opportunity, the opportunity revenue would still be attributed correctly.

Well, what’s done is done. I’m pretty sure we wasted a lot of money going to certain conferences over the years. How much, and which ones, I’ll never know. It’s a lot easier nowadays where the tools are available to accurately capture, measure and report on the value of trade shows and conferences. And I’m sure you appreciate that every time you face the question of whether or not a trade show is worthwhile you can instantly determine how much the show cost and how much revenue it generated. Which all of you are already doing… right?



Dan Appleman

About Dan Appleman

As Full Circle Insights’ CTO, Dan Appleman brings a broad technology experience to our customers. In addition to having supported over 30 Salesforce.com implementations with technology solutions, Dan is also the author of the book "Advanced Apex Programming for Salesforce.com and Force.com" and has been a speaker at Dreamforce since 2012. Previously, he was the founder of Desaware, Inc. a developer of add-on products for Microsoft Visual Studio, a co-founder of Apress publishing, and the author of numerous books and articles.