Turbocharge your trade show program

Turbocharge Your Trade Show Program with this 5-Step Method for Selecting the Right Shows

Transform how you feel about trade shows by increasing your leads and maximizing your ROI. (This works even if you’re new to trade show marketing or are a seasoned veteran looking for new ways to grow your program!)
New call-to-action

Have you ever gone fishing only to sit for hours waiting just for a single bite? This happened to me when my grandfather took me fishing. After hours of uncomfortably going from standing to sitting, watching the fishing line placidly rest on the water, I finally broke out in exasperation, “we haven’t caught anything!” My grandfather looked up from his chair (he was nearly napping!) and replied, “that’s the point.”  

It took me some time to understand what he was getting at. For him, fishing was a means of getting away. He didn’t care about whether he caught something or not. He wanted peace and quiet.  

I’m telling you this because some people treat trade shows like my grandfather does fishing. It’s a means to get out of the office, travel and maybe reward some employees. Whatever it is, it’s NOT a means of increasing revenue. Maybe you can raise brand awareness, but who can measure that?  

TRADE SHOW ROI GUIDE Exclusive insights and equations for measuring your Trade Show ROI

Let me reiterate. You CAN catch fish if you’re in the right place at the right time with the right bait. You CAN catch leads and clients at a trade show IF you’re at the right show at the right time with the right bait (more on that later).  

When I got older, my friends and I went on a guided fishing tour. Our guide had a device on his boat that used radar to measure how deep the water was and if there were any fish below us. And guess what, he put us right smack dab in the middle of a massive school and all three of my friends caught at least 10 fish each!  

5 Easy Steps for Picking the Right Trade Shows 

With the right tools in place, and the proper know-how, you can generate leads with your trade show program. With that said, here is the five-step method for finding the right shows.  

1. Do your research 

Most people get easily overwhelmed or intimidated with this step. But the good news is you don’t have to be! Grab a piece of paper and pen and we’ll do this together right now—it’s easy! 

Got your pen and paper? OK, good. When researching trade shows there are only 3 things you really need to know like the back of your hand. They are:  

  • Your company’s markets (this includes industry trends) 
  • Your company’s product/service 
  • Your company’s marketing goals and objectives 

Odds are you already have a good sense of the trends in your marketplace, but if you’re new to the company, a necessary task to align yourself with the company’s products and goals is to interview internals sales, marketing and product management. If you need information on industry trends, a great place to start is with trade publications, industry research/information services, reports and the internet.  

It’s understandable to be nervous to interview management and sales. It’s always best to have a plan. Here is a sample of the information you need from them. You can even put it into a word document and ask them to fill it out.

Background analysis 

  1. Please provide overview of products/services offered
  2. Overall marketing strategy/objectives
  3. Specific messages being delivered

Target Market Profile 

  1. Vertical Industries/market focus
  2. Describe types of organizations in target 
  3. Describe Ideal customer profile
  4. Geographical areas covered
  5. Describe typical client buying/decision making process


  1. Competitors
  2. Market share vs. competitors
  3. Competitive strengths and weaknesses (unique value proposition)
  4. Awareness level for services offered

Trade Show Activity/Expectations 

  1. Shows or events aware of serving each of their target markets
  2. Shows or events currently attending
  3. Shows or events perceived as most valuable and why? 
  4. Value or role they perceive trade shows playing in reaching overall marketing objectives
  5. Expectations/results they anticipate for trade shows and events
  6. Specific kinds of objectives they set for trade shows

Collecting this information from a variety of sources within your company will give you the necessary background analysis needed to start the second step.  

2. Search Trade Show Industry Sources 

You might be surprised to learn that most companies completely skip the first step and go right to the second. Unfortunately, when this happens the likelihood increases of going to the wrong show. However, if you complete the first step, then completing the second will be a smooth process and, if you like to strategize, it will be fun!  

So, the next step is to create a list of criteria to narrow your search for potential shows to attend. The criteria can include things such as:  

  • # of attendees  
  • The job types of attendees and demographics (management (upper or senior), engineering/design staff, purchasing/marketing specialist, millennial and male etc.) 
  • The kind of organizations that attend (manufacturing, contracting, B2C, etc.) 
  • Date and location 

There are several places that provide this kind of information. To get started, you can hop over to our own trade show search tool. All you need to do is type in your industry and a list of the # of exhibitors, attendees, date and location will appear. Here’s what it looks like:  

selecting the right shows

All I typed in was industry (water) and country (U.S.). And boom!  

As for finding information about the kind of people who attend and exhibit at the show, most show websites provide surveys of the amount and type of attendees, exhibitors and businesses that attended the previous year which you can access for free. Most exhibitor profiles are known as a “prospectus.” 

If you wanted to take this step further and vet the show before you commit (which is only to your benefit), interviewing show management is one way to gain greater insight into the type of crowd the show attracts. You can contact them to ask about latest show statistics, their outreach/advertising and promotions to attract new attendees and about booth location/space.  

3. Set your budget early 

By setting your budget up early you can narrow your search for viable shows even more. However, as noted in the introduction, coping with rising costs is one of the BIG challenges marketing coordinators faces.

So, here are two quick and easy ways to get a good ballpark estimate for each show.  

Option A: Booth space cost x 3 = Total show cost 

This is the general, rule of thumb method. The first thing to do is find out what the booth space will cost. Then, all you do is multiple that number by three. Simple!  

For example, if a 20’x20’ booth space at X show is going for $10,000, your total budget for the show will be about $30,000. Easy peasey, right?

TRADE SHOW ROI GUIDE Exclusive insights and equations for measuring your Trade Show ROI

Option B: Analyze past trade show costs 

This approach is typically more accurate since it’s based on your company’s actual past costs. The first step is to calculate the cost/sq. ft. you spent on different trade shows in the past year. For example, if you spent $200,000 on a 10’x10’ exhibit (1,600 sq. Ft.) at X Trade Show, your cost/sq.ft. for that show was $125.

X Trade Show cost/square feet: $200,000 divided by 1,600 = $125

Perform the same calculation for all events you exhibited last year, then calculate an average cost. Say you exhibited at five trade shows with cost/sq. ft. of $125, $128, $130, $133, $135. Add those costs together and divide by five.  

Average cost per square foot all shows: $651 divided by 5 = $130.20 

To calculate an estimated budget for future shows, perform the math in reverse. You plan to go to Acme Trade Show with a 40’x40’ exhibit (1,600 sq. Ft. Total).  

Estimated budget for Acme Trade Show: 1,600 x $130.20= $206,320 

If you want a complete breakdown of where the money goes in terms of categories (food/drink, hotel, display and shipping), download our White Paper on Cracking the Code on Trade Show Budgets for more information

trade show budgeting

4. Analyze and decide! 

Look! You’re almost finished. In many ways, this is the most critical step. The major outcomes expectant from all your intensive (but fun!) research are:  

  • Should you exhibit? In other words, does the size of you potential audience, and the value of this audience in meeting your company’s marketing objectives, justify exhibiting in the show?  
  • If exhibiting is warranted, what level of investment are you justified in making to reach all your potential audience and to compete effectively with your competition and other exhibitors in the show?  
  • What should our strategy for each event be and what objectives are realistic to set?  

Calculating and knowing the size of your potential audience is the most important information you have for determining whether exhibiting is justified or not. Here are some calculations to make:  

Size of Potential Audience at Show:  

  1. Net attendance _____ (from show organizer) 
  2. X % Target audience _____ (from show organizer) 
  3. = Potential Audience _____ 

Realistically, you probably won’t be able to interact with everyone in your target audience. Why? Several reasons. But the most prominent being the amount of time you have in the exhibit hall! Average time for attending trade shows is roughly 9.5 hours. If each interaction lasts about 5-10 minutes, and you have 2-3 staff, then the maximum amount of people you can interact with is between 114 and 171 people in your target audience.  

All of these things should be taken into consideration before you make that final decision.  

5. Establish KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and Benchmarks 

It may surprise you that setting the goals is the last step. Well, the truth of the matter is you must work with what you’ve got!

It’s like that old saying, “you go to war with what you have, not with what you want.” And now that you have as good an idea of what to expect as you can get, now you can begin to set realistic expectations and goals. And, better yet, you will be able to better measure your ROI at the show.

TRADE SHOW ROI GUIDE Exclusive insights and equations for measuring your Trade Show ROI

In order to demonstrate the success of your trade show program, you must identify the metrics you want to measure and compare results year to year. What key performance indicators (KPIs) are important to your organization?  

Trade Show KPIs may include:  

  • Sales revenue 
  • Qualified leads  
  • Booth traffic  
  • Customer meetings  
  • Prospect meetings  
  • Lead to customer ration 
  • Cost per lead 
  • Press mentions  
  • Social media engagement 

Using KPIs, you’ll want to measure and compare how each show performs year to year and how different shows stack up against one another. This insight will help you determine which shows are worth attending and which ones are not. For a full list of calculations, you can make to determine ROI after the show, check out our Whitepaper on Demystifying Trade Show ROI. You won’t regret it—it even comes with a calculator!  

New call-to-action


If you can find the right shows to attend, you can develop an effective strategy and turn your program into a lead capturing machine!  

The Trade Group offers a wide range of solutions to your event marketing needs, including exhibit design, event management, and fabrication. To discover what we can do for your next event, contact us here or give us a call at 972-734-8585

Discover more Blogs



New 2024 Trends

Don't leave without getting your copy of our new whitepaper, "2024 Trade Show Trends."