Sales · B2B sales

Are Tradeshows worth it for B2B sales?


November 15th, 2015

Trying to understand if trade shows are ever really worth attending given that you may not make a sale for many months? Also, how do you track ROI for a startup and who should be there (salesperson, CEO, etc.)?

Rodrigo Vaca Product & Marketing

November 15th, 2015

Missy -

One of the biggest B2B tradeshows on earth is the Paris Airshow. In 2015, it generated about $42b in combined bookings for Boeing and Airbus.[removed to protect privacy]

Now, of course the show doesn't get the full credit for generating those sales. Not sure what amount of credit it should get - we can create and discuss an attribution model around this.

That is an extreme example, of course, but I bring it up because sometimes people like to say that tradeshows don't "work".

It's important that you have a clear idea of what you want to get out of it. If you're going to measure the success of them with just straight sales out of it, then most likely (but not necessarily) you're going to be disappointed. It also depends a lot on your product's lifecycle, the market, where you are in your cycle as a company, etc.

Instead, consider some of the other benefits you get by attending an event:
  • First and foremost, a forcing function. A forcing function to get your messaging right, to get customer-facing marketing material ready, it's a forcing function to simplify and distill what you're going to tell customers in 10 seconds when they walk in.
  • An opportunity for interaction. As others said - it's a great way to see how your prospective customers will react, what kind of questions and objections they will have.
  • Get the word out there. If you're just starting, a tradeshow might a great opportunity not only for you to get your name out there, but also for a way to make connections in the industry.

As with any marketing activity, tradeshows are just one of many things you need to do. They are just another building brick.

As for tracking ROI - I love metrics. But you also need to understand that not everything you do has a directly measurable ROI. Sure, Adwords do. A salesperson does. The ROI for a tradeshow is a little murkier sometime. But for the most part, after attending you can get a good feel for whether it was worth it or not.

Finally - on who should attend. Well, it depends. Who usually attends for the other companies in there? Having your CEO attend can give you credibility if he has especial knowledge in the industry, is great with customers and likely buyers are high-ranking in their own organizations.. On the other side, having your CEO there can give the impression that you're too small.

Best of luck!

Hugh Macfarlane Originator of "the buyer's journey", author of "The Leaky Funnel" and Founder & CEO of MathMarketing.

November 15th, 2015

Missy, the default answer to trade shows should be "no" and work your way back from there. Organisers will pitch the line "how can you afford to not be there" and this is almost always flawed and self-serving logic. Trade shows are expensive and usually low yield. We have 20 companies in the group I head up and we used trade shows for only one. The exception was when the company CEO insisted and we accommodated him, and then failed anyway.

Here are some notable exceptions for a startup:
* A small trade show - not a big one - with a very narrow audience. Consider a new dental tool provider at a dental hygienists trade shows as an example
* A larger one with a more general theme where you don't take a stand, but you organise to meet your prospects if you know they will be there.
* Any trade show (with the right audience) where you have earned the right to speak.

As with any tactic, the question should not be "what should I do with tactic x?", but "how do I get more buyers to stage x?". Often the best way to answer the second question doesn't even involve the tactic in question (and so it should be dropped).

Braydon Johnson-McCormick Proven CEO, co-founder and practical business strategist for real-world results

November 15th, 2015

We've done a lot of tradeshows and I'll echo a bit and modify what is here.  Very small shows (that have a single track and are not vendor heavy - like 100 participants total) we have found to be very worthwhile - great, focused leads. Larger shows (1000-3000 participants) we have found only valuable if we are co-presenting with an industry partner, otherwise, the only value they have is in being friendly with existing customers.  

We think of tradeshows as focused lead generation. We've heard people measure success of trade shows in the numbers of people that have come to the booth (and business cards collected).  Don't fall for this, it's just inflated sales tracking.  In our case, we think of success as the number of high potential discussions we've had in which we've been able to qualify the prospect. 

In that case, we have found that for a larger show, if we get 30 reasonably qualified leads (we do b2b services) that it's been a solid show.  We expect 2-4 of them to close in 6-12 months (and we track them through CRM).  If we hit those numbers then the show was a great success (if a show costs us around $20k-$30k, then we can make back 10X on the show from 4 clients, so that's pretty good). 

That's best case scenario for us - where we exhibit and we co-present.  Otherwise, the value has been super low for developing actual business. 

If you are just exploring feedback - don't attend, just walk around and talk to people.  Everyone is happy to talk over an idea at these things. 

Robert Hoehn Co-Founder/CEO

November 15th, 2015

I find them to be a waste of money. I would rather spend the time/money on something else like demand generation - which is much more valuable in the long rung. The only time I attend a trade show is if I'm speaking.

Neil Gordon Board Member, Corporate Finance Advisor and Strategy Consultant

November 15th, 2015

How do your potential customers do their buying? In some industries, if you don't exhibit, you don't exist. In others, buyers don't care. Tell us more.

As for tracking ROI, it's inexact but it's essential to keep good records. If you don't remember that but for the trade show you might not have met someone who introduces you to someone, you'll get it wrong.

Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

November 17th, 2015

Let's address the con of shows.

You don't buy a Boeing or an Airbus on a whim, from someone you have just met. These are long-term deals, put together painstakingly over lots of meetings at multiple levels within the companies concerned.

So how come they are attributed to "the show"?
Somebody is being manipulated - probably you!

And if this is happening here, where else is it happening?
Is it happening at EVERY show?

The truth is that in this day and age, if you are meeting new people at shows, then you are doing something very wrong in your social networking.

If you are buying at shows, then there is something very wrong in your procurement systems.

And if you are selling at shows, then there is something very, very wrong with your marketing systems.

That isn't to say they aren't useful...
Shows are an opportunity to use your primary communication language - body.
Connect with people in person in ways online vendors can only dream of. 
Bond in a bar talking about something totally irrelevant to your/their business. 
A chance meeting with someone you've been trying to hook up with for months.

They can move relationships to the next level. Or kill them altogether, making you realise that prospect you've been smoozing for months isn't really interested.

But they should no longer be the centrepiece of your networking or your marketing. There are better, cheaper, less random ways.

Richard McLean Co-Founder Webscale Pty Ltd - KeyPay Cloud Payroll

November 15th, 2015

Trade Shows are hard work although valuable for Brand building when you are a startup.  Tracking ROI is hard - I would suggest you go with a purpose when you do trade shows.

It may be more about connecting with other exhibitors or getting to meet someone you may not get access to - there are a heap of ways to make trade shows work for you - its not just about standing and talking to people on the stand.

As Vijay said its also a great way to get instant feedback on what you are doing - don't be shy - as the hard questions even if you don't want to hear the answer (not favorable)

Trade shows are hard work - if you "work" them they can produce great results.  Trade shows are not a single investment - if you are going to invest, invest little at many instead of much at few.  Brand awareness and consistency is valuable for a startup.

Thomas Kaled Business Development Consultant @

November 16th, 2015

Great responses from folks. I have found the gathering of clients an opportunity to convene geographically diverse focus groups whether it be through complimentary suites, dinners or formal presentations generally of related material to the trade show and our product and service. Who should attend is a call based on the goal of attendance however CEO's should be able to fit wherever they want. Tracking ROI is easier if your front end data collection ties to your CRM for new prospects or suspects but a little bit murkier for those already in progress. Longitudinally however, if you are diligent, you can detect trends with "tradeshow vs non tradeshow" prospect -to-customer conversion rates even if it is non-parametric in nature. 

Vijay MD Founder Chefalytics, Co-owner Bite Catering Couture, Independent consultant (ex-McKinsey)

November 15th, 2015

Don't understand your given.  Best tradeshow setups encourage sales on the spot or followup immediately post-show.

For me (pre-launch) great way to get in front of a lot of customers, test messaging, understand their pain points and use cases, and build a list of people interested in testing our alpha product.

Andria Younger, MA

November 17th, 2015

Hi Missy

As a former tradeshow producer, I can tell you the cost of exhibiting can be quite costly and sometimes you don't see a return on investment. If you do exhibit, you must reach out to potential prospects before the event, as well as have a clear game plan follow-up.  I've known companies who have spent $50K for exhibiting at one show, got 750 leads, and did absolutely no follow-up and then wondered why they didn't see a ROI.

Inside scope - If it is a large trade show with a headquarter hotel, a lot of business and networking takes place at the bar at the headquarter hotel before and after events. Invite 10-20 key prospects to drinks, it will be cheaper then exhibiting and you have a greater chance of walking away with business.