I answered this question on Quora and wanted to give it a more in-depth treatment here. I’ll share why trade shows are absolutely worth the cost — and give some real results we achieved from SaaStr Annual back in February.
First off, not all events are equal. You need to thoughtfully vet them.
Some good criteria to evaluate follow below:
- Your average deal value aligns with the number of conversations you can expect to have with qualified prospects
- The cost of sponsorship is palatable
- You have customers and/or competitors attending the show
- Your key buyer personas/industries are represented
- Analysts, key PR contacts, or potential partners will be there if your goals expand beyond lead gen
Let’s unpack this a bit.
Analyzing estimated revenue & number of conversations
The monetary value of what you’re selling needs to align with the estimated quantity of potential buyers who will be at the show, factoring in the costs to sponsor.
For example, say you’re a B2B software company selling a product that generates $10,000 in revenue in the first year.
If you attend a 3,000-person show where you reckon at least 5% of the attendees could be potential buyers, then it would likely make sense to go.
But first you need to consider the costs.
At a minimum, you’ll likely have to invest $10–20k all-in for a booth, lodging, travel, meals, and transportation.
Sponsorships can easily range from $100k–500k on the high end, depending on the conference and package.
But, assuming the $10–20k scope above, if you landed just a handful of customers, the show would more than pay for itself.
Not to mention the brand awareness achieved by having a presence, and the additional knowledge you can gain about your competition and industry trends.
The costs at face value seem terribly daunting but become quite digestible when the break-even probability is high.
Now of course, if you’re selling a $100 product or service, you might not be able to recoup the cost.
That type of expenditure could fall into the ‘insanely risky’ bucket. Heck, you might even rule out events as a marketing channel altogether. And that’s OK.
Are any of your customers attending?
There’s further value in trade shows if your existing clients will be there. You simply cannot trump in-person interactions.
Even if someone is already doing business with you, visiting current customers helps cement retention.
And we’ve even landed upsell opportunities from events.
They’re also perfect partners for speaking engagements and happy hours during the show.
Do your homework
While I’m a huge fan of trade shows, you still need to put some thought into it.
All investments involve the risk of loss, but you can mitigate this cold fact with your brain. 🙂
For any given industry, you can choose from dozens of conferences to attend — you don’t need to do them all.
Do some research to identify the best ones. Every industry has 1-2 shows that stand above the rest in terms of quality of content & attendees.
Weigh the attendee size and pricing options across events.
Talk to your customers to find out which ones they sponsor and like.
See which ones your competitors are attending (it’s never a bad idea to be where they are).
Take a deep-dive into the demographics of the audience and gauge the alignment with your business.
For example, Printfection’s swag management platform is bought primarily by B2B marketers, though customer success, HR, sales, and operations teams often it.
We absolutely sell into B2C companies and other departments, but the above personas and B2B suit us best.
So when I explore the vast trade show world of innumerable options, you can bet I start with B2B marketing-focused conferences first.
Try reconnaissance first before taking the sponsorship plunge
If you’re just starting out and/or budgets are tight, consider sending a couple staff to scope out a show your first time around.
We took this approach when vetting the cloud conference, SaaStr Annual.
Conducting in-person recon is the best way to get a feel for the event.
We sent Casey and Kyle, our co-founder and head of sales. With just their “feet on the street,” we ultimately netted 2 new customers.
More importantly, it became clear many more potential buyers could be attracted with a booth presence.
Once you’ve identified some good shows to test, attending one per quarter or half-year is likely fine to start.
As you achieve ROI, you can start to invest in more trade shows, or make a bigger splash at just a handful.
Again, you don’t need to go to every one to determine if trade shows are worth the expense.
The best of the best will do wonders for your pipeline.
Proving trade shows are worth the cost — some numbers
We’ve currently done 3 shows this year and each time our pipeline has nearly doubled over the subsequent 1-2 months.
And now sufficient time has passed to peer back at SaaStr Annual 2019 and see how the ROI stacks up.
We sent virtually the entire team to this conference.
Factoring in lodging, airfare, Ubers, meals, swag (we’re a promotional products company after all — you know we brought the good stuff!), we spent tens of thousands of dollars.
But barely four months later, we’ve partnered with 20 new awesome customers and expanded into some of our existing accounts.
We’re officially in the green — again, after just a third of a year!
We’ve netted 1.32X real ROI from the show, and that’s after accounting for all our overhead and operating costs. I anticipate we’ll double that before too long.
There’s only more upside as time passes and you continue to cultivate your new customers.
Other less quantifiable, but still important, benefits
We’ve also generated opportunities and deals that likely originated from the show even though we cannot fully ‘prove’ it.
Besides the folks you actually scan at your booth, myriad more come by, take notes, or hear about you from others.
They then show up as organic inquiries when they swing by your site later.
We noticed a considerable uptick in organic traffic around and after the show.
Through such word-of-mouth, we also landed conversations in key accounts we struggled to break into via outbound efforts.
How to MAKE trade shows worth it for you
To get the most of your events, I shared some learnings from SaaStr Annual that might be helpful.
And we provided some event swag ideas in this post.
I’ll also do a separate article on how we measure the success of our shows and what tools we use.