How to Select the Best Trade Show for You

April 1, 2008

By Stan Fine, Ph.D., Karpel Solutions

More than 9,000 trade shows and public expositions are held each year. Choosing the right one can be a daunting task. However, many resources are available with the information you need to select a show that will not only be productive but also yield the greatest return on your exhibit investment.

According to industry statistics, the average industrial sales call costs about $229. To close an order, 5.5 sales calls are required, bringing the total cost to $1,263. Now look at the cost per contact at a trade show. The contact cost is about $106, with an average of one follow-up call to close the sale. The result is a savings of more than $1,000 per order!

Yes, it makes sense to exhibit, but you still need to know if your target audience will be in attendance and if the show’s management will be an effective matchmaker.

The following offers some key measurement criteria to determine if you should participate.

1.  Determine who has actually attended the show in the past

Show brochures generally trumpet the number of attendees at the previous show, but what does that represent? It’s far more important to know who is attending than how many.

2. Ask for the attendee profile

The demographic data a show manager provides can help you evaluate both the audience and the show manager’s research. Analyze the past year’s registration forms. The computerized record should have it all, including attendee’s company name, size and location, individual’s job title, buying authority, purchase intentions, budget and purchasing time frame.

3. Look for facts behind the generalities

If the brochure says, “We bring in buying teams from the largest companies,” get examples of the types of companies and ask for the titles of those who will make up the buying teams.

4.  Ascertain what previous exhibitors think of the show

Ask show management for a list of exhibitors with companies similar to yours. Call those company contacts. Hopefully a few will speak to you concerning their results and share whether the event was worthwhile.

5.  Find out if the show’s marketing materials will target the audience you need

Will its direct mail and advertising be aimed at your target audience? Many trade show companies prepare their materials a year in advance. Show management should be able to tell you which publications will run those ads and the frequency of ad placement.

6.  Contact previous attendees to gain their perspective

Show management should be willing to provide names and phone numbers of previous attendees. Call at least 10 of them and ascertain how much time they spent at the show, did they go more than day, did they see the products they wanted to see, and as a result, did they purchase anything?

7.  Question show management on their ability to bring buyer and seller together

Will attendees have the ability to pre-register and enter the show more quickly? Is the show guide mailed in advance and is the floor plan easy to read and color-coded? Has show management installed electronic terminals to help attendees locate specific products and print lists of companies with booth numbers? In addition, you need to be assured there will be no conflicts between seminars and exhibit hours.


Stan Fine, Ph.D., is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Karpel Solutions, an IT consulting firm in St. Louis. He is also an adjunct instructor at St. Louis Community College and has conducted more than 300 sales management seminars and trade shows throughout the United States. Stan can be contacted at [email protected] or (314) 892-6300, ext. 129.

(Stan Fine, Ph.D., will be presenting at the Missouri Meetings & Events 2008 St. Louis Regional Expo – PLANit GREEN – March 24-25. To hear Stan and attend the expo, register online at


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