Are Trade Shows Still Relevant to B2B Marketers?

Modern marketing professionals may groan at the not-too-distant memory of walking a trade show floor while hastily scarfing a lukewarm hot dog with one hand and balancing a mountain of booth swag with the other.

At a recent Business Marketing Association – Minnesota Chapter breakfast seminar on B2B marketing challenges, one panel participant remarked that her company still viewed trade shows as a key piece of the marketing mix. The panelist was quick to point out that trade shows are only successful if marketers “put in what they expect to get out” of the opportunity.

How do businesses know whether trade show investments will pay dividends? Here are a few simple tips to boost trade show ROI and get the results you desire: 

Assess the audience, timing and format

The size of a trade show attendee list is less important than the quality of its attendees. Marketers should research historical attendance, the most common titles and roles among attendees, and whether the timing of the show coincides with the sales cycle for a specific industry. There is also a growing trend toward more symposium-based trade shows, during which there are limited exhibits or very short exhibit hours. These types of shows are great for thought leadership and networking, but can have limited lead-generation value if the product or service being marketed depends on a visual demonstration in order to communicate value.

Get them to the booth

In Alec Baldwin’s infamous Glengarry Glen Ross monologue, he chastises the sales force by saying: “A man doesn’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy.” He turns additional, more colorful phrases, too, but those are not fit to print. The point is, if a company makes a significant investment in a trade show presence, then they need to be certain they are attracting high-quality booth traffic. Tried and true strategies for building an audience – giveaways, demos, exclusive access and (of course) food are all excellent ways to draw a crowd.

Take names. Take numbers. Use them wisely.

Once again, it’s about quality over quantity. It’s not sufficient to simply collect and hoard leads without using them in a purposeful way. That means engaging with prospects rather than trying to sell them, providing valuable insight instead of a gimmicky discount and asking customers what they need versus telling them what they need. Consider trade show leads as an invitation to connect through regular, predictable and low-pressure communications. A monthly e-newsletter is a good place to start.

By emphasizing personal relationships over product pitches, ongoing communication over transactions and a natural, personalized approach to trade show marketing, companies can have better measurable results and a (relatively) anxiety-free experience on the show floor that will translate into qualified business leads and sales after the show.

However, an answer to the question of how best to balance swag bags, frantic schedules and tepid convention center cuisine remains elusive. We welcome your thoughtful suggestions.


  1. Trade shows are still relevant and effective as long as exhibitors go in with a solid game plan and good sales strategy post show. More than 70% of trade show leads are not followed up on so just having proper follow up can really boost ROI’s.

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