How to choose the right trade shows for your company

How Do You Choose The Right Trade Shows?

Published September 2018
Updated July 2022


There are many reasons to attend a trade show. If your company is located in a cold climate it is certainly tempting to pick a show based on which has the warmest temperatures and occurs in the middle of February. Alas, that would be frowned upon at most companies, and for good reason.

tempting warm climate for a trade show

A trade show, expo or event gives your company the ability to create brand awareness, obtain new business clients, and nurture existing relationships and more importantly, drive new revenue. However, if you pick the wrong show or event, none of this can happen. If the people you want to meet are not at the show, it will be pretty hard to justify going. Also, if the demographic is right, but the timing for buying is wrong, your best exhibiting efforts will not succeed. Choosing to exhibit at the right events or trade shows is a large contributor to your ROI and success.  

The right events will have the target market you’re looking for and can also help you see the competition that you face in your industry. Many regions will offer lists of the top trade shows, organized both by location as well as by industry. Don’t rule out exhibiting locally, and don’t rule out travelling as an option either. Keep your options open so that you can find the right show for your objectives and your trade show budget. Choosing the right shows to attend can make a big difference to your success level overall.  If you choose the wrong show you could be spending money, time and energy with no return.

Determining which shows to choose will first need a determination of the goals (ROI) you will need to achieve from exhibiting.

  • Are you launching a new product that you want current and potential customers to know about? 
  • Is this specifically for branding your company as an industry leader? 
  • Do you want your sales team gathering leads and making sales right at the show? 

All of these questions are very important when deciding which shows to spend money on.

    2nd, make a list of all the trade shows that are a firm consideration for your company. Be on the lookout for trade shows that are highly relevant to your industry to guarantee qualified leads and interested attendees. 

    1. You can easily google your industry’s biggest and best trade shows.
    2. Ask your top 10 customers which shows they attend.  This will help you identify large and small shows specific to the industries that use your products most.
    3. Ask the partners you have for your business processes which shows they exhibit in and determine if those shows would make sense for you.
    4. Check out the industry association websites your business falls into. Or contact the associations directly for recommendations.
    5. Find out what events your competitors will be at (look for event calendars on their websites).
    6. Talk to your employees about shows they think the company should be involved in either from past experience or information they have gleaned from your customer base.
    7. Venues often have event calendars of upcoming events. Visit your local or convention center in a particular city you wish to exhibit in. 

    The above will give you a good starting point. 

    Then you must determine, does the trade show meet your specific goals?

    Here are some qualifying questions to consider while researching trade shows: 

    • How important is this show to your industry?
    • Are your direct competitors exhibiting?
    • Have large companies or big industry players attended this show in the past?

    Check the history

    ...of each show to see how many registrants and vendors were in attendance. You can even call a few past exhibitors (not your direct competitors, of course) and ask them about the quality of the show, overall turn-out and the sales viability of the attendees.

     good traffic at a trade show


    Is the show local? Local shows reduce extra travel and shipping costs.

    When evaluating a show’s potential, take geographic location into consideration.  Usually 40-60% of attendees come from a 200-mile radius of the show location. Consider your distribution area and target audience. Take a look at your largest potential buyers and determine, given this data, which shows they are most likely to attend. While big, national or international shows may be your bread and butter, over half of exhibitors say they experience most of their success reaching target audiences at smaller, more regional trade shows.


    What other events are scheduled for the same time as the show and will they impact attendance? If your event is located in a city that is hosting the Superbowl on the same weekend, you may want to eliminate that show from your choices—at least for that year.

    Crowded city with numerous events


    Some shows have built in Exhibitor Marketing, including links to your website, uploading marketing materials and detailed contact information.  Are there ‘Product Showcase’ events or Educational Seminars you could present at?  Usually there are opportunities for sponsorship that can increase your visibility and each event prices these differently so you may be able to afford these opportunities at one show over another. You may opt to choose a show that allows you to incorporate these additional avenues for exposure because they fit into your budget.


    Plan a schedule well within your budget and try to stick with it.  One successful show at the beginning of your show schedule does not mean that quickly adding more shows to the schedule will automatically produce the same successful results.  Planning to attend too many shows can mean that you are unable to do the marketing and follow up necessary to make each show a success.

    budget AND roi


    Be cautious about participating in a first time show. Promotional material and sales reps may be extremely persuasive, but a show without prior history is a risky venture. If you can justify it by your research, a relationship with show management, or you simply know you have always done well in that market and have been waiting a long time for this opportunity to exhibit there, then try to keep your costs low and go in with reasonable expectations knowing this is a show that you can grow with.

    CONFIRM THERE IS A SPACE can rent that makes sense for success.

    Every trade show is unique and there are many variables affecting direction, volume and quality of traffic past your display.  Be familiar with the floor plan and how your trade show booth fits.  Consider how close you want to be to the main attractions, industry leaders, competitors, restrooms, food stations, entrances, exits, escalators/elevators, windows or seminar sites.  Avoid obstructing columns, low ceilings, dead-end aisles, loading docks and freight doors, dark/poorly lit spaces, ceiling water pipes, late set-up areas or “black spots” on the floor plan.

    If there are no exhibit spaces remaining that don’t fit the above criteria, consider waiting a year and booking your space earlier next time. 


    When evaluating a show’s potential, gather as much information as possible

    • show statistics/demographics 
    • review lists of previous participants.
    • Verify information provided by show management.  
    • Speak to past exhibitors and attendees. 
    • Check the Facebook page for the event and read posts by exhibitors and attendees.  

    In some cases you may even want to see what the marketing plan is for the show to ensure show management is doing their job to ensure you have the number and quality of attendees you expect. 

    Here is your criteria checklist to consider:

    • Audience Profile
      • Large numbers of visitors or smaller targeted audience?
      • Decision Makers or Decision Influencers?
      • Local, National or International Market or all three?
    • Key industry segment
    • Is it in a key geographical location?
    • Cost of exhibiting
    • Number of booth staff needed at an event
    • Potential Return on Investment (i.e. if your costs will be higher due to a distant location you will need greater leads to maintain the same ROI as a local event)
    • How well an event is marketed by the organizer
    • How an event is viewed by your staff, clients and competitors  

    If you can before hand,


    Whenever possible, personally visit the show prior to exhibiting to assess its value. Evaluate the supporting events and/or educational seminars around the show.  It is MUCH less expensive to send one person to attend a show for a day compared to the costs of exhibiting and can give you firsthand knowledge of the real pros and cons of a specific show. 

    If you’re still wondering how you’ll exhibit at all of these shows that “are perfect for your company”, consider what some companies do, divide your shows into 3 categories and determine the number of each that will fit your ROI goals and budget.

    • Key shows –Priority is given to exhibit and ensure full promotional support from marketing.
    • Regional – Basic marketing support but mostly run by regional sales.
    • Minor or Community Related – Events attended by sales and marketing for a more networking approach. 

    Because each show has a different level of involvement and money investment needed, you could potentially reap a solid ROI by exhibiting in a combination of the above. 

    visit the show

    Take the time to choose shows wisely

    There are some reasons you may have that you feel JUSTIFY your exhibiting at certain shows. But make sure you are asking the right questions and seeing the total picture.

    For example:

    • We can get a better booth space. While a big booth space is nice, it will only help if you get enough potential leads in that show
    • Staffers think this would be a good show.  You need to find out why they think so
    • It works within our current trade show schedule.   A better factor to consider is will the ROI justify the investment of this additional show?
    • Our competition will be there. This is a good reason to attend the show if you want to evaluate the competition but it is not a sufficient reason to exhibit. It still needs to make sense for your company in terms of ROI and target audience.
      Your competition may be at a show because they are launching a new product unrelated.
    • Attendance was good the last time we exhibited there. Ensure that attendees were potential customers, decision makers or influencers. You should also make sure that the attendee profile has not changed. Ask trade show organizers for statistics they have on their attendee demographics and job titles.
      100,000 attendees sounds great, but were any interested in your products or services? What was their purchasing power?
    • We got good leads there last time. Check to see what percentage of leads converted into sales.

    While all of these statements can make for good reasoning, look into it further to ensure you are seeing the big picture. 


    Once you’ve decided on your show schedule and complete each show, it’s important to assess the effectiveness of your booth immediately following each trade show. Gather your team while their perceptions of the event are still fresh, and ask the following questions:

    • Did you achieve a suitable ROI? How many leads did you get, and what was the cost per lead based on your overall exhibit costs? We direct you here, to the experts Skyline Exhibits, for their TRADE SHOW SELECTOR TOOL 
    • How would you classify the attendees? Were there more browsers than buyers? If you exhibited at this event previously, did this year’s crowd include new prospective clientele, or mostly existing customers?
    • How did you look in comparison to the competition? Was your booth professional, and did it draw in more attendees?
    • What, if any, suggestions do you have that might make this trade show even more successful for future years?

    Some key things you might want to measure include:

    1. Full cost to attend the event including space, staffing, display expenditure, travel etc.
    2. Number of Leads
    3. Cost per Lead (divide full cost by number of leads)

    Remember when it comes to measuring your results, nothing is good or bad until you measure the results! 

    measure your success

    Below are considerations you should weigh before signing up for the same trade show again:

    THE WRONG ATTENDEES:  If your buyers are not walking a show, then why exhibit there? The top reason exhibitors back out of a show, or take a smaller booth size, is because they don’t find high quality attendees. The highest quality attendee looks like your best buyers – so figure out what your buyers look like, and then ask show owners to prove that their attendees match your buyers.

    ROI:  Did you obtain the ROI identified in your show goal? Or, did the show meet other criteria that was beneficial to exhibiting there? Such as: having a presence in a market that you would like to win over. Showing the big boys you are a contender by exhibiting alongside them giving the public the idea that you are that contender? Or simply wanting to increase your brand awareness in this market?

    DECREASING QUALIFIED ATTENDANCE:  The show may have been ok, but  perhaps fewer and fewer of your target audience has continued over the years. If there are other shows that keep delivering, then shift more dollars to those.

    RAPIDLY RISING EXHIBITING COSTS: Trade shows provide a great value – they bring to B2B marketers a parade of potential buyers that allow exhibitors to meet more people face-to-face than they can from months of cold calling. But shows that try to squeeze every penny of profit from that advantage risk killing the golden goose. Booth space and drayage costs that increase multiple times faster than inflation are not good.

    It is difficult to say good bye to that show where you see multiple thousands of attendees, sell more product then you do the rest of the year, etc. But if the booth rent and costs to exhibit are extremely high? What really is your ROI?

    NOT RESPONDING TO INDUSTRY CHANGES:  Change is inevitable, but a show that lags behind those changes is no longer an attractive destination to hear the latest news. A laggard show will not bring the right speakers, themes, and educational sessions, which eventually will dampen attendance.

    NO EXCITEMENT:  Is the prospect of attending the show getting you jazzed? It should. You should be excited about the networking, the potential business, the industry buzz. If it’s going to be boring, then it may be time to leave. Though not a technical way to measure, if you feel the show is boring, attendees probably do too.

    ho hum boring trade show

    By conducting the above pre- and post-show research, you will gain valuable insights to help you plan, prepare and select for your future trade show and conference schedule while also generating a better overall ROI at each event.

    create your schedule

    Ultimately you need to determine what your expectations of each show you participate in is, and only you can determine if that show meets expectations. Dig deep, do your research, and really measure results accurately and trade shows should pay off for you year after year.

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