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How to Calculate Trade Show ROI: Was it Really Worth the Money?

December 13, 2014

By Matt Farber


With today's ever changing world of technology, should marketers continue using old methods of marketing? Trade shows, or trade fairs (as they were called in the medieval times), have been around for a long long time. They’ve proven successful for marketers as well. Coming back from a trade show exhibitors are typically exhausted from all the connections that we made during the show. The stack of leads also helps justify the budget year in and year out. So if trade shows have been proven successful, why stop exhibiting?

Let’s just make one thing perfectly clear before I go on - I am by no means trying to state that trade shows are bad idea. What I’ll be doing is looking at how to calculate the trade show ROI and compare that to other channels of marketing.

What are the Goals of Exhibiting at a Trade Show?

The ROI can vary greatly depending on what someone is trying to accomplish on the show floor, that’s assuming where all business is handled of course. Let’s look at two different yet potentially important goals for a company. One goal could be to return to the office with 30 leads from the show. This is something tangible and easy for someone to wrap their head around. Another goal could be to build awareness around a new product or service. This goal may be a little more difficult to measure.

Many factors could affect the outcome of this goal:

  • Booth location

  • Number of days exhibiting

  • Booth design

  • Number of people on the show floor

Calculating ROI When the Goal is a Number of Leads

Let’s assume many companies decide to exhibit at a trade show to gather a handful of leads. Calculating the ROI here is much more black and white than that of other goals. What we’re going to look at is the cost-per-lead number. This comes down to some fairly basic math. What are is your total number of expenses and how many leads did you walk away with? When adding up your expenses and punching these numbers into the calculator don’t forget to exclude certain costs from the trade show. Some would take the cost of the booth and call that your expense. There are other cost areas to consider when tallying this number, here’s a couple to consider:

  • Travel

  • Room and board

  • Meals and snacks

  • Cab fares

Many times some costs are unaccounted for and overlooked, when in reality these were costs tied directly to exhibiting at that trade show and should be calculated when exhibiting at a show. So now that we have expenses tallied, let’s take that number and divide by the total number of leads. Magically… you have your cost per lead.

Now when contemplating if you should continue exhibiting at all these trade shows, calculate the cost per lead for different channels of marketing and see how they compare. Think about email marketing, list rentals, ad buys, inbound marketing programs, PPC, etc... This should give you as much data as you need to justify the trade show budget.

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Topics: Analytics, Marketing Strategy