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Some tasks look easy until you try them. Pulling off the right amount of tinfoil to cover your leftovers? Sounds easy, but I invariably undershoot this. Every single time. If I had a nickel for every piece of pizza that went bad because I botched this stupid task, I’d probably have, you know, a respectable number of nickels.

Another deceptively simple task with somewhat higher stakes is assessing which trade shows make sense for your business. It sounds easy in theory; you’ll know a show that’s a fit when you see it, right?

In truth, considering all of your angles when trying to nail down which trade shows are good fits to attend and/or exhibit at can easily turn into a confusing and time-consuming project. And if you take a shortcut and end up exhibiting at the wrong event, you’re flushing a whole lot of good money – and time – down the drain.

To take some of the pain out of this process and ensure your resources are being invested in only the strongest trade show opportunities, use our client-tested evaluation system to help you make these decisions in a more efficient, strategic and standardized way. 

Start with the questions and considerations below for events being considered, and then use the grading system at the end to determine if you and your team should say “yes” or “no” to a trade show opportunity with confidence. 

(Related guide: The Ultimate Trade Show Attendee Checklist)

Questions and Considerations

  • Is it a Strong Market Fit?
    • Are your target buyer profile(s) and buyer persona(s) attending the show?
      • Are these decision makers and/or influencers?
      • Does the show attract a local, national or international market? How does it align with your geographic target?
    • What percentage of the attendees are a fit?
  • Is it a Strong Strategic Fit?
    • What goals does the event help you achieve?
    • What other initiatives are going on that exhibiting at the show might impact from a budget or timing perspective?
    • Beyond lead generation, what else might be learned or gained from the show?
    • What other strategic opportunities does this open up?
  • Is it a Strong Financial Fit?
    • What’s the expected cost to exhibit? (Be sure to include planning and labor, collateral/booth, travel and accommodations etc. here.)
    • Is there existing collateral that can be used or will everything need to be created from scratch? Are the resources available for the given workload and timeline?
    • What are your goals and projections? Examples include:
      • Expected number of leads?
      • Meetings with customers?
      • Partners/referral source meetings?
      • Competitive recon?
    • Is there a strong likelihood of seeing positive ROI?
  • Does it Present a Competitive Advantage?
    • Are your competitors exhibiting?
    • If so, will your company be able to stand out?
    • If not, will your company be able to cohesively fit into the bigger picture of the show based on what attendees are there to do?
  • Is This an Established Trade Show?
    • How many times has the show been held?
    • How many times has it been held at this location?
    • How many people attended in the past?
    • How many exhibitors were at the last show?
    • How many exhibitors are expected this year?
    • What other businesses will be participating?
    • Is there a high number of repeat attendees and exhibitors?
    • How and where will the trade show be publicized?
    • What other promotional benefits will exhibitors receive?

Assigning Points

Assign a value to each of the five top-level question answer using a 1-5 point system, with 1 = definitive no and 5 = definitive yes. Add up the points (the total should be between 5 and 25) and use the evaluation system below to make your decision. 

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You’ll likely want to include some different or additional questions and considerations based on your industry, and you may need to tweak your score threshold based on the aggressiveness of your company’s goals and your aversion to risk (i.e. a company with high risk-aversion might want to see a score of 20 instead of 18 before greenlighting a show).  

In any case, using this framework to standardize your trade show decision-making will help remove the frustration from this process by steering you away from arbitrary, time-consuming, scattershot decisions and toward efficient, strategic planning.

Looking for more information about choosing the right trade show for you? Check out our Manufacturer’s Guide to Trade Shows!

And, if you’ve decided to invest in a trade show as an attendee, check out our tips for getting the most out of your attendance.