superhero standing like a ProIn business, if you are not servicing the customer, you are looking for new customers to bring into your business. One way to do this is to exhibit at expos or exhibit at events as a sponsor. As a business owner, the question you MUST be asking yourself is: does exhibiting pay? And what better time to ask this question than right before the biggest security show of the year. There are few ways in business that you can haemorrhage money as quickly as you can with exhibiting. For some shows, the booth space alone is five to ten thousand dollars. Realistically, your booth can start at a few hundred and from there the sky is the limit. You then have staffing costs, promotional items, accommodation, travel, meals and onsite ‘surprise’ costs. It all adds up very quickly.

Many businesses get discouraged by the cost, but should not be. If you do it right, exhibiting has proven to be one of the most cost-effective ways to market your business. The main reason is that exhibiting is so focused and the results are easily measurable. Essentially, exhibiting is speed dating. A bunch of people who want what you have turn up to a place where you will be and you have very quick conversations to see if you like each other and want to take your relationship to the next level.

You may not be surprised to hear that the majority of exhibitors rarely evaluate the success of their exhibiting effort by calculating the return on investment, return on objectives or return on energy. Their reasons for being there are: “Well our competitor is here so we thought we should be too”, “It is good for our branding” or “We have always done it and they gave us a good deal”. To answer that essential question of whether exhibiting pays, you need to make sure you do the evaluations.

Here are some basic calculations you need to make to ensure that you have made exhibiting pay for your business:

Cost Per Lead (CPL)

This is a very simple calculation. Simply sum all of the expenses for the expo effort and divide it by the number of new leads you got at the show: CPL = total expense/number of new leads.

Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)

This is another simple calculation that can be done some time after the show. It is the same sum of all expenses from the CPL calculation, divided by the number of new clients/sales you have made: CPA= total expense/number of new clients.

These calculations can be done per event and also for a period of time. Research coming out of the US-based Center for Exhibiting Industry Research (CEIR) has shown that when compared to traditional marketing forms such as advertising on TV and radio, exhibiting has one of the lowest CPL figures.

The unfortunate truth is that most leads collected by exhibitors are wasted. There are essentially two key ways to collect leads. The first is to use technology to scan the guest, either by some barcode, QR code or one of the new apps available on smartphones. The second is to have a paper-based form of lead card.

It is not unusual to see the staff on booths scan their mates or other exhibitors because they are ‘testing’ the scanners. More often than not they are using them to play cowboys and indians and ‘shoot’ each other with the scanners. Other booth staffers have simply scanned anyone walking past. This results in a huge volume of unqualified leads that all need to be followed up. Paper-based leads fare no better. Too often, the lead cards are not complete, critical information is missing or it is simply illegible.

Your leads are the most valuable thing you will collect when you exhibit, so there are some key things you must do to maximise their value and minimise your wasted resources:

  1. Select the right people to be on the booth. Often, this is not the sales people. Key staff from your team or select customers can deliver fantastic results. They just have to be passionate about your product, your service and your customers. Sales people are often too busy checking emails, making phone calls or following up ‘normal’ sales deals to be focused at the expo.
  2. Train your team. Too often, the expo team are left to ‘get leads’ without training them on what the best methods are and how to record them. Good training means that any sales lead will be qualified. Ideally, they will have some priority attached to them – even if it is as simple as A, B or C so the most important get followed up first. New research from CEIR shows that only 30 percent of exhibitors actually qualify their leads.
  3. Measure your results. Dr Stephen Covey talks about “beginning with the end in mind”. What are you exhibiting for? What are you trying to achieve? Set a goal, share it with the team so they know what they are there for and then continually measure your progress. What gets measured gets improved. It is no different for exhibiting.
  4. Listen to your guests. Whether they are an existing customer or a prospect, you HAVE to listen better. Your customers will tell you what they want. They will tell you their business pain. If you only listen you will find significant details about their business and how you can assist them to be more successful and enjoy success yourself. It may come as a shock, but they really do not want to hear you regurgitate your latest sales speil on them.
  5. Do the numbers. It is too easy to ignore the numbers. If you can focus on the numbers, measure your success compared to your expenses and calculate your return, you will have more power over being able to make the best decision in relation to your marketing efforts.
  6. Review your efforts. You have to ask yourself, “Has this been worthwhile?” Not just financially, but for other measurable reasons as well. Otherwise you will find yourself at the expo again the next year without making a conscious decision about whether this is in the best interest of your business.
  7. Learn to get better at exhibiting. Too many people are overconfident in their skills. It is so important to ask the questions, “What is new in my industry?” and “Is there a better way to be doing this?”. Throwing a cloth on the table and having a few brochures spread around is not enough. You also do not need to spend massive money to be effective.

If you do these things you will be able to determine if exhibiting pays for you and your business. Every event is different and every show is different. If you are discerning, focused and open to what exhibiting offers, you may find that it is your best form of marketing – many other businesses have.

Warwick Merry
Warwick Merry is the ‘Get More Guy’, an expert in how to get more results. He is also the co-founder of The Exhibiting and Sponsorship Institute. Visit or for more information.