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Are Trade Shows Obsolete?

October 6th, 2009 · 14 Comments · Trade Show Marketing

One might think with the rise of the internet and online marketing, that there has been a shift of marketing dollars and resources away from traditional trade show marketing to online marketing and even “virtual” trade shows. That may be true.

One might also think with the recession and economic hard times, that companies have been cutting back on their trade show marketing expenditures. That is probably also true.

And finally, because of these things, one might think that trade shows are becoming a thing of the past, a proverbial marketing dinosaur, a modern day Pony Express. One might ask, “Are trade shows obsolete?”

The answer to the question, “Are trade shows obsolete?” is a resounding no. Trade shows are not obsolete, rather, trade shows are still very much alive, and are still an important and effective marketing method.

Marketing, like most things, changes, improves, evolves, goes through fads, and also “rediscovers” old truisms. One of those truisms is that there is no substitute for face-to-face (human interaction) marketing. There is also no substitute for the economics of a target-rich environment. And people will always want free stuff, and will always be interested in filling their bags with trade show giveaways. There will always be trade shows. Trade shows are here to stay, and will remain a powerful marketing tool.

The Power of Trade Shows Today – Running the Numbers

An estimated 110 million people attend more than 4,000 trade shows in the United States and Canada every year.  That’s a lot of people, and a lot of trade shows.

And according to the marketing experts who crunch the numbers, trade shows remain the more cost-effective way of face-to-face marketing when compared to doing office or field sales calls. Although exhibiting at a trade show is not inexpensive, the opportunity to meet and talk to so many high-value prospects can pay off. It is a big investment… but it can have a big payoff.

To compare the costs acquiring leads and sales via trade show exhibiting versus field sales calls, consider the following numbers, provided by

For the past 10 years, an average of 81%-83% of trade show attendees have some kind of buying power.
The average attendee spends 9.2 hours at a 2-3 day trade show.
86% of visitors to your booth will be new contacts.
77% of visitors to your booth will remember your company for up to 10 weeks.

Cost per lead from show averages $212.
Cost per lead from field (sales call) averages $308.
Cost per sale from a show averages $705.
Cost per sale from the field (sales call) averages $1140.
That’s 38% less to close a sale from a trade show lead!

Comparing meeting prospects at a trade show versus doing field sales calls, trade shows have the advantage. Of course to be fair, the numbers are a little different when you compare the costs of trade show marketing to internet marketing, but sometimes you just need face-to-face marketing and a focused prospect environment to find prospects and make sales.

Like any tool, trade shows are only effective if you know what you’re doing. You need to pick the right trade show to exhibit at. And you need to do proper trade show planning (don’t be a trade show kinsella) and you need to do proper trade show promotion. You need to make sure you design the perfect trade show display (or at least avoid bonehead trade show display design mistakes), and that you have a well-trained trade show booth staff. You should be aware of the common trade show exhibiting pitfalls, such as having your trade show booth swarmed by trade show zombies. And in the end, you need to know when to “panic” and make sure things happen, and when stop, take a deep breath, relax, and let trade show zen take over.

Should you run the numbers and decide to exhibit at a trade show, may karma smile upon you, and may you have much trade show success!


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