You invest a lot in the trade shows that you exhibit at. How much? At 36% of the average trade show budget, booth space costs are your single largest expense. Plus, your choice of shows affects the rest of your entire trade show budget.

So which trade shows are worth your marketing investment?


Here are 13 signs it’s time to stop exhibiting at a trade show and ply your business down different carpeted aisles:

1. 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.

2. Low R.O.I: If you have a slate of trade shows that provide a range of R.O.I, then drop the shows at the lower end of the range, unless they achieve other key objectives besides Return On Investment.

3. Decreasing Qualified Attendance: Perhaps your target audience is at that show … just fewer and fewer of them over the years. If there are other shows that keep delivering, then shift more dollars to those.

4. 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? Not good. Not good at all.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Lack of Promotion: It’s harder to succeed if the trade show doesn’t go all out to get attendees into the show hall. It’s also a deterrent if the show makes it hard for you to access attendee lists to promote your presence directly.

8. Lack of Social Media Marketing: If a trade show hasn’t learned how to fully integrate social media into their marketing, they are missing out on a sizable portion of their potential audience that ignores traditional media – especially younger attendees that help determine the future of the show.

9. Poor Welcome For Newcomers: The best shows know that new attendees and new exhibitors are what make the show grow, and they treat them with care. If shows ignore newcomers and just take them for granted, vote with your feet.

10. No Exhibitor Advisory Committee: Good shows appoint exhibitors to an advisory committee to get feedback about what changes the show can make to improve their exhibitors’ satisfaction. If the show doesn’t have an Exhibitor Advisory Committee, and won’t start one when you ask, they don’t really care about your business.

11. An Ignored Exhibitor Advisory Committee: Almost as bad is a show that asks for feedback, but then ignores everything exhibitors tell them, nor provides good business reasons for not implementing exhibitor suggestions.

12. Little New Blood: If every attendee is gray haired and already knows each other, then the show is not going to be sustainable in the long run. (See Sign #8, about Social Media)

13. Unbalanced Focus On Attendees: We get it — without attendees, exhibitors would not have a reason to exhibit. So shows tend to focus more on the attendees, thinking that will be enough to satisfy exhibitors. Not anymore. Exhibitors are also important, and need care and feeding, too, or they will take their marketing dollars elsewhere.

If there are shows on your show schedule that do too many of these things, then consider dropping those shows. Take those budget dollars and expand in trade shows that are doing well by you, and also consider adding new shows to your program. Want help finding new shows? Here’s a great article that helps you find new trade shows to exhibit at.

I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom here — there are innovative, healthy shows that do the opposite of these 13 signs. Grow with these responsive shows, and you will grow your business.