Trade Shows: Let’s Build a Better Mousetrap

Having just returned from a successful Global Business Travel Association conference and seeing its huge trade show component, I've had several conversations with other supplier leaders, all of whom are questioning the expense, and return on investment, of their annual trade show budgets. My interest was further sparked by an article about trade shows that I read in a recent newsletter from the Professional Convention Management Association.

There is no doubt that many industry suppliers are under the gun to show lead generation and value in an effort to justify trade show participation costs. These costs include everything from building and transporting a booth, to giveaways, personnel and travel costs. Many associations count on the revenue generated from supplier members' trade show participation as an integral part of their annual revenue generation, and the pressure to participate or be noticeably absent is multiplied by every association group in the industry.

Now, I am not criticizing this revenue model, as I know it is critical to the success and relevance of each trade association. However, I will challenge buyers and associations to evaluate this and come up with a more cost-effective way to have a meaningful conversation and, hopefully, a sales transaction outside of the expensive trade show model that exists today.

Suppliers have had to make some tough decisions in pulling participation from various association conferences because there was no demonstrable ROI associated with the big budget assigned to various shows. What I am getting at is that trade show booth and participation costs are at an all-time high. The ROI generated by trade show-tracked lead generation is fair to poor. This all leads to questionable future participation by industry suppliers.

I'd like to see an industry task force address this situation and come up with recommendations, as well as possible changes in this arena. Which innovative and forward-thinking association would like to take this up and lead? I'll gladly volunteer to provide perspective from a supplier participation point of view, but the associations themselves need to come up with a better, more cost-effective mousetrap to bring buyers and suppliers together. The current mousetrap is too costly, and it is not sustainable.

What do you think? What has been your experience getting ROI from trade shows?

Kevin Iwamoto is vice president of industry strategy for ACTIVE Network's Business Solutions Group. Read more at his blog.