How to Choose a Trade Show

Four tips for finding shows that attract potential customers

About 12,000 trade shows and other business gatherings take place every year.1 If you've got only limited time and money to spend on exhibiting, how can you pick shows that will bring you the attendees that you want to reach? We've assembled four clear, straightforward steps that can bring you to a decision.


1. Define your objectives

A key to choosing a show is to determine and prioritize the reasons why you'll exhibit there. Some common objectives include:

  • New product promotion: More than 80% of trade-show attendees want to see what's new.2
  • Lead generation: 69% of marketing professionals say that trade shows and other events rank among the best tools for generating leads.3
  • Sales: Nearly half of the exhibitors who measure trade show ROI base the measurement on deals signed or orders taken at the show.4
  • Relationship building: 70% of exhibitors say that they set up at trade shows to create and/or strengthen industry relationships or partnerships.5
  • Brand awareness: 63% of regular exhibitors say that building brand awareness is a top benefit of trade shows.6


2. Track where your customers go

Ask your best customers which shows they attend. Exhibiting at those shows can help you strengthen your relationships with your customers. And if your customers attend particular shows, then other potential buyers who are similar to your current customers may be there, too.

You'll have to determine whether your business is best suited for large, annual national shows or smaller, regional shows. To help you decide, look at where your best customers are geographically clustered. Do the same for the prospects that you're most eager to turn into customers.

Then ask a few key questions:

  • Are your customers and prospects willing to travel to a trade show, or can they attend only shows that are nearby?
  • Which new geographic regions would you like to break into?
  • Does your business serve particular industry verticals — and if so, where are they clustered?

Armed with this information, you can come up with an initial list of options.


3. Cross-reference your list with industry associations and trade journals

Your industry's trade groups and journals are typically a great resource for information on industry events. Take note of the shows that they mention prominently. The shows that draw everyone's attention may be good places for you to plant your flag.
Pay special attention to how well-established a show is. You can trust a long-established event that's proven itself more than a new one that hasn't.


4. Assemble information about the show and its attendees

By now, you've got a list of shows worth considering. Before you pick any winners, research its attendees. For instance, how many have a job title that implies purchasing power?

Also, is the show growing and adding high-quality attendees?

  • How many attendees were at the show last year, the year before, and the year before that?
  • What efforts is the show making to add new attendees?

The show itself may be able to help you answer these questions.



The right show can offer opportunities for new leads, favorable publicity, and enriched relationships with current customers, and bigger sales. If you do your homework, you have a good chance of achieving a great return on your trade-show investment.

1 Trade Show News Network, "TSNN Trade Show Data," 2017
2 Betsy Bair, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting website, "Your Trade Show Attendees: What Do They Really, Really Want?", June 28, 2016
3 Demand Gen Report, "2017 Demand Generation Benchmark Survey: Increased pipeline influence ups the ante on attribution, reporting & measurement," 2017
4 Statista, "How Do You Measure the ROI of Your Exhibit?", 2015
5 Skyline Displays, "The Value of Trade Shows," 2012
6 DisplayWizard, "Trade Show Trends Report 2017: What Exhibitors Are Really Thinking," 2017