Maybe it’s the laser light shows, the instant presentations, the knife-throwing jugglers and other gimmicks put on by the larger companies …or just the general din in the hall.  No doubt about it, trade shows are exciting …for both the attendees and the exhibitors.  They’re the casinos of corporate marketing.

Perhaps that’s what explains why small B2Bs tend to get blinded by the light and “do” more shows than they could ever justify strictly on an ROI basis.  And too often, we see that outsize expense squeezing other marketing line items which have demonstrably greater ROI …most notably online marketing.

A typical example

One trade show costs an average small company roughly $20,000-$40,000 …counting booth, space, travel, handouts, etc.  (Many of our clients do 1-3 or more each year.)  That gets you in front of a few hundred or thousand eyeballs for 1-3 days;  it might even get you 10-20 new leads …at an average $2,000 per!

That same average small company will often resist spending more than $10,000 on a new or revitalized website, which is merely…

  • the public face of the company
  • seen 24/7/365 by every single person possibly interested in your product/service (not to mention VCs and other investors, the press, industry analysts and potential recruits), and capable of influencing each of them toward or away from your brand
  • easily able – in conjunction with proper SEO, email and a modest social media effort – to generate 5-10 or more leads per month, at a cost more like $65 per.

…and that investment will last for 2-4 years.

It’s a bona fide mystery, when you look at the hard facts.  But then, there are no flashing laser lights or jugglers …it just sits there quietly working for your company, nonstop.

A sensible approach

Now, none of this is to suggest that trade shows aren’t useful, because they surely can be;  or that B2Bs should only do a website and not do tradeshows.  Both have a place in a well-structured marketing mix;  so to the extent you have budget for both, do both.  So far, the face-to-face aspect of a show can be at best only approximated via your website;  and the ability to use a show to advance a complex sale in process – by giving the prospect the equivalent of a corporate visit, where a host of questions can be resolved at once – is virtually unique.

What I am suggesting is that to scrimp on your website (including its SEO) to attend one more trade show, in this day and age, is really not the best idea.  Given the number and high cost of shows, they can easily drain your entire marketing budget, if you let them.  A more business-like course for most B2Bs is to budget for the other high-ROI items in your mix first – and your website should be at the very top of that list – and then fill in with shows (in ROI order, of course) with what’s left.

One less show might mean a wee bit less excitement in your work life… but your CFO and investors will thank you.