Trade Shows: How to get the ROI you want

Navigating the Event Landscape...


In the quest to get the best bang for your marketing bucks, trade shows are usually one of the first things to consider and it's easy to see why: the 'big ones' have, over the years, established themselves as 'must attend' events for many in your industry. And, if they're going to be there, it's hard to ignore the compulsion to be there too.

But, trade shows aren't the only thing out there that will get your products into the hearts and minds of those who matter most and, before you follow the crowds, it's worth taking a step back for a wider scan of the event landscape.

For, whilst trade shows can provide decent exposure for big brands with big budgets, for lesser-known brands looking for a more even playing field and a more guaranteed route to decision makers, the one-to-one meetings forum is establishing itself as an interesting one to consider. More on the 1-to-1 meetings concept here and some reasons to consider them.

But, love 'em or hate 'em, it looks like trade shows are here to stay and, if your dream customers are amongst the crowds walking the halls, they present an opportunity for you to get more of them knowing and caring that you exist before they leave.

So, how can you get those conversations started (and continuing) with enough of these potential buyers to reach and, hopefully, cruise right on past the long term returns you want? Quite simply, you need to get your trade show strategy right.

Getting your Trade Show Strategy Right

Turning up at a trade show without a clear and realistic strategy is a bit like getting on stage without putting those hours of practice in and polishing your act. Suddenly, everyone’s staring at you and it’s time to perform and you’re just not ready. It’s unlikely to go well and it could put you off for life.

Let's start with setting out some goals, however obvious they may be:

What are your objectives? To generate leads? Launch a new product? Some market research? You need to define goals that you can measure and track your progress against over a defined period of time. Without some clear goals, you’re leaving a lot to chance and the stakes are too high for that.

Ultimately, you want to get some decent sales in for your efforts, right? And, in the competitive world of the building product manufacturer, the big sales usually come through people you know...

When an architect, designer, developer (or contractor) is deciding which materials and products they want to use, how many of them have you in mind? How many have already decided that they're going to spec. your products because they're the best? Or the most cost-effective? Or the easiest to fit? Or, simply, because they know you and they like you and last time it worked out just fine…

Trade shows and exhibitions have the potential to get your products into the hands of such potential buyers. However, just turning up is not enough. Read on for some useful tips and advice that will help you on the path to trade show success.

Budget and Planning - Be Realistic!

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It’s all relative, but for many small or up-and-coming businesses, a basic booth at a ‘must attend’ trade show can wipe out marketing budgets for the whole year. Or more! Then there’s the travel, accommodation, marketing materials and staff time… When budget’s are tight, a lot can hang on the returns and when the survival of your business depends on it, proper budgeting and  planning are critical. Be aware of your costs and budget accordingly.

Qualify your Leads

While trade shows can generate lots of leads, they need to be qualified or you’ll end up wasting time and money.

Developing and following an effective lead qualification process is an essential habit to get into, helping you focus efforts and resources on high-potential leads to nurture and maximise the long-term returns.

Make a short, concise list of qualifying questions that will qualify your prospects as the decision makers you need or get them to tell you who is.

Prepare for Logistical Challenges

Getting yourself, your crew and all your hardware and materials onsite, set up and ready to go is a logistical challenge. Proper planning here and allowing for eventualities with shipping delays or personnel issues will help minimise stress and unexpected costs that can impact on your whole trade show experience.

Stop Them in Their Tracks!

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Getting people curious enough to stop in their tracks and start interacting with your products and starting a conversation with you is an art that all trade show winners need to master.

The whole concept and design of your booth and the presentation experience you provide needs to somehow capture the attention and imagination of passers by, or they will pass by. Think along the lines of: What will make them curious enough to take a closer look? What will make them want to come and play?

Getting people to interact with your stuff means the conversation has already started. Properly considered booth concept and design that engages visitors (and your staff) is key.

Be Aware of the Competition

Your presence and personnel may be on point but your competitors will be there too and even if you’re the very best at what you do, if your competition get there first, your opportunity is lost. And those competitors will often try to secure any advantage they can such as booth position or any branding/sponsorship opportunities. Be aware of your competition and do what you can to maximise visibility and impact.

Follow-up is Everything

Effective follow up is every bit as important as anything else you can do to maximise your trade show returns. In fact, if you don’t have a follow-up strategy, any promising conversations or connections will likely come to nothing. Consistent, timely, personalized messages and your own inimitable approach are essential to maintain and nurture any relationships you’ve started. And make sure your marketing is tailored to the conversations you have had and to take your prospects to the next stage of the sales funnel.

Still not working?

Getting all the above somewhere near right should see you maximise the potential returns at any trade show that’s well attended by the people you’re trying to reach. But, what if it still isn’t working? When you’ve done all you can to increase your presence and impact before, during and after the event and you’re still not getting the returns you want? What if the people you were banking on meeting simply don’t show up? What then?

The Trade Show Dream v Reality

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Trade shows are sold on volume: on the numbers through the door and on the number of people who might stop by your booth and the number of conversations you might have and how big your pile of prospects is at the end of it. They're about that feeling of potential that comes from generating hundreds of leads for you to chase up afterwards that make you feel that it's all been worthwhile because they can make you awfully busy before, during and afterwards. And, surely, something has to come from all that? And, indeed it can. A lot of business comes from trade shows one way or another but there is also a pretty strong case that FOMO is a driving factor for many...

We buy into ideas and the trade show one is often sold a bit like this: A picture of all the architects and designers you want to meet breaking down the doors so they can be first to spot and specify the latest AEC innovations. For two or three days, it's where the gaze of the industry is fixed. Anybody who's anybody will be there: the who's who of your industry. The movers and shakers. It's hot! It's now! It's where the action is! And, you need to be there or you'll miss...Everything!

Or, is the reality sometimes a bit more like this:

You got a great deal for signing up on site last year. It was good to see some faces and feel part of the wider industry again. You had some promising conversations. Felt good. Lots of potential. So, you wanted to keep the momentum going. And, 12 months have disappeared somewhere and you're on your booth once again. Shirt's a bit tighter than last year (must have shrunk in the wash). Booth's looking good, though. Mind you, so are the others... But, it’s all good! You're glad to be there. You've got some great new products and your team are the best. You're hungry and you're ready. Let's see who comes by...

The Trade Show Lottery

That's the point we often get from the trade show veterans we talk to: it's all a bit of a lottery and there are no guarantees on who is going to show up. And, even if hundreds of 'dream buyers' (more on those later) are walking the halls, what are the chances that they'll stop by your booth and take time for a proper, meaningful conversation?

At the big trade shows, where everybody's vying for the time and attention of the same people, the chances of getting the conversations you want are slim. And, when the dust settles and everyone's gone home, what do you have to show for it? How much of any real substance have you added to your sales pipeline? And it's not just about the figures – how you feel is a huge factor. Because that random element and addictive sense of anticipation around 'anything can happen' is a bigger draw to keep doing the trade shows than you might realise.

Trade Shows Give No Guarantees


Trade shows should work - they should return a reasonable, measurable profit over a period of time. But, there are no guarantees. In fact, a trade show will only give the returns you want if it delivers all of the following:

  1. A high number of bona-fide project leaders through the door with the projects you want to be a part of and of a suitable seniority to make (and hold) specification decisions.
  2. Bona-fide opportunities for decent, uninterrupted, 1-on-1 conversations with a certain number of these prospects.
  3. Effective, well-attended networking activities around the trade show or pre-booked appointments with quality prospects.
  4. Limited competition.
  5. A bit of luck with timing, random meetings/introductions and compatibility/rapport.


Have you ever come across a trade show that guarantees to deliver all (or any) of these things? Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect such guarantees from any trade show organiser but, if all 5 of these things don’t happen, you will struggle to get the long-term ROI you want, no matter how much you invest, how hard you work and how much your feet hurt at the end of it.

Trade Show Alternatives

But, what if there was a way to get these guarantees? Where the event organiser knows exactly who you need to meet and makes it their personal mission to make it happen for you? If they had in-depth, specialist knowledge and contacts within your sector and are able to access the buyers you dearly want to meet: top-level architects and designers from the big A&D firms. And, not just the big names for big names’ sake – let’s include the emerging firms that have the industry’s attention right now with the projects that everyone’s talking about.

Our Principals are Yours

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BOND has learned that job titles are key: we’re talking Principals at the most senior level - Heads of Design and Heads of Specification across the whole firm or at regional level. Because these are the people who own the client relationship and who have the real day-to-day influence studio-side on what (and whom) is specified at the design stage. Crucially, they also have the knowledge and influence to hold spec. right the way through. These are the people you need in your life if you want a shot at the biggest and best projects. To get the returns you want, you need an event in your sector that gives you quality access to such people. Do such events exist?

Check out the full event calendar here (or below), get the attendee list(s) and make your own mind up.

Meet the Real Project Influencers in Your Sector

Bond group at Atlantis, Paradise Island.

BOND only invite the most senior and influential, Principal-level architects and designers from the firms with the biggest and most interesting project portfolios in their respective sectors. That’s zero juniors, zero stand-ins, zero timewasters and zero excuses. Because the returns can only come from the projects, so BOND’s part of the deal is to deliver the real project influencers in your sector. Whether it’s large-scale commercial (US and the Middle East), Multifamily Residential (US), luxury hotel projects (US, EMEA and Latin America), Commercial Interiors (US) and high-end custom residential (US), BOND guarantees to deliver the decision makers you need to talk to.

Unprecedented Access

So, that’s point 1 covered: BOND guarantees to deliver the big project influencers in your sector. This is a strong start. But, what about access? Is there time and opportunity to have the conversations you need to take things to interesting new places? Well, that’s largely down to you...

If you have a genuine curiosity to find out more about these people – to get a clearer picture of things from their side and a better understanding of what they need right now and what they look for in a preferred supplier partner, that’s a big fat yes. Let’s look at the access you get to these decision makers at a BOND event…

Meetings and Networking with Decision Makers: Guaranteed

Two access points are made available to you before the event even starts. One month before you fly out to meet these people, you’ll get the confirmed buyer list so you know exactly who’s going to be there. This includes the names, job titles and remits of all the confirmed architects and designers, including any info. they have given us on the projects they’re working on. You can then make an informed choice on who you most want to meet.

You’ll get your provisional meetings schedule a week before the event - a guaranteed number of 1-to-1 meetings with your best prospects which you can tweak, within reason, right up to the day before the event. You also get the contact details of all attending buyers so you can approach them in your own way and hopefully start some conversations to be continued when you meet.

Quality Time Brings Meaningful Relationships

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And, there’s a second chance to break the ice before the event on the pre-event tour. This usually involves jumping on a bus (or a boat or tram) and spending an afternoon with a good number of the buyers doing something interesting and fun. It’s amazing how a few hours in the right company can open up totally unexpected leads and even friendships before the first official gathering later that evening when you get to meet everybody else.

Have the Conversations You’ve Been Waiting For

"BOND Events is the best way to meet and work with premium firms and quality one-on-one contacts. Our commitment and level of participation at BOND has grown along with the success of our architectural program."

- Dean Moilanen, Noble Company 

Having already made an impression on some of the buyers, you’ll go into your first full business day in the best shape possible:

Ahead of you lies two whole days and nights of uninterrupted 1-on-1 meetings and an abundance of quality hanging out over first-class F&B and thoughtfully curated activities where you’ll find yourself in conversation with people you may have been chasing for years. And, if you put yourself out there and make the effort, you could speak to everyone and any number of those conversations can turn out to be some of the most worthwhile of your career.

Trade shows have their place and, if the decision makers with the right projects are there, you’ll want to be there too. But, much of the real business at trade shows is increasingly done after the doors close: at the bar later, over dinner or at one of the evening functions. Because it’s human nature: we want to work with the people we get on with and those relationships tend to form when everyone’s a bit more relaxed, away from the frantic pace of the exhibition halls.

Relationships with the True Project Influencers

A BOND event is about the relationships you will make and about developing the ones you already have. And, there is no more effective use of your time and budget than if those relationships are with the true project influencers in your sector.

"This is a one of a kind event where you can gain so much information in such a short time, and do it all in the most cordial atmosphere.”

- Maher Al Alam, SIENA

BOND doesn’t compete on footfall terms with the trade shows but, out of the thousands who attend the big shows and the hundreds who may pass your booth every hour or two, how many match your ideal buyer profile? And, how many of those ideal buyers stop to have a meaningful conversation with you, that you can continue over a cold one later? We’ll let you be the judge of that…

You Make Your Own Luck

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How do you quantify luck? Some say that you make your own luck through hard work and determination. And a lot of hard work and no little talent goes into bringing the people and the elements together that make a BOND event happen. And, when that hard work is done and the people who have entrusted us with their time and marketing budget start to see and feel that their trust was well placed, everyone starts to relax - to properly arrive and to open up and to start enjoying the company they find themselves in. And, this is where the magic happens because for 3 days of the year, the people with the projects you’d love to be a part of come together to catch up with each other and to connect with manufacturers who can help them deliver what their clients want. And, if you are passionate about your product and are curious to find out more about who these people are and what they need, the returns will take care of themselves.

BOND guarantees to deliver the true project influencers in your sector with a guaranteed number of meetings with the ones you most want to meet. And that’s just the start. With two whole evenings and untold random encounters over lunches, coffee etc. there is time and space to meet everybody else. That’s numbers, quality and access guaranteed.

The rest is up to you.

Mike McCaffrey

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