Conference Vendor ROI: How to Measure and Track Success

Every year, many lab managers ask the same question: Should I attend water conferences as a vendor? Your answer depends on many factors, including whether your target customers are also attending these conferences. Although many water industry events were canceled last year, industry professionals are eager to get back together again at a mix of in-person and virtual events. Conferences, trade shows, and exhibitions, among other events, can pay off for years to come — especially if you acquire new customers while nurturing relationships with existing customers.

Here are some tips for making sure you get the most return on investment (ROI) for these events.

Determine Which Conferences to Attend

Start by researching conferences you think your ideal customers will attend. For example, at the Association of Water Technologies upcoming conference, you can network with 1,200 water treatment professionals. Or, if you want to sell services to environmental health professionals, the National Environmental Health Organization annual conference is a good fit.

Next, consider the expenses. Your outlay can range from minimal for virtual conferences to expensive for international conferences. Check out the conference's website to find information labeled "exhibitor and sponsor prospectus" to see statistics about that particular conference. Look for data from the previous years' conferences, including the following:

  • The number of attendees who participated
  • The organizations that attended, as well as the job titles and focus area of attendees
  • The percentage of attendees who bought products or services they viewed at the exhibitor hall
  • The percentage of attendees who were purchasing decision-makers or purchasing influencers
  • The amount of time attendees spent on the expo floor
  • The number of scheduled hours allowed for attendees to view vendor exhibits
  • The sales figures from past vendors and time past exhibitors took to realize positive ROI.

Define Success Before You Go

There are no hard-and-fast rules for lab managers to calculate the ROI of being a conference vendor. Still, by setting measurable goals and cost estimations, you can analyze your ROI from the previous year to determine the conferences you should attend the following year. Set clear expectations for team members who manage your booth, so they can help you achieve your goals. Follow these measures to boost your success:

  • Traffic: The number of people who step foot in your exhibit, as determined by badge scanning or a simple handwritten tally.
  • Leads: Number of business cards exchanged, email addresses collected, subscriptions to your email list, and new LinkedIn connections made.
  • Engagement: The number of meetings you schedule with potential clients, the amount of interaction with your booth, and the number of clicks or shares of social media posts about your lab's participation in the conference.
  • Sales: New contracts and revenue collected.
  • Brand awareness: Increases in social media impressions and engagement, spikes in traffic to your website, and mentions of your lab in any trade show publications or press releases about a conference.

Make the Most of Your Investment

Invite attendees into your booth with a colorful display or an interactive demonstration. Set up a toy swimming pool filled with water as a playful way to promote recreational water testing, or create a nature scene to represent environmental water testing. Use this as an opportunity to educate your clients about proper sample collection practices. Giveaways are always welcome — anything from a free pen with your lab's name to a raffle drawing for a free test or another service.

Use the opportunity to listen to your current and prospective customers to find out what they need and how your lab can help solve their problems. Water testing needs change over time, and attending a conference is a good way to find out what people are talking about.

As a vendor, you will be most focused on the exhibitor hall, but don't ignore the rest of the event. You've spent the money to attend, so participate in optional networking activities, such as happy hours or coffee breaks. This is a great chance to truly network and have the kinds of sincere conversations that can lead to long-term relationships with your clients.

Bring Learnings Back to the Lab

Your job isn't complete when you return to the lab. Now that you've collected leads, make sure your sales team follows up and closes the deal. Follow through on scheduled meetings and track revenue that is collected as a result of those conversations. Start calculating your ROI, but add to the "revenue" portion as it increases throughout the year.

Again, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but here are a couple of ways to calculate the ROI of exhibiting at an industry conference:

  • Calculate the revenue minus the cost of the conference (and all related expenses) and divide by the investment to assess your net profit.
  • Calculate the cost per lead by dividing the cost of the show by the number of leads you collect.
  • Keep records of these numbers, as well as a written document that describes some of the big-picture benefits that are harder to quantify. For example, did you bond with one of your lab's best clients, thus ensuring they would choose you over your competitors? Write it down.

Conferences are a great way to establish your lab's authority in the industry and show off your expertise. And while nothing can truly replace in-person networking, virtual conferences have improved over the last year, and many of the benefits still apply while the cost of "attending" is reduced. Whether your lab attends virtual, in-person, or hybrid events this conference season, be sure to track your ROI and use it to increase your presence in the market, add to your bottom line, and select events to attend next year.

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Kelly McSweeney
Science and Technology Writer
Armed with a master's degree in writing and a decade of professional work in scientific publishing, Kelly McSweeney writes about science and technology innovations. She translates complicated topics into stories that capture the curiosity of everyone from casual readers to technical experts. Kelly has degrees from Emerson College and the University of Vermont, and has worked on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics publications at Wiley, In Compliance magazine, and Pearson. Her articles about the latest research are published by ZDNet, Northrop Grumman, and Wiley.