Two guys are running through the woods trying to out run a bear…and the bear is gaining. All of a sudden one of the guys stops and pulls out a pair of sneakers from his backpack and starts putting them on. The other guy says “Those sneakers aren’t going to help you out run that bear.” Then the first guy says, “I don’t have to out run the bear. I just have to out run you.”

How big should your trade show booth be? How cool should it be? How much money should you spend on it? How much better does it have to be than the competition’s? Too often trade show managers over spend because they were over sold.

But you didn’t spend that money just to show off your booth at a trade show. You did it to build awareness, reinforce your brand, get leads and sell product. Instead of focusing on the booth, focus on what it needs to pull in. What’s it going to take to get more leads? How much does the booth need to stand out, to get noticed–effectively?

I think that as an industry, we’ve become too transactional. Somebody comes into a trade show exhibit company and says they want to buy a trade show booth like it was an appliance from Sears.  They have a fixed budget not to exceed—but no stated goals or objectives that the new booth needs to deliver.  And there’s always some boutique exhibit house willing to make whatever sale they can to move product out the door. It’s a bit harsh, but if you can’t afford the dress, don’t go to the prom.

Of course, you can’t spend what you don’t have, but not tying objectives when determining what to spend is short sighted. At the very least, it’s a matter of managing expectations. Part of the problem is marketing managers sending subordinates / trade show managers to meet with the exhibit company with an incomplete understanding of what needs to be accomplished. They come without a sense of the big picture. Two metrics that are inexorably linked—the cost to build against the business earned. It’s the ROI.

And don’t expect the booth to do all the work. What have you done to get traffic to come to the booth? Have you contacted everybody in your marketing sphere; that includes current and prospective customers, vendors and employees. Have you sent out direct mail and e-mail blasts, advertised in the show daily, and what about staffing? Have you indicated in your email signature block what your booth number is at the show – that you’re going to a show?

Don’t look at your exhibit as an expense. Approach it as a revenue generator.