Big DataBy Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

Every exhibiting company should possess the ability to accurately prove it has secured the greatest possible return on its investments in trade shows.

However, that fact begs a number of key questions for the vast majority of exhibitors today: What data is needed to properly measure ROI? How is the data managed? And – perhaps most importantly – is there a plan in place to utilize the data in order to make actionable decisions and drive desired results?  

“There’s so much data out there today,” said Terry VanConant president and CEO of M3S Management, LLC, a trade show and event consultant. “If you, as an organization, cannot tie the data you collect back into a well-defined plan – or worse, you don’t have a plan in place – then you’re simply not going to be able to know what your data is telling you.”

Big Data Brings Both Challenges and Opportunities

VanConant, who will be a presenter at AEM’s upcoming CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE Exhibitor Meeting, said he likens exhibiting companies’ efforts to leverage data to maximize trade show ROI to major league baseball teams trying to sift through game-related data to positively impact where they sit in the standings.

Register now for the CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE Exhibitor Meeting

“You have a tremendous amount of data that is available to managers and coaches that tell you how to play certain matchups,” said VanConant. “Whether it’s hitter-versus-pitcher data, information about where to shift fielders on the diamond, etc., all of that is being driven by data being collected. The same thing is going on in the business world, and we’re paying a lot more attention to data points now than we ever have before.”

Once upon a time, the idea of organizational data was most closely associated with a company’s accounting and financial information. Not anymore. Now data refers to other aspects of an organization, including production analysis, quality analysis, marketing, sales and more. Companies have – or should have – such information at their fingertips, and they should have sophisticated and impactful processes in place for analyzing the data.



“If you’re going to be serious about measuring ROI, and you should, then you’d better note what kind of information that’s needed to tell you how successful you are,” said Terry VanConant of M3S Management, LLC


“You’re not able to drill down into the third, fourth and even fifth levels of important data in order to put forth your best efforts and do what it is you want to do,” said VanConant. “A decade ago, metrics like cost-per-click on a website, they weren’t available. But now we have data we can utilize and analyze to see how many clicks it takes to come up with a sale.”

It’s All About the Customer

Yes, data analysis and management serve to help exhibiting companies positively impact trade show ROI. But, more accurately, their true value comes into play when they are employed as tools to enhance customer satisfaction.

“Organizations, or at least the ones that really pay attention to their data and try to provide action items for that data for whatever tactic they are using, they are trying to get to the customer satisfaction of a company like Amazon,” said VanConant. “Yes, the product is in stock. Yes, the product is being shipped. Yes, the product is on its way, and here’s where it’s at. I think that’s the end goal for most companies as it relates to customer satisfaction.”

The task for exhibiting companies is simple: Delight the customer base in order to sustain long-term organizational success and profitability. And how can that task be accomplished?

“It’s simply a matter of being the best you can be,” said VanConant. “And that starts by utilizing the data that’s available to you.”

Put a Plan in Place

All of this is a task easier said than done for many companies. Organizations are teeming with employees who have little – or, in some cases – no idea of what happens on a trade show floor. However, in order for companies to be successful in securing the best possible trade show ROI, they need to ensure the members of their workforce are aware a plan is in place to leverage data in order to accomplish that goal. More importantly, they need to know what their individual responsibilities are for executing the plan.  

“There’s no overstating the importance of having this plan in place, and it needs to be detailed,” said VanConant. “If you’re going to be serious about measuring ROI, and you should, then you’d better note what kind of information that’s needed to tell you how successful you are.”

Lastly, whether the data is gathered via post-visit surveys, by customer resource management (CRM) software, or from some other means, it won’t provide companies much in the way of value – unless it’s  tied back to a well-conceived and well-established plan.

“Everything stems from building the plan, as that’s ultimately your foundation for any successful trade show or face-to-face marketing event,” added VanConant.


CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE are less than a year away, and AEM is committed to ensuring exhibiting companies will be well-prepared for success by the time they hit the show floor in March of 2020.

With that fact in mind, current exhibitors are encouraged to attend an upcoming CONEXPO-CON/AGG & IFPE Exhibitor Meeting, slated for Aug. 19-21 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago.

Register now.

Check out a full agenda and additional session details.  

For more information, contact or call 800-867-6060. 

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