Cost per lead comparison: trade show vs. website

Joe Sullivan by Joe Sullivan

cost per lead trade show vs website

All of our clients regularly attend trade shows. They’re all B2B companies — many of them industrial, and trade shows have forever been something they just do.

The purpose of this blog post is not to suggest that they (or you) should stop attending trade shows — particularly if attendance yields a positive ROI for your company. Instead, I challenge you to really look at the numbers. What is the cost of acquiring a new lead at a trade show? Have you examined how that compares to the cost of acquiring a new lead through your website? Industrial marketing needs to show a positive ROI, but how do you begin measuring result? Read on and we’ll break it down.

Cost of attending a trade show

These costs of course vary by industry, company and show. But for simplicity’s sake, we’ll use the following numbers:

  • Airfare: $300 x 3 attendees ($900)
  • Hotel: $150 x 3 attendees x 2 nights ($900)
  • Meals: $100 x 3 attendees x 2 days ($600)
  • Floor space: $5,000 to $10,00 (let’s say $7500)
  • Shipping, other floor expenses ($1000)
  • Booth design, printed materials: $3000 divided among 3 trade shows/year ($1000)

This totals at just about $12,000 per trade show. If your company attends three trade shows per year, that’s $36,000 total, not to mention the time of all three employees over the course of two to three days each time around. If you can walk away from each one of those three shows with 50 brand new leads (150 total leads/year), you’ll have paid $240/lead. Flag that number; we’ll come back to it shortly.

Cost of modern B2B website and its counterparts

We frequently catch some heat on first calls with potential clients around the cost of a website rebuild. We often charge $25,000 or more. And we sometimes receive similar reactions to the cost of our $3000 – $8000/month online marketing retainers. These retainers include building an online lead development infrastructure to drive prospects into the website (email, blogging, seo, social media, etc).

“How could you charge that much? I could hire an employee for that cost.”

You’re right, you could hire an employee for that cost. But my answer to these cost concerns is  simple: A B2B website is a lead generation tool. Let me rephrase that. A B2B website — when built strategically and surrounded by an online lead development infrastructure — is a lead generation tool. A website exists to attract targeted prospects, convert them into leads, and nurture those leads until they become customers. Period. It must produce a positive ROI, and if built right and surrounded by the right strategy and tools, it will.

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How many leads should a B2B website produce?

Our experience has shown that an effective B2B website converts at least 2 percent of visitors to leads. That means for every 100 visitors, your website should produce two new contacts with names, phone numbers and email addresses who are interested in something you have to offer.

Let’s say you invest $3000/month into a website overhaul and a traffic and lead generation program. That’s $36,000/year — the same cost as attending three trade shows.

So if your website sees even 50 visits a day (pretty conservative), you should see 30 new leads/month (or 360 new leads/year).

Put that all together and you’re looking at $100/lead produced through your website. By comparison, those three trade shows cost you $240/lead plus the time of all attendees.

So does the $3000/month investment in your website and online marketing initiatives still sound like too much?

Two supporting stats before you go

In their 2013 State of Inbound Marketing report, Hubspot (an industry leader in marketing software) surveyed 3300 business executives on cost per lead. Some key data points follow:

  • The lowest cost per lead came from social media and email marketing, followed by SEO and blogging. All three of these sources are part of the online lead development infrastructure, and focused on driving visitors to lead-capture opportunities on the company website.
  • The highest cost per lead came from trade shows, with only 12 percent of respondents reporting a below average cost per lead.

If you’re a business-to-business company and don’t think your website is generating leads out of at least 2 percent of your visitors, I encourage you to consider a free B2B website consultation. At the very least we can spend 30 minutes talking through some ideas to transform your site into a more effective lead generation tool.

The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies

Learn how to drive qualified website traffic, turn that traffic into real leads and nurture those leads until they become customers.

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Joe Sullivan

Joe Sullivan

Joe is a founder of Gorilla 76. He was named as one of St. Louis’ “Top Young Entrepreneurs” by the Small Business Monthly and to the 2012 St. Louis Business Journal’s “30 Under 30” class. Passions include cooking, eating other people’s cooking, the Green Bay Packers, organizing, craft-beering and tag teaming Grace’s and Jack’s diaper changes with his wife, Julie. Joe is a dual-degreed graduate (business and art) of Washington University in St. Louis.

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  • Patrick

    Interesting post. However, it assumes that leads from tradeshows and website visits are at the same stage, and therefore an apples to apples comparison. The face to face nature of tradeshows and branding provide value that is very different from a website visit. Obviously Hubspot has an interest in demonstrating the comparative value of inbound marketing, but a better analysis would be overall ROI based on opportunities and revenue. Event Hubspot does events!

  • gorilla76

    Patrick, that’s a great point. And I would absolutely agree that face-to-face interaction is a totally different thing than a website visit. The more personal, the better. What we HAVE discovered in our client work is that website visits open up opportunities for real interactions to then follow. And those who arrive on your website because they were searching for a solution are likely to be in a buying mindset to some extent. In other words they’re already out looking for something that you might be able to offer. We wouldn’t argue at all that a website should replace the salesforce, but rather be a really great complement to it, and a feeder of the sales funnel. That make sense? Thanks for your comments!

  • Andres Marquez

    Another point would be that there isn’t always airfare, shipping, meals and hotel stay involved in trade shows and that there are many trade shows out there with floor space well under the $5,000 mark where you should be able to walk away with 50 quality leads. The trade shows with the best opportunities are often in the same cities where corporate offices are often located. I would argue that for many businesses $4,000 is a fair average for floor space, even at your $3,000 for printed materials that’s $100 a lead.

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