It’s well established how to best set trade show objectives and why it’s important (see here, here, and here).

But who should be doing it? And when? That depends on how compartmentalized the sales and marketing departments are within your organization.

If marketing and sales are clearly defined departments, align them by fostering communication between the two before and after each trade show.

Hugh MacFarlane of MathMarketing conducted a study that revealed that businesses whose sales and marketing departments are aligned close 38% more business than their non-aligned counterparts. Sometimes achieving alignment means overcoming a cultural rift that can develop between these two groups. That divide is usually based in a disagreement on just which department is the driving force behind customer acquisition. Shawn Naggiar of Act-On Software, adeptly describes the phenomenon in this blog post.

Bridging this gap is important, especially when it comes to setting trade show objectives and goals. Including a sales liaison in exhibit planning meetings or surveying booth staff upon their return from trade shows are just a couple ways to foster communication that will ensure you’re establishing realistic goals. To see more ways to overcome this divide and how it applies to other areas in your business, check out Harvard Business Review’s End the War Between Sales and Marketing.

If your company does not have a formally established a marketing department, set your objectives when you coordinate your company’s annual trade show schedule.

For most small to medium-sized companies, managers and members of the sales team come up with promotional ideas and are most likely responsible for the planning and execution of the organization’s participation in trade shows. When this is the case, it can be tough to establish a trade show objective when you’re the individual responsible for meeting sales goals and coordinating the company’s participation in eight to ten trade shows a year.

If you wear several hats within your company, just keep your trade show hat on a little longer at the beginning of the year. The benefits of setting your trade show objectives at the same time you’re coordinating your company’s trade show schedule are:

  • Maximizing your trade show investment: The SMART method of goal-setting gives you a solid way to track and measure success, identify and refine best practices and ditch the elements that don’t contribute to revenue generation. This blog post by Katy Roberts of JobServe Events provides an outline that takes the guesswork out of creating SMART trade show objectives and goals.
  • Ensuring you’ve purchased the right amount of booth space: If your objective in participating in a 2,000+ booth trade show is to gain exposure, you may not accomplish that with a standard 10′ x 10′ space. Conversely, if your goal is to build a database, reserve a 10′ x 10′ space and concentrate on creating a powerhouse contest or giveaway. Establishing early-on what your booth space should accomplish in each show will ensure you never spend money on wasted space.
  • Cutting costs: Most trade shows partner with general service contractors who offer early-bird discounts on things like furnishings, carpet and other booth amenities. Getting organized early means taking advantage of these discounts in addition to knowing exactly which proprietary items you’ll need in the booth. This will help eliminate last-minute shipping, printing and production expenses.

Although some objectives may change slightly by the time the show actually takes place, it’s easier to make adjustments to your goal than to attempt to formulate it weeks before the show in the midst of show-related deadlines.

Other things to consider when setting your trade show objectives and goals are the format of the trade show, the focus of the show (largely educational vs. sales-oriented) and where that focus positions attendees in the purchasing process