Yet not all trade shows are created equal! Some will deliver more high quality leads than others, and some are just a waste of marketing budget.

The first place to start is to assess the costs vs. relative ROI. Ask for a list of last years attendees. Are a large number of your target customers on the attendee list or on the exhibitor list? If there are more potential customers on the exhibitor list than the attendee list – then you need to carefully consider not exhibiting. Remember, the booth personnel are mostly sales and marketing people, and not the design staff who makes the key decisions.

Ask for last year’s press list. Do these publications reach your target customers? Is press with these editors one of your goals? Do you have a good story to tell? If so, this is a great opportunity for you – but you can also meet with editors as an attendee. It is just a little harder to demonstrate your product clearly and concisely.

How many of your competitors are exhibiting? You may look like you are fading from the public eye if you are not exhibiting, but your competitors are. However, attending incognito is the best way to get valuable competitive G2.

Don’t automatically make the decision to attend the largest trade shows and neglect the smaller ones! The small ones allow each attendee to spend more time at your booth, and the larger the show, the harder it is to find you.

In general, the more specific the show is to your exact market space, the more beneficial it is to attend. In the Voice-Over-IP space, the VON (Voice-On-the-Net) show was twice as valuable to my company as was Supercomm (a generalized Telecom show).

Last but not least, call each of your customers and ask if they will be attending. If not, ask if they would attend if they received a free pass to the exhibits. Most major trade shows offer exhibitors a limited number of free passes for just this reason. If your customers are eager to attend, then this just may be the right show for you.