Marketers today measure everything. We want to know, in real-time, how well something’s doing, who responded, how much money we made.

The instant-gratification channels we increasingly use at the core of our marketing mix lend themselves to this. We have more tools to manage and measure our marketing than ever before.

And then there’s trade shows.

Trade shows and events in general are among the most expensive and least monetized marketing channels we have. It’s not just the cost of the booth. It’s the soft cost of all the time marketing spends getting ready for and executing the show. All the time your salespeople are away from the phones and shuffling their feet in the booth.

Few organizations count up the total cost of shows, and even if they did, most couldn’t tell you if they made their money back, let alone made the event profitable.

Too often, ROI on an event comes up after the fact. When all is said and done, someone asks if it was worth it.

Well, was it? And by who’s definition? Would you do it again? Should you do 10 more of them?

Managing and measuring ROI on your next event starts well before you get there. Here are a few tips to do it right the next time.

Define clearly what success looks like first. There should be a sales or marketing objective independent of the event. The event, after all, is just a channel. So, why are you doing it in the first place? Is it about sales? Awareness? Satisfying a partner relationship? Know the objective up front, then decide what specifically success looks like.

Don’t to it alone. Get the event’s key stakeholders on board with that definition – before you plan, before you commit. If there’s disagreement early about the objectives, it’s good you got that out early vs. hearing about it the day you get back.

Triage the slippery slope of ideas based your goals. Events and trade shows have a way of getting out of control quickly. The sales team wants tickets to the customer-only exclusive event. Then they want to sponsor it. Meanwhile, a partner wants you to go in on an awards reception sponsorship and your biz dev guy says it’s critical to a pending deal.

These things may be true, but are they priorities? Are they core to the reason you’re going, and the means by which you’ll measure success? These aren’t easy conversations to have, but if your plan is rooted in a universally-understood set of objectives, it gets a lot easier to say no to the peripheral tactics that will only take your focus away from the more important work.

Establish immediate and longer-term measures of success. Someone’s going to want to know if the show was successful the day you get back. Depending on your objectives or what you’re selling, that may not be entirely possible.

If the show was about making a partner happy, you can usually do that temperature check right away. If you’re selling impulse-buy products on-location, same thing. But if you’re working long sales cycles, the show may be more about making good impressions and capturing leads.

And that’s OK as an immediate measure of success. Just make sure there are farther-out measures you’re managing to as well. Leads should turn into opportunities which should eventually turn into closed deals. How many opportunities and closed sales do you need from the show after XX weeks or months?

Knowing that number, and setting the expectation that you’ll measure it not the next day but in due time, helps set expectations and establish post-show milestones for evaluating effectiveness.

Plan your post-show activities before you leave. It’s highly likely that your show or event ROI is contingent on significant post-show activity. Lead follow-up, the sales team following through on commitments they made to prospects at the booth, etc.

Most organizations don’t think much about these activities until they’re back – when they’re tired, less focused, and likely starting to think about the next thing on their plate. If you not only plan for but prepare post-show activities as part of your pre-show work (literally build it into your project plan), it’s far more likely to happen – quickly & completely. No matter how you’re measuring ROI from a show, this is critical.

Templatize a post-event ROI report. Do this before you leave as well. It can be a simple one-page Word doc or short PowerPoint presentation. But if you’re established success criteria up front, circle back and at the right intervals (within a day or two, at the time you will measure pipeline contribution, etc.) with a quantifiable report and update.

Your executives will appreciate the follow-up, will appreciate how quantifiable you’ve made the event evaluation, and will be far more likely to approve event expenditures in the future if they have confidence 1) it will be profitable, and 2) you’re responsible enough to know whether it is or not.