"Seeing sales' reaction to our new trade show marketing strategy was amazing. They actually got excited about trade shows for the first time ever. And when sales got excited, I got even more excited—because I can't succeed without their buy-in," said Alicia Watson, trade show and event coordinator at Q'Straint.

Watson, a self-proclaimed trade show nerd, received her well-deserved pat on the back at this year's Q'Straint national sales meeting after rolling out the next phase of her company's revamped trade show marketing strategy. The strategy marks a nearly two-year process of assessment and continuous improvement that has significantly increased the number of qualified leads Q'Straint generates at trade shows—and has also transformed Q'Straint's sales team into trade show enthusiasts.

The process started with hiring 3D Exhibits to do an Ideation Workshop—and then asking us to conduct exhibit audits of Q'Straint and its competitors at three trade shows. (Related post: Why Every Trade Show Marketer Needs A Baseline Exhibit Audit and/or Exit Survey) Those    findings then drove a complete exhibit marketing makeover where Q'Straint completely rethought everything from what it showed in its exhibit to how it staffed its booths. And now, Watson is on phase three—the rollout of technology and lead gen tools that will increase engagement and improve data collection even more.

What makes this story interesting is that Q'Straint isn't a big-budget exhibitor. The company, which develops safety equipment for wheelchair passenger travel, has a modest presence of tabletop, portable, 10'x20', and 20'x20' exhibits—with its largest presence being a 30'x40' footprint at a show that only takes place once every three years. The shows it attends are events such as National Association of Pupil Transportation and American Public Transportation Association.

"We don't have a huge budget, so we're careful to make sure every dollar we have is well-spent," said Watson.

Start with an Exhibit Audit or Assessment
Q'Straint's makeover started with an exhibit audit (an exhibit assessment of Q'Straint's booth plus assessments of three competitors) at three shows. The resulting reports clearly identified simple but key opportunities for improvement: create a more consistent look and feel, reduce the amount of copy/messaging in the exhibit, make it clear what Q'Straint's products are, reduce the number of staff in the exhibit so there is more room for visitors, and create an engagement/lead capture/qualification strategy.

"While we were somewhat aware of how people perceived our exhibit, seeing it from a third-party's perspective really hit home with the team," said Watson. Watson says the comments were dead on and the report made it easier to explain to management what Q'Straint needed—and why.

Get Sales Onboard Early
Next, Watson worked with 3D Exhibits to create a new exhibit strategy that would take advantage of all of the opportunities outlined in the audit report. At the following sales meeting, she led with key findings from the audit—then shared the proposed changes to the exhibit program. Watson says that obtaining an early buy-in from sales made them more receptive to the changes. "With the information on what our opportunities to improve were laid out clearly, the sales team had nothing but great things to say about our direction," said Watson.

Focus Your Story     
The biggest change in the program was that Q'Straint shifted from focusing on its brand, to promoting its products with a well-branded exhibit.Watson says the result is that Q'Straint's message is clearer.

Even more important, now, people come into the booth and ask specific product questions as opposed to asking what Q'Straint does. "The visitors we get now are qualified, interested members of our target audience," said Watson. Q'Straint in turn changed their trade show mindset from quantity to quality.

Right-Size Your Booth Staff
Another improvement was that Q'Straint started bringing fewer staff to the exhibit. Not only did this open up the interior of the exhibit and make it possible for more visitors to enter, the change eliminated the expense of flying redundant reps to the show. So Q'Straint reduced some of its spending through cost avoidance.

Another serendipitous benefit is that now that the salespeople don't have to travel to so many shows, they have more time to devote to their existing customers—which Watson says has elevated Q'Straint's delivery of customer.    

Keep the Cycle of Improvement Going
Watson's next move is to roll out a new custom lead gen system. And an interactive Candy Crush-style game that integrates with the lead gen system, so she'll be able to record scores and send prizes to her top scorers. There is also a cause marketing component where Q'Straint will donate $5.00 to All Wheels Up—a charity that is crash testing wheelchair tie downs and wheelchairs for commercial flight—then match the total donation at the end of the year.

(Related post: Ask 3D Exhibits: How Do I Turn an Audit into Action and Improvement)    

Watson says one of the most rewarding moments came when another exhibitor walked up to her on the show floor and asked about the exhibit. The exhibitor   commented that she liked the way the exhibit told a story and focused on the product. Just by seeing the Q'Straint exhibit, this exhibit manager got it—and commented that she wanted her exhibit to accomplish the same things.    

"That would never have happened without the audits. The audits are 100% paying for themselves, plus some," said Watson.    

If you think an exhibit audit or a strategy consultation would benefit your trade show marketing program, email Stephanie Coupland (scoupland (at) 3DExhibits (dot) com), to set up a free consultation.    

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