Just Demo It!

Pragmatic Marketing asked me to participate in their first BlogFest on the topic of demoing at trade shows, which Steve Johnson kicked off with his article Why Demo at Trade Shows?

Trade ShowWhat is a trade show? Breaking down the word, a trade show is the place where you show your trade. If you aren’t there to demo, why are you there? Trade shows are for more than PR air cover, “presence,” and to give away t-shirts. You’re better than that! If you’re not at the show to get business, you’ve got no business there – literally and figuratively.

Think about demos in the context of Pragmatic Marketing’s framework. You’ll notice that “Presentations and Demos” are on the bottom right, e.g. tactical. I challenge that – demos can be both tactical and strategic.

The Pragmatic framework is a powerful tool for bounding our work as Product Managers and explaining to others what we do. If you are offering something totally new with your product or service, you can use the framework to its full potential to discover problems that aren’t being solved today and bring new products to market. Most of us aren’t there; we are in a sea of relativity where there are lots of “good enough” products from competitors. If you are all solving similar problems, business success comes down both your product and your relationships. Your relationship with the buyer is what gives them the focus to zoom in on you and your product. The relationship is key.

You are the weakest link!  Goodbye!What made us give up on the poor trade show? Maybe it was the Bad Demo. Bad demos are wide and shallow, trying to show all of the product’s possibilities in an attempt to capture everyone’s interest. Marketers have killed the demo by hiring paid actors to stand onstage and recite a memorized script while a fancy movie plays in the background. The marketer stands in the back wondering over their achievement…their failure is masked only by the tired show attendees feigning attention so that they can get off their feet. What the company is saying by their actions is that “You are important enough to broadcast to, but not important enough for us to spend any real time getting to know you. We’re only at this trade show to check a box on the Marketing plan.” You can’t “control” your message anymore, all you can do is “push the rope uphill” and affect your perception in the market by doing good and doing well.

Bad Demos Are:

  • Lecture-style
  • Shotgun
  • Long…
  • Scripted, or worse “movie based”
  • Powerpoint driven
  • Scheduled
  • Measured by resultant Sales

I take a small issue with Pragmatic Marketing’s definition of “Presentations and Demos.” They define it as:

Produce standard product presentations and demo scripts that can be used by the sales team in a typical sales process.

Scripted is bad. As PM/PMM’s we should be focused on making Sales smart enough on the product to be able to fire off a custom demo based listening to the customer’s pain points. In reality, it’s a challenge to get a Sales guy to listen to you for more than 30 seconds without thumbing their crackberry.

We need a different approach for success at trade shows. A good demo like a good product: someone listens to the target’s problem, and illustrates how the product solves that specific issue. We need the One Feature Demo:

  • Personal
  • Targeted (one feature!)
  • Specific
  • Brief
  • Interruptible
  • Impromptu
  • Measured by customer-initiated follow up

The best demos are when you have smart people who can ask a a few intelligent open-ended questions. “What kind of business are you in? What kinds of problems do you have with [Problem Area #1]? How about [Problem Area #2]? We see that pretty consistently also; we did a survey of our customers and found that over 85% of people have that same problem, so we heard that and built some tools to help. This will take less than 60 seconds, let me show you…”

In less than 30 seconds of Q&A you can determine if the attendee’s problem set is a match to your product. If it is, you can spend 60 seconds showing them one feature, and usually this leads to a deeper Q&A led by the attendee – a sign that you’ve captured their interest and their heart is open the possibility of a new relationship. I don’t use the word heart by accident, if you are doing this right, you need to start a true relationship with the customer. “But you can’t really expect a real relationship to start on the floor of a trade show!” That is exactly what I expect. And I see it often at the trade show my company attends.

People spend millions of dollars on inferior products because they have a good relationship with the company selling it. You can’t just have the best product, you have to have the best relationship with the customer, and an effective One Feature Demo is a great way to demonstrate that you care about them enough to spend some time with them. An attendee at a trade show is making some effort to see you – if they don’t get quality time at the show, do you think you’ll have a chance to give them a more in-depth product demonstration later? Even in the age of the Internet, business is still personal.

I’d like to recognize Melissa Mines and Lori Baldwin, two of my favorite Marketing experts who contributed their thoughts to this post.

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  • Reply David Meerman Scott August 29, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Hey Paul,

    Despite my aversion to demos, I would have to agree with your ideas about the differences between the good ones and the bad ones. Bad = canned. Good = personal & tailored to one buyer.

    Its the same as PR pitches (I get a few hundred of these a week). THe bad ones (99 percent) are shotgun blasted spam. The very few good ones are PR people who have taken the time to read my stuff, understand what I write about and then send something personalized to me. Guess which companies I write about?

    Cheers, David

  • Reply Saeed Khan August 29, 2007 at 4:01 pm


    Nice post. Demos are part of a conversation — or a relationship as you describe — and are important. And as they say, seeing is believing, particularly to the generally skeptical IT buyer.

    My contribution to the Pragmatic blogfest can be found at:



  • Reply Bruce McCarthy September 13, 2007 at 6:30 am

    Well said.

    Like any communication in a productive relationship, the demo should be a two-way street. Instead of me showing everything the product does, we can talk about how the product meets your expressed needs.

    Or how it doesn’t. Where a demo becomes strategic is in the discovery of unmet needs.

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