Why Demo at Trade Shows?

By Pragmatic Marketing
September 26, 2007

Why do we demo at trade shows? Do you have a good answer?


As I stroll through the exhibitor hall at trade shows I see one booth after another demonstrating their products. One person told me recently about his excitement about the trade show: he was new to the job, and was planning to show his pre-beta, Java-based product using a broadband modem connection from the trade show floor. Isn't he just asking for an embarrassing public failure?

Realistically, what product information does a customer retain afterwards? Back in its heyday, Comdex estimated that they threw away two tons of product literature every day. If they don't keep the collateral, will they remember the demo?

Why do we demo at trade shows?

Do we think that the product will sell itself? 'Once the show attendees see our paradigm-shifting, discontinuous innovations, they will stop, shop, and buy.' Instead I fear that we're showing too much too soon in the sales cycle and turning off our potential buyers.

Why do we demo at trade shows?

Do we think people buy products at a show? For instance, one company sells a multi-million-dollar ERP package for the Fortune 500, yet their booth seems designed for selling word processing to the masses. Do we really think someone will come to the booth, whip out a corporate AMEX and just charge it?

Why do we demo at trade shows?

Do the sales people demand it? Demo-selling is the laziest kind of selling. It says, 'I don't want to know you or learn your business. I just want to get you to buy as quickly as possible.'

Why do we demo at trade shows?

Because everyone is doing it? My mother used to ask, 'If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?' Most event marketing seems to try to be the same as everyone else, only a little better. Just as we build commodity products, we tend to create commodity, look-alike marketing programs. The best marketing communications programs should be remarkably different than that in the other booths.

Why do we demo at trade shows?

Ask yourself: Where do demos belong in the sales cycle? I suspect you will answer 'after gathering information about the customer's problems.' Perhaps also after the solution-oriented presentation. The best demo is customized to the customers, their problems, and within the context of how we can specifically solve their problems.

Ask yourself, 'Why do we demo at trade shows?'

Do you have a good answer?

At your next event, try just asking people who come by the booth a few simple qualifying questions about their problem and its urgency to them. If they answer in the affirmative, scan their badge or take their card and invite them to enjoy the show. Meanwhile send a set of materials to them through the mail or better yet, have a sales person contact them the week after the show. Nobody retains information from a trade show--everyone is yelling to be heard. Perhaps you could be a little quieter and much more effective. Let's use the demo where it belongs, much later in the sales cycle.


As part of a BlogFest, several product management and marketing bloggers recently commented on this topic. Their opinions are published below, as well as links to their blogs where the discussion continues.

David Meerman Scott at Web Ink Now

Corporate dysfunction at its worst: The B2B trade show demo

For some markets, the trade show demo is very important. While I was in high school and summers during college, I worked in a cheese shop.Once a year, I went to New York for the Fancy Foods and Confection Show. Demos were all over the place, many involving tasty treats: Cheese, sausage, chocolate, coffee, and more.

Or imagine the people at Blendtecon a trade show floor at a kitchen equipment show. The demo would be only one minute and they would probably pull off something really fun and informative that would sell blenders.

OK, but what about B2B technology companies?

Yuk! Can you imagine anything more boring than a ten minute screen-by-screen demo by a product manager who knows all the leading, cutting-edge features of some mission-critical, flexible, and scalable solution that improves business process using industry-standard technology? Makes me want to scream in disgust!

demo hell
Yes, I know that there are exceptions.
But in my experience, the trade show demo is interruption marketing run amok and is often an excuse-fest for both buyers and sellers. The company uses it as an excuse for bad marketing and the attendee uses it as an excuse for lack of interest.

Nearly all B2B technology company trade show demos are conducted out of laziness. Here's how the dysfunctional process works and why B2Btechnology demos are so overused: Marketers don't understand buyers,the problems buyers face, or how their product helps solve these problems because they don't get out into the market. Instead these marketers are holed up in their own offices. Then the tuned out marketing person builds a demo script using reverse-engineered language that they think the buyer wants to hear based not on buyer input but on product features. During the demo they go through each feature in the product all the while spewing superlative-laden, jargon-sprinkled, gobbledygook-filled hype.

Um… This is not effective.

The decision for any marketing initiative should start with buyers and your buyer personas. What problems do your buyers have? How can your company solve those problems with technology? How do your buyers describe the solutions? I think that B2B technology product companies need to re-think the entire trade show experience, not just the demo.I’d ask a more fundamental question: Do you need to be at the trade show at all? And if so, do you really need a booth?

The web is a free 7x24 trade show. Consider a re-focus of efforts to blogging or a content-rich website or other online initiatives to reach buyers.

Jeff Lash at Good Product Manager

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