I’ve been asked to talk about a narrow but controversial topic – whether products should be demonstrated at tradeshows. Some of my colleagues say that this is a bad idea, but I “never say never” when it comes to any marketing tactic. Instead, I evaluate the buying process for the products the company is marketing, outlining steps in a sensitive vendor/buyer dance that is a lot like the intricacies of dating. The best steps will differ greatly depending on the characteristics of the partners in the dance.
Think about it -- potential buyers engage in a series of interactions with vendors, with each positive date increasing the probability that the buyer will be willing to pursue the next phase of the relationship. Vendors are most vulnerable in the earliest phases, when the buyer hasn't invested a lot yet and can easily stop taking our calls. The buyer is constantly trying to learn more, moving ever closer to the decision that we could be their perfect partner. He doesn’t want to make the wrong choice, after all. This will be a long-term commitment and a bad marriage will be very difficult (and expensive) to dissolve.
So where does the trade show fit in the dating process? The companies who are asking this question are wondering what to do with buyers who are out on their first date (Yes, I know, there are other dates going on at the show, but we’ll take that up another time.). It’s best to think of the trade show as a bar or speed-dating event, with fewer and fewer potential buyers allocating just a short time to each of several potential partners. No one is going to get married during the show, but prospective buyers will be narrowing down the field. Make the wrong move and we may never see them again. Present ourselves as the perfect potential fit, however, and this could be the start of something beautiful!
So I put myself in the shoes of the buyer (I do this with personas) and take a look at the demo through his eyes. Then I compare it to every other opportunity I might have to impress him. If the persona will be won over when he sees some aspect of my product (I’m thinking of the iPhone and some of my early adopter-friends, for instance), I’ll create a short demo that is optimized for his concerns. I can’t do this unless I’ve really grokked the buyer persona and can accurately predict the aspects of the product that will generate a positive experience. I keep the demo very short and have already outlined my plans for a second date. I’ve actually seen a few companies that can close deals at trade shows (amazing!) but I almost always have to go slow. Good relationships take time.
When more than one type of buyer persona will be attending the show, I plan for multiple demos, each precisely targeted to communicate something that will be highly valuable and quickly communicated. This is not the time or the place to tell my whole story – that is way too much information for the first date.