Trade show demos that go too long – and how messages can help

Product marketing professionals have responsibility for messaging far beyond the go-to-market effort, extending across their entire brand’s customer experience spectrum — right down to in-person trade show demos.

trade show demos - know when to walk away

While product specialists handle the specific hands-on operation to demonstrate the tools a business sells, we PMMs handle thematic development for everything surrounding trade show demos.

  • booth signage
  • campaign emails
  • stage presentation scripts
  • attract screen bullets
  • press talking points
  • sales FAQs
  • landing pages
  • panels and keynotes
  • partner and product collateral
  • … and everything else that lures attendees right to that demo.

Sounds like the perfect system, doesn’t it? The entire event experience, made consistent and clear by systematically unfolding the exact story our products tell for any given trade show attendee.

But sometimes it just happens — that needle-across-the-record sound that abruptly cuts the action and leaves the scene unresolved (and the prospect’s questions unanswered):

The sales engineer or demo artist needs to interrupt his current product demo to do the next one.

end trade show demos gracefully

And it seems as though it can’t be helped. Why? Because:

  • that next one is a VERY IMPORTANT CUSTOMER — so says the sales rep accompanying him! — or a journalist, or someone who pre-scheduled an appointment time with your Inside Sales team;
  • crowds are forming behind the current audience of one, and you don’t want them to have a prolonged, poor experience and walk away;
  • or, well, your specialist has been answering this one guy’s questions for, like, the last hour while people behind him are fuming.

Even worse, this happens at every show… event after event, year after year.

And it makes everyone uncomfortable: The current guest, because he feels he’s being given the bum’s rush. The waiting guests, because they’re only in town for a day and can’t waste an hour of it standing around losing value. And the demo artists themselves, who are torn between enthusiasm for their product and pleasing all the prospects — not to mention helping the team meet its lead goals.

How can your staff get out of trade show demos gracefully, and still help every person who comes to your stand have a pleasing, memorable, and actionable trade show booth experience?

The answer is to have a prepared, agreed message that can cover any scenario. And like any message development, it involves collaboration with the people responsible for delivering it.

Talk it Out

First, find out what the most common scenarios are – by talking to the demo personnel that have experienced them year after year! Chances are they’ll be happy to have their voices heard, after years of trade shows with promises of postmortems that never come to fruition.

You can even discuss the ideal duration that people will tolerate standing in line for your product. If you’re showing new table formulas in a spreadsheet software revision, that threshold will be a great deal lower than If you’re Apple demoing a long-awaited newly announced product, so make sure even the most enthusiastic product experts are being realistic here.

Next, figure out how (if!) they’ve handled it in the past, how people have responded, what has worked well, and what can be “templatized” across similar scenarios.

Depending on the situation, follow the steps like the ones below, which we developed for a company with a specific event setup — including a welcome desk, roving inside sales reps, and a press suite — but can easily be modified for yours.

Assess the Situation

If a scheduled appointment appears – from Sales, PR or the Welcome Desk:

  • Don’t ignore the person waiting – make eye contact.
  • Just about done?
    • Notice the next person and say, “We’ve covered just about everything here, just give me two more minutes to wrap up, thanks!”
      • This will acknowledge the scheduled person, and clue the current person that his time is coming up.
    • Try one of the Transition & Exit Combinations below
  • Just got started?
    • If you are expecting an appointment, let the current person know that when you start!
    • When the next person arrives, acknowledge them and tell them, “Let me see if someone else can help this customer, just give me two more minutes to wrap up, thanks!”
      • This will acknowledge the scheduled person, and show the current customer you still care.

If someone starts to hover or a crowd is forming but you’re just getting involved with the current demo:

  • Don’t ignore the person waiting – make eye contact.
    • Acknowledge the next person and say, “We just got under way, but I think we can cover most of the bases in ten minutes.”
    • Look at the current person to get visual agreement.
      • This will set a timing expectation for the current person, and give the next person a choice about whether to wait or leave.
    • Then in 10 minutes try one of the Transition & Exit Combinations below

If the current demo has simply gone on too long, regardless of how long the next person has been waiting:

  • Don’t ignore the person waiting – make eye contact.
    • Acknowledge the next person and say, “We’ve covered just about everything here, just give me two more minutes to wrap up, thanks!”
    • Look at the current person to get visual agreement.
      • This will clue the current person that his time is just about up.
    • Try one of the Transition & Exit Combinations below

Transition Kindly and Exit Gracefully

I don’t want to monopolize your time, and I’ve got more demos lining up. (add any exit line)Would you stay and watch the stage presentation? They cover the end-to-end process. You can come back to one of us to get details if you are still missing any information.
Listen, I’d hate for you to miss anything our products can do for your type of business. (add any exit line)Can I get you to go to the leads desk and tell Paula to sign you up for more information?
You know I could go on for hours about how your business can benefit from equipment reduction — but I’m being told I need to wrap up. (add any exit line)You should go to the conference general session on Wednesday morning – some of our industry-leading customers lined up as panelists.
My next appointment is here but let me make sure we’ve covered your bases first. (list three or four points you covered; add any exit line)We cover lots more workflows in these other pods if you still need more up-close information.
What you’ve seen so far – is it enough to know whether this will address your requirements? (add appropriate exit line)You know we can set up a demo on-site if you want. Would you want our inside sales guys to set something up?

Parting Words

There’s good news in all this. If your product has managed to keep someone’s attention throughout such a long demo, or if the people waiting are still interested after waiting in line, those are really strong signals that you shouldn’t skip out on the most important next step for your business: capturing their contact information and marking them as very warm prospects for Sales follow-up.

As the architect of your product’s customer conversations, your product marketing mission is to provide the relevant messages to move the prospect one step further along his decision-making process.

How your team deals with a prospect when it encounters one in the wild will have a big impact on that customer’s journey. The payoff for making trade show demos easy for them could ultimately be a sale — your company’s reward for the time your team has spent with your prospects.