Why you should never miss an opportunity to demo your product

Even in the tent’s shade my t-shirt keeps sticking to me. It’s way past lunch time and hunger gnaws at my stomach; we’re approaching hour four of being up on our feet. My voice has turned into a sexy rasp thanks to non-stop talking. I steal a quick sip of water before it’s time to face the next group. Their impatience is palpable. Many are eyeing the swag table, no doubt wondering how long they have to listen to me before they can grab their free stuff.

Physical conditions aside, this was not an ideal situation for a classic introvert, yours truly. But demoing at our product fair this week made me realize just how powerful a tool it can be—demos are a rare opportunity to gather instantaneous feedback on both your salesmanship and your product. It’s hard to think of another form of communication that delivers a broad range of feedback so quickly.

You can spend weeks preparing for a presentation but unless you moonlight as an improv performer, there’s not much you can do to change course in the moment if your message isn’t resonating. It’s also hard to gauge exactly how things went, except maybe looking at the number of people who ask questions or approach you afterward.

Or take a blog post—you invest a couple of hours writing, maybe have a few trusted eyes look it over, and then cross publish on any number of platforms. Sometimes the views, comments, and retweets pour in (or so I’ve heard), sometimes they trickle, and other times it’s crickets. Even successful bloggers struggle to predict what will be a hit vs. a miss, which is why many have started experimenting with lightweight methods of testing potential topics before committing to a post.

Contrast this with a live demo, where you’re often inches away from the audience and can adjust your pitch based on a multitude of factors: people’s facial expressions, their familiarity with your product, the questions they ask.

Usability studies probably come the closest to mimicking the real-time feedback of a demo. But it’s usually easier for people to give honest and/or critical opinions when they’re being sold something as opposed to being studied in a research environment (see Hawthorne effect).

Demos just might be the gold standard for tight feedback loops. Below are a couple of lessons learned from my day on the front lines.

Engage your audience as early as possible.

An easy way to do this is to start with a question, e.g., “How familiar are you with XYZ product?” or “Have you guys tried XYZ before?” Getting people to respond to a simple question in the beginning increases the likelihood they’ll participate throughout and ask questions.

Welcome positive and negative feedback.

Audience members at live demos tend to come in two flavors: sympathizers and skeptics. Note the features and messaging that resonate with the former; those are worth emphasizing in your marketing. Objections and concerns raised by the latter are things to keep in mind for future releases. Invite constructive criticism by explaining that the product is evolving and the team is always looking for ways to improve. See if there are any trends in both the positive and negative feedback you receive.

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