The Best Conference Demo
There are three ways that firms create and/or maintain the environment(s) used to provide demos at tech conferences. Each has their tradeoffs, and you must weigh them to find which is right for your company.
Each for His/Her Own
The most common I’ve seen since 2010 is that each SE (Sales Engineer) brings their own laptop with their own demo environment setup. Or they have their own SaaS instance configured and ready for them to demo from. The advantage here is that the company has very little overhead or preparation to do of its own. It also forces the SE to have a certain level of skill to build and maintain that demo.
The disadvantage with this methodology is that often these environments are created in a vacuum. Each person has different use cases that they can show. Some can only demonstrate 1 or 2, while a rare few can do every relevant one for the firm. The Sales and Partner staff at the booth have to either keep track of who knows what, or ask around to see who can help them with a certain prospect.
The Company Line
In this situation, the company provides systems for each demo station. This helps for consistency throughout the booth, but often has some serious trade-offs. Firms that strive to show new integration or features at each show often gravitate toward this methodology. It does free up staff from having to bring their own laptops, as well as deal with adapters and network connectivity on each shift change.
But there are some serious drawbacks. The first is that good SEs have often developed a long list of stories and demos they can do based on a myriad of use cases. Often the company systems lack the ability to show these demos. Good SEs will get frustrated having their hands tied not being able to show key features that could help move the opportunity from awareness to interest or even considering.
When the company provides the workstations with the demo system already built, they have to work through the risk of each station stepping on the other station if they are using a common SaaS platform. This does add more risk and complexity. Of course when the SEs bring their own laptops this problem has already been solved since they have always needed to be doing their demos any time without having to coordinate with other SEs.
The other mistake I’ve seen large firms do is to recreate the demo environment for every big event. There is more development work, more testing and more training. Even if they’ve automated the basic build, there is still customization to do and test. And you also hamstring the staff from being able to show the demos they used prior that might be more relevant to the current discussion. If you work for firm that does this, work hard to get them to switch to always using the same standard environment at every event. As they add new features and stories, just test that the old stories and use cases still work. These are more work to initially set up, but will make for large returns in helping deals happen later. Otherwise you are discovering new problems or risks at each event.
The other methodology is to just have a static demo done as a presentation or slide show. This has the benefit of being near-bullet proof, but also means everyone is locked into the same story. No adapting to the opportunity or conversation. This is an unfortunate situation to be stuck in if you are an SE or AE. But in reality, every firm should have this setup ready with their employees trained on it. Sometimes the Internet connectivity is bad. Sometimes the demos depend on a SaaS offering and that offering happens to be down for a period of time during the expo hall hours. It can happen, I’ve seen it. So no matter what, have a slide deck ready and on hand if anything goes wrong.
The Final Decision
I’ll be honest, it is more relaxing when the company takes care of the demo stations. As SEs we are always keeping an eye on our backpacks. Most booths don’t have enough space for storage so we can protect them. But I also know that I can give a much better tailored demo on my own system. It might be more work to carry that pack around, but it means more sales for my Account Rep and more people having their problem solved because I got them from the Awareness stage to the Consideration phase in a matter of a few minutes.
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