For manufacturers, dealers, and distributors, demonstration events for builder and contractor customers are an important part of a marketing schedule. After all, there’s nothing like “show and tell” to educate people about how products work and what the benefits are in an installation or real-world use situation. Demonstration events are also great venues at which to build and solidify customer relationships in a small group setting.
Let’s face it, though. We’ve all been to product demos that leave us wondering why we wasted our time. So what’s the secret to a successful event? Over the last 30 years, 2.718 Marketing has worked with some of the top manufacturers in the building products industry. We know from experience that first and foremost, every successful demo event begins with a commitment to planning.
Think of a great demo event like a great party — it looks effortless. Everyone has an amazing time and it seems to be over much too soon. People leave feeling positive about the host and the time they’ve spent. But we all know that “looking easy” takes organization and hard work. Below are ten tips to guide you as you begin planning your next demonstration event.
1. DEFINE YOUR GOAL AND MAKE IT QUANTIFIABLE.
An example of an attainable goal might be to have 40 customers and prospects attend, with at least 20 considering a purchase by requesting an additional demo or follow-up call.
2. CREATE A TIMELINE AND AGENDA.
Organize a prep list with due dates and estimate two hours max for the event. For instance:
- First 30 minutes: Gather, greet, refreshments
- 15 minutes: Icebreaker activity in small groups
- 15 minutes: Demonstration by company reps
- 30 minutes: Hands-on with attendees, if appropriate
- 15 minutes: Q&A
- Last 15 minutes: Wrap up with prize drawing or giveaway
3. "BRAND" YOUR EVENT.
Naming or branding an event can add some buzz and make it seem more consequential. It can also help set the stage for decorations, icebreaker activities, and giveaways. Here are some examples:
- Game Night: Bourbon, Brandy, and Cigars
- Make It Magic
- (Name of your brand) On Tour
4. INVITEES AND THE INVITATION.
We’ve learned that 30–40 people in attendance is a good size for most demos. (And remember, it’s likely that at least 20–30 percent of your invitees will not be able to attend so account for that in the number invited.)
If possible, use a branded HTML email as your invitation so you can use color, logos, and have a “designed” look that’s consistent with your brand. If you have a CRM platform, the software can manage deploying an invitation and cataloguing responses. If you’re using regular email, make sure each one is personalized in the body such as “Dear Andy” or “Dear Anne” rather than coming from a group list. Most importantly, ask for a response (and follow-up if needed), because you will be planning against the number of people who tell you they will attend.
5. GIVE AWAY GOOD STUFF.
Every attendee should get something for attending, laddering up to something big as a drawing prize. Gifts can be branded merchandise or your actual product (if appropriate) or reflect a theme if you’ve chosen one. Bourbon, Brandy, and Cigars — that’s pretty obvious. As far as prizes and promotional items go, we’ve had success with high-end coolers, outdoor gear, sports items, game boards, and products for entertaining. Put something in your invitation so people know they receive a thank-you gift to attend with a chance to win something pretty neat.
6. PREP THE VENUE AND OFFER TASTY REFRESHMENTS.
If the demo is in your warehouse or other non-office facility, clean it up and cordon off your event space. Add some themed decorations. Hire a caterer or make sure you’ve contracted for refreshments and set up the food tables to look appealing. If you need a mic for the demos — make sure that’s set up. If you’re outside in a parking lot, consider a tent or some covered area in case of inclement weather or to shield people — and refreshments — from the sun. Every person there needs to have an opportunity to be up close and personal with your product. They also need opportunities to interact with your team as well as fellow attendees.
Remember to take photos. Photos taken via smartphones work just fine and make great content for your company’s social media platforms. If you take a video of a portion of the demo, offer it to the attendees to view at a later date or share with colleagues who couldn’t attend the event.
7. HAVE AN "ICEBREAKER" ACTIVITY.
No, this is not silly. It gets people interacting. We’ve had cornhole competitions, tabletop magic, even some competitions involving products — measuring shingles, rolling adhesives — sort of mini-trade show engagement tactics. You’d be surprised how much fun people have just relaxing a bit with these kinds of activities.
8. THE DEMO ITSELF — PRACTICE.
Whatever you are demonstrating, practice ahead of time to make sure you have all the equipment you need (including safety glasses) and that you know exactly how it’s going to go when you are in front of the crowd. If someone is working the equipment, another rep needs to be explaining and talking with a mic.
9. INVOLVE THE ATTENDEES.
Always check with your legal team before having attendees actually work with or be hands-on with the product you are demonstrating. Release forms are usually standard, even for fairly benign situation such as applying a coating product or measuring a shingle with a new device. Always err on the side of caution.
10. FOLLOW UP.
Close the loop on the event with a follow-up call or email to thank each person for attending and confirm next steps, whether that’s a sales call, another demo based on their particular situation, or a “call me in six months.” Even just saying “thanks for coming” is a great way to build the relationship.
Demonstration events take time and effort, to be sure, but they are a proven tactic to engage your best prospects and customers. And there’s no better way to sell in a product then to see it in action — after all, seeing is believing.