Corporate dysfunction at its worst: The B2B tradeshow demo

I write about strategies to turn fans into customers and customers into fans. I also share ways to use real-time strategies to spread ideas, influence minds, and build business.

Worst Practices  |  Marketing  |  Business to Business

Steve Johnson has an interesting take on the question: Why demo at trade shows?

For some markets, the tradeshow demo is very important. While I was in high school and summers during college, I worked in a cheese shop. Once a year, I went to New York for the Fancy Foods and Confection Show. Demos were all over the place, many involving tasty treats: Cheese, sausage, chocolate, coffee, and more.

Or imagine the people at Blendtec on a tradeshow floor at a kitchen equipment show. The demo would be only one minute and they would probably pull off something really fun and informative that would sell blenders.

OK, but what about B2B technology companies?

Yuk! Can you imagine anything more boring than a ten minute screen-by-screen demo by a product manager who knows all the leading, cutting-edge features of some mission-critical, flexible, and scalable solution that improves business process using industry-standard technology? Makes me want to scream in disgust!


Yes, I know that there are exceptions. But in my experience, the tradeshow demo is interruption marketing run amok and is often an excuse-fest for both buyers and sellers. The company uses it as an excuse for bad marketing and the attendee uses it as an excuse for lack of interest.

Nearly all B2B technology company tradeshow demos are conducted out of laziness. Here's how the dysfunctional process works and why B2B technology demos are so overused: Marketers don't understand buyers, the problems buyers face, or how their product helps solve these problems because they don't get out into the market. Instead these marketers are holed up in their own offices. Then the tuned out marketing person builds a demo script using reverse-engineered language that they think the buyer wants to hear based not on buyer input but on product features. During the demo they go through each feature in the product all the while spewing superlative-laden, jargon-sprinkled, gobbledygook-filled hype.

Um… This is not effective.

The decision for any marketing initiative should start with buyers and your buyer personas. What problems do your buyers have? How can your company solve those problems with technology? How do your buyers describe the solutions? I think that B2B technology product companies need to re-think the entire tradeshow experience, not just the demo. I’d ask a more fundamental question: Do you need to be at the tradeshow at all? And if so, do you really need a booth?

The web is a free 7x24 tradeshow. Consider a re-focus of efforts to blogging or a content-rich website or other online initiatives to reach buyers.