“THERE’S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY.”
Several years ago, we heard those words from a client who worked for a major enterprise technology company. He was clearly frustrated. As one of his expensive products ($200K+) was being unloaded from a truck at a major convention center, it had accidentally tipped over, crashed to the ground, and been seriously damaged, making it useless for that week’s event.
“I don’t understand why we’re lugging these expensive products around to tradeshows when they’re too complex to demonstrate anyway,” he said.
He was right. His company had superb products, but when it came to tradeshows and conferences, these products were not easy to demonstrate. They were complex enterprise products that were not readily implementable in a tradeshow demonstration without significant space and time.
So, they were often displayed in an exhibit booth simply to allow customers to see them. Their physical display became, in effect, a large visual aid, humming away with the occasional blinking lights. Meanwhile, a well-trained salesperson would explain the details of the product and its benefits—when they were fortunate enough to encounter a customer with enough time and willingness to listen. This was far from an ideal customer experience.
When it comes to getting prospects to understand the value of your products and become customers, there’s a catch-22.
A recent CEB/Motista survey found that business buyers who perceive the personal value of your products are not only more likely to buy them, they’re also more willing to pay more for them. More than 75 percent of those B2B buyers saw the personal value in the products they’ve purchased. Even more good news.
But less than a third of non-customers saw the personal value of products they hadn’t yet purchased. That’s not-so-good news.
The simple fact is that customers see more value in your products once they’ve experienced the benefits of using them. And when they see the value, they’re more likely to buy your products and pay more for them. The question then becomes: How do you get customers to experience the benefits of using your products when they haven’t yet purchased and used them? There’s the catch-22.
The Demo Challenge
If your product is easy to implement and simple in its use, you can offer trial use or the opportunity to test your product in a sales center or exhibit booth. Cloud-based products are often readily demonstrable over the web, assuming the user interface is intuitive.
But what if your product is highly complex and not so easy to loan out to the customer to try without significant effort? What if your solution’s differentiating features and functions are not so easily recognizable and require a lot of time to explain or demonstrate? How do you demonstrate, for example, complex enterprise information technology in the non-enterprise constraints of a tradeshow booth or over the web? How do you get customers to take the time needed to understand your complex technology story when people’s attention spans are shrinking at dramatic rates?
Stop Demonstrating Your Product
There’s a classic joke that starts with a patient saying, “Doctor, it really hurts when I do this.” And the doctor responds, “Then stop doing that.”
If your product doesn’t lend itself to a brief, easy-to-follow demonstration, maybe it’s time to stop demonstrating your product—and replace its physical demonstration with an animated, interactive product demonstration.
Interactive technology demonstrations are designed to augment or even replace the demonstration of your actual product with a virtual representation of the product experience. Such demonstrations can provide an interactive and effective experience of your technology products—one that lets customers better visualize themselves benefitting from your products. And the interactive technology demo accomplishes this without requiring the use, or even the presence, of your actual product.
You can easily and cost-efficiently present an animated digital replica of your product, for example, on a touch screen in your tradeshow exhibit or demo center or on your website. You can control the key messages the demo conveys while allowing prospects to explore, at their own pace, those aspects of the product story that interest them most. Technologists can dig into technical details while business users can focus on high-level business benefits. The prospect decides the level of detail they want to see, and customer testimonials and videos of your product in use help them visualize their own future use and benefits of your product.
The Salesperson Is Welcome, But Optional
One of the benefits of using an interactive product demonstration—versus your trying to demonstrate the actual product—is that the customer can decide when and if it is time to involve your salesperson. They can choose to self-guide through the product demonstration or request a salesperson or product expert to guide them through it. This lets the customer choose the level of personal interaction they want. In addition, the interactive demonstration helps to prevent your salespeople from “going rogue,” because the messages it conveys have all been defined and approved in advance by your product managers and product marketers.
Developing Your Interactive Product Demonstration
There are several key steps that will help you develop an interactive product demo that is effective and impactful:
1. Identify your target audiences.
If you haven’t already done so, you’ll need to identify your target audiences for your interactive technology product demonstration. Typically, three levels—executive, business, and technical—need to be addressed. Each audience will have different views and needs, and each will want to learn different information from your demonstration. Beyond those three general levels, your product may sell to different industries or other segments that may require their own specific messaging that you’ll want to address in your interactive product demonstration.
2. Map out your product story.
As with all good sales messaging plans, your demo messaging plan should tell a compelling product story that highlights outcomes and value benefits. You’ll want your product story to appeal to each of your target audiences. For each audience, your story should tell how your product addresses customer challenges to help overcome roadblocks and better attain strategic goals.
A good interactive product demonstration allows the prospect to “choose their own adventure,” so you’ll want to ensure your product story includes paths that allow each type of prospect to easily find and explore the information that’s most appealing to them. The most common B2B technology audience types and their typical product-story needs are:
Executive/strategic story—Executives typically want a brief, high-level overview with minimal technical or functional details (with the option of exploring further technical detail, if they like). They want you to demonstrate that you understand their strategic challenges and goals and have a viable product that addresses those challenges and goals.
Business/solutions-focused story—Line-of-business and operations managers and directors want to understand how your product addresses the specific problems their organization faces. They want to understand the functional capabilities of the solution. And they need reassurance that similar companies have used your products successfully to overcome those problems. Depending on their technical proficiency, some of these managers may also want the option of exploring the technical details of your product.
Technical/technology-focused story—Technologists and often users of your product are your most traditional technology audience. They’re eager to explore your product’s technical and functional capabilities and understand what makes your product uniquely capable, among all similar products available, to address their needs. They’ll take stronger interest in how your product was developed, what technology and/or platforms you chose to build your product on, and the technology architecture in use.
3. Identify the demonstration environment.
Will the prospect access your interactive demonstration at an event, in their office, at home, or perhaps at your visitor centers or sales offices? Will salespeople be present when the customer interacts with the demonstration, or will it be a standalone demo that must be self-guiding? Will prospects access the demonstration using mobile devices? Or will it mostly be accessed by laptops or large display monitors? It helps to identify how prospects will interact with your demo—touch input versus mouse, keyboard versus augmented reality. These different engagement models impact the way your message is absorbed.
By knowing where and how prospects are likely to engage with your demonstration, you can better understand what user experience you should provide.
4. Plan the customer experience by creating a visual storyboard.
With a solid understanding of your target audiences, their interactive media, and the product story you’ll offer each, you can get to work on the visual storyboard, which will serve as the development guidebook for your interactive demo.
Start by walking through the entire customer experience from beginning to end—including the paths that allow prospects to choose their own experience. Ensure that the information and levels of detail are appropriate at each stage of the storyboard and for each target audience. It’s important to give prospects options to delve into different topics, but you may not want to give them everything at once—allowing information to unfold in the order you gently want to encourage them to follow. They should be allowed to peel back layers to reveal the details they want, or to simply take in the product story.
You’ll want to identify where to integrate videos and animations that help to inform the customer in an engaging manner. These may include customer testimonial videos, animated tours of technical features, brief success anecdotes, animated graphics to explain benchmark results, or exploding views of product components or architectures.
5. Test the storyboard with trusted current customers.
Leverage your trusted relationships with customers who are willing to provide feedback on your storyboard. Use their feedback to help refine the interactive product demonstration. Remember Pragmatic Institute’s NIHITO principle: “Nothing Important Happens in the Office.” It’s vital to get out and talk to customers.
6. Lead the customer toward measurable action.
Ensure you’ve designed your storyboard to lead all target audiences toward measurable action—such as requesting further details, downloading product data sheets, registering for an upcoming webinar, or requesting a follow-up discussion with your solutions expert. Let the customer decide when they’re ready to engage with you—but make it as easy as possible for that engagement to happen by ensuring your call(s) to action are always immediately accessible.
Avoiding the Linear Content Mindset
Interactive product demos designed in a linear fashion are often less effective. Most product marketers design their sales collateral, PowerPoint presentations, and product demonstrations with a linear mindset—as with this common example:
Effective interactive product demonstrations require that you avoid this linear mindset when creating your demo storyboard. Your interactive demonstration should work like a dashboard where customers can choose their own path to tour and learn about your product at the level of detail they want.
This non-linear dashboard approach allows customers to take charge of their own experience. Thus, two customers will rarely end up selecting the exact same product demonstration experience. Of course, at any time, they’re always just one step away from your calls to action: to request further information, discuss their needs with your expert, sign up for a webinar or take other follow-up action that moves them along their buying journey.
Interactive elements serve to keep the customers engaged. These include simple pop-up windows, animations, scrolling imagery, short seamless videos, drag-and-drop interaction, and brief customer testimonial videos. Interactive elements provide a more engaging demonstration and longer-lasting impact.
For those who offer complex products and find it challenging to get prospective customers to understand differentiating details, an interactive demonstration offers a number of benefits:
Boosts the customer experience
Well-designed interactive presentations are more engaging and thus more readily attract customers—and each customer spends significantly more time viewing the demonstration. Most importantly, it better helps the customer visualize the experience of using and benefiting from your product.
Allows more consistent messaging
The interactive demo guides customers (or your sales staff) to ensure they don’t miss, or misunderstand key messages. And salespeople like it because the demo prompts them with key information during the presentation, ensuring they provide accurate, timely information.
Keeps the customer in the driver’s seat
Customers take control of their experience, allowing them to learn your product story and tour your product at their pace, based on their priority of needs and interest. And the customer chooses exactly when they want to engage with your salesperson or company further.
Provides stronger content for early-stage buyers
Prospective customers in the informational/exploratory stages of their buying journey are often not ready to talk to salespeople. But recent research shows that supporting the early stages of the customer’s buying journey can be key to winning their business. The interactive demonstration offers customers a highly engaging self-guided tour that allows them to absorb information at the level of detail they choose.
Logistically easier to manage
Interactive product demonstrations can be quickly and cost-effectively updated via the web when new product features or upgrades are released. This removes the expense and inconvenience of shipping physical products that will eventually need to be replaced with the latest versions—while also eliminating the need to take your actual products out of production and dedicate them to tradeshow or sales-center demo use.
When designed and deployed properly, interactive product demonstrations give customers a more effective means of exploring and experiencing your complex technology products—yielding measurable improvements in the overall customer experience.