Demonstrating Products in the Best Light

30 03 2010

Having spent a few years either demonstrating software/hardware products or managing a team of product demonstrators in the Media & Entertainment industry the following discussion attempts to summarise some of my experiences, observations and recommendations in creating and performing a great product demonstration.

Firstly, demonstrating a product is nothing to do with you as a person, as an artist, as a professional or as a great person. The audience is interested in one thing and one thing only – the product and what it can do for them. There are rare occasions where some outstanding performers draw the crowds to hear what they have to say and how they say it.

Your job as a demonstrator is to generate excitement, perceived value and also an “I need this” feeling. What is also important is your ability to communicate the features and benefits clearly and emphatically. I have highlighted both features and benefits, and it is important that you match a function with the corresponding benefit otherwise it means nothing.

There are two types of demonstration, one2one and one2many. The tactics for one2one are very different to your approach to one2many. In various ways, one2many demonstrations are done many times within a stage or exhibition environment and don’t usually include interaction.

Conversely, one2one demonstrations are the most fulfilling to the demonstrator and customer due to the interactive nature of the engagement. With one2one demos, you need to be a product expert and be able to anticipate questions and correct responses. Without this level of knowledge, you can pre-build a bag of tricks in anticipation of some of the possible questions.

I have known some great demo presenters who can pull out a feature at the drop of a hat. Usually, from a repertoire of “mini” demos and this is a useful habit of repeating. You demo bag or bag tricks needs a high level of organisation whereby you can quickly get access to the correct demo segment. With complex software applications, this can take many years to create. This is just one of many different approaches to one2one demos and will form the focus of another discussion.

For the remainder of my discussion, I will talk about creating and performing great one2many demonstrations.

As a demonstrator, it is your job to convey the right amount of information to make the audience wanting more. More regarding detailed product information or an actual purchase. The old saying “always leave the audience asking for more” is very pertinent in the execution of a great and more importantly a successful demo.

Before you even think about creating a demonstration, you should try and answer some or most of these questions.

  • What is the marketing message?
    Who are my customer and market? As an expert in your field, you should have a pretty good idea of this.
    Answering headline journalist questions, What, When, Where, How and Why?
    What is the product?
    When would I use this product?
    Where would I use the product?
    How could I use the product?
    Why should I use the product?
    Third person customer specific questions
    How does the product relate to the customer?
    What will excite a customer?
    What motivates a customer to buy?
    First person customer specific questions
    What problem or situation does this product fix or improve?
    Why would I want to buy this product?
    Why should I be excited about this product?

Answering these questions will put in you in the mindset of the customer and help you frame your approach and language. To some degree, this is the first step in emphasising with a customer. Speak to people who know the customer and know their switches and triggers – as it’s all about flicking the right switches.

Above all, believe in the product! As a demonstrator of the product, you are an evangelist of the product. How many charismatic or confident evangelists do you know who don’t believe in what they are talking about? It is almost like a religion, and your belief is very transparent and visible to the customers, existing or potential; some may call this passion.

Being passionate about a mature product can be a challenge and even new products to market if the message isn’t entirely clear. Working with a mature product is an entirely a different subject and warrants a separate piece all about demonstrating and product managing sophisticated products. The good news it can and is done very successfully.

The source of your belief is your familiarity with your product, and market or at least knowing the key silver bullets of the release why these are important. Make sure you are fluent with the products Unique Selling Points (USPs) or silver bullets and how they interrelate with each other.

I mentioned this at the beginning, and it was the first question you should answer – what is the marketing message. It does pay dividends to spend a few hours of your time with the product marketing manager understanding the product positioning and messaging for the product. The information you absorb becomes part of your subconscious and will come out during the creative process and performance.

You should also have in the back of your mind the 30-60 second elevator pitch. This is especially important when you are at an exhibition. It is amazing how many opportunities you get beyond the stand, in the hotel lobby or bar to talk about your product – you never stop selling. If anyone asks what you do – tell them and 60 seconds should be enough at the end of hard days stomping the show floor. I also recommend testing understanding with a friend or spouse is to sell the elevator pitch – anyone should be able to understand it!

How do you create a product demo?

Take the corporate message, mission statement and product positioning and use this as your foundation for the demonstration. You should try and hit certain high-level points to adjoin the supporting marketing and collateral. Some people call these the company silver bullets. Hopefully, the company positioning and product positioning should be symbiotic or at least reflective to what you are trying to demonstrate.

How do you best perform a product demo?

It is obvious to say, but it surprising how many forget about obstacles and distractions. Remove barriers and distractions – limit the amount of branding, lights, mobile phones (switch off) and anything else which might distract the audience from you to the distraction.

When demonstrating, you are selling! You are not only selling the product and services but also the company you represent. Therefore, professionalism, clarity, brevity are some of the key attributes to performing a great demonstration. Your credibility is assured. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in the position you are in – presenting the product and representing the company; you are the front person, the magician to make the product shine.

The communication skills are a pre-requisite, and it is fundamentally important to deliver a line while executing a move or action and react to the unpredicted without derailing the presentation. An uncomfortable or painful demonstration is a distraction, which will be the only thing audience will remember. I have personal experience of this and when I started it was very stilted and awkward. The key to getting around this is practice, practice, practice, rehearse and refinement.

Engaging with customer

Understand the client and why they are looking at your product and listening to what you are saying. What problems does your product solve or remove? This is all about anticipating what the customer wants based on your research, experience and conversations with the product marketing team. By drawing an audience in your have engaged with them, and the following are some classics:-

Ask who uses the current product?
Ask which roles, how many developers are there in the room?
Ask where they are from?
Ask rhetorical questions
Tell a story and look for the nods
Above all engagement is about empathising with the customer – use scenarios or stories that resonate with individual or group. Pull the audience in to see what you have – classic street trader technique that grabs the attention, the hook to the big prize! You can ask rhetorical questions, use audience plants or even ask the audience to decide what to see (this needs to be well structured and also possibilities well rehearsed)

And Finally

3 Golden Rules – Don’t…

Don’t highlight the negative of previous versions – this can upset existing customers
Don’t ever use a negative comment to sell a positive
Never mention the competition directly

3 Golden Rules – Do…

Empathise with the audience, the customers
Talk, show and show again the features and benefits
Wrap the demo up with a solid conclusion

CONCLUSION

Understand your marketing and product positioning
Understand your audience and potential customer
Practice, practice, practice, rehearse and refinement
Deliver your demonstration clearly and consistently





Does a Product need a Manager?

30 03 2010

Does a Product need a Manager?

For those who don’t know or care about how product gets to market, I am going to answer the question; does a product need a manager? Or more to the point what is a product manager?

Are you familiar with the role of a product manager? Is it someone who is managed by a product or is it someone who literally manages or wrestles a product? And why should you care? The goal is to answer the question why a product needs a manager and hence the birth of the infamous Product Manager role.

What is a Product Manager?

Firstly, what is a product manager? You can probably guess that it would involve a product of some kind and that you be a manager of people, resources, processes and customers. The truth is that you are not a manager of anyone in particular – you have to lead through influence to develop, sell and make a product successful. The focus is not to be a manger of people but to be the manager of the product, processes and profit!.

A product, could be absolutely any product, sandwiches to satellites, they are all products that need to be managed.

In fact, most mass produced products are product managed in some form. And that’s the problem; there are different perceptions of what a product manager does. Is it pre-sales, marketing, marketing communications, price book management, product placement, product development, product research, market research and business analyst – guess what, they are all of these things. It is probably one of the only jobs around that touches on all disciplines apart from the CEO or managing director of the company.

The Walkman

Let’s look at a couple of similar products – from Sony and Apple to illustrate the evolution of the product manager.

These two walkmans basically do the same thing, play tapes and possibly the radio. Great idea – enabled a generation of portable entertainment, rollerskates and funky headphones. The difference between the two is not functionality (they basically do the same), but engineering and miniaturisation. The Walkman was a technically led not product management led.

The last version of the walkman is almost the same size as tape cassette but still retains the same features as one of earlier models. The product or technical managers of the day were happy with the functionality but they wanted to make the design more portable and even stylistic. Were they listening to the market or telling market what wanted?

The iPod

So now let’s compare the Walkman with the iPod? They basically do the same things, play music, and entertain. But when you compare a walkman and iPod, they are complex in different ways. A Walkman is far more mechanically complex yet simple in features, whereas an iPod is far more complex in features and mechanically simple.

There is also a third difference, the approach. The product managers at Sony took a not so portable tape player and turned it into a portable version. Sony has been the tape business for many years and this was a classic example of technology and miniaturisation.

Conversely, one particular product designer at Apple, Jonathan Ive, took the idea of portable entertainment and flipped it on its head – Why, he noticed a change in technology and the market.

Sony was and still entrenched in the media market and worried about music copyright. Hence they were concerned about piracy and proliferation of MP3 files. Whereas, Apple decided lets leverage the new file format and give people what they want.

Apple was driven by innovation and striving for a new ways to listen to music – and at the time has no affiliation with the music industry. Jonathan implied through his design, “let’s re-invent personal entertainment and use the new emerging digital media formats. Let’s design a cool, practical, easy to use product that can be used by everyone“

Jonathan did his research, inspired his design teams, developed the product, released it via some fantastic marketing and created a new product / Brand. Basically, Jonathan Ive took a relatively old Sony product idea, re-invented and made it better – ironically, a Japanese tactic.

Sony have been playing catch-up ever since, even though they own a large percentage of the worlds music content, they lost the war of personal entertainment.

As I have discussed, the responsibilities of a Product Manager fall into four core areas, Market Research, Product Development, Product Release and marketing – basically a product manager looks after the complete life cycle of a product from beginning to end.

From Apple’s perspective, they definitely did their market research, looked at what was available today for personal entertainment and emerging technologies i.e. MP3.

They took a good design and developed additional feature, packaging and created a great design. They re-invented personal entertainment and they are continuing to do so through product management.

The aspect of product release and lifecycle is interesting. It a delicate balance between releasing a product with the right features at the right time. This is called the minimal viable product and ensures that that company invest just enough in R&D to get the maximum return on their investment. This is how all products should be developed but in some cases are not. Another way of looking at it is not laying down all your cards at the beginning of a poker game and use a combination of bluffs and reality to win the game.

Finally, doesn’t matter how good your product is – if there isn’t any product marketing no one is going to hear or see it. There have been some exceptions and are usually in the form of word of mouth which is a form of viral marketing. As you are probably aware Apple are absolutely fantastic at marketing and they are always pushing the boundaries for product placement and advertising. Apple has created truly inspirational products!

THE CONCLUSION

So when anyone asks, what is a product manager? You should be able to answer the question. He or she is a manager of the product, processes and profit. The main goal is to develop a minimal viable product, balancing between company investments and squeezing out as much as possible in terms of sales.

At the end the day it is really about managing a product that matches the market and customers’ needs. Without product managers we wouldn’t see the kinds of products like iPod and the role is fundamental to designing, developing and marketing new products today.