I was delighted to see that someone had gone back to the demonstration in order to sell equipment (Mike Lessiter’s EWATCH blog, “Shortline Manufacturer Going Extra Mile to Make Sales.”) My earliest days in my career were in territory and spent doing demonstrations ... and they were very successful.
When your product is unique, expensive and unknown, there is only one way to promote it and that is by demonstrating it in the field to actual customers. I began to travel my first territory in 1970 and the principal instruction I received was that I needed to sell our flagship product, a 15-foot cutter, which my predecessor had failed to sell.
Tennessee and Kentucky were states that were populated by small tractors and most dealers felt that their customers would never have a need for such a large cutter. My company had put together two demonstration units, consisting of a 990 David Brown tractor, a 15-foot cutter, a gooseneck trailer and a shiny new pickup truck. The tractor was painted in our company color and had no identifying decals because we wanted the attention drawn to our product.
Parking that rig in front of a dealership would draw a crowd, most wanting to know what kind of tractor that was, but it did draw attention. The approach to the dealer was simple; this will only cost you a small amount of your time and a phone call to your customer.
The ride out to the customer’s farm consisted primarily of explaining to the dealer what the unit could do and how it could really increase his income. The demonstration at the farm was intended to make two sales; the first to the retail customer and the second to the dealer. We actually closed about 85% of the sales within 24 hours of the demonstration. More often than not, the farmer would demand that we sell him the demo unit. Apparently, they felt that the unit was specially built to do demonstrations and he wanted the one that worked on his farm. Over a period of years, we actually sold every farmer who allowed a demonstration of a cutter. The last one was 10 years later!
We had developed our demonstration to a fine-tuned ballet and could roll in, roll off the trailer, demonstrate and leave within an hour or so. We also determined early in the process that it was best to demonstrate to one farmer at a time. When we several farmers were present, there was always one who did not intend to buy but felt that it was his job to point out all of the “problems” he saw with the demonstration. Working one demonstration at a time allowed us to address the farmer’s problems and explain how our unit could easily work in his situation and on his farm.
After the first successful demonstration, the dealer would think of someone else who needed to see the unit and I spent several days at a single dealership doing demonstrations and writing sales in those early days. Once those dealers realized how easy it was to sell the unit and how effective it was with his customer base, stocking orders became rather simple. Our demonstrations became fodder for the coffee shop conversations and farmers would approach the dealer about having a demonstration on their farm.
As dealers began to stock the units, the need for an actual demonstration began to slow since there were several units working on farms in the dealer’s trade area and he could direct a potential customer to that farmer for a referral and a short demonstration, if necessary.
Demonstrations are an expensive way to market products but they are also a very effective way to sell a new, unknown product to a skeptical customer base. We approached a demonstration as another form of advertising that resulted in an actual sale. The noise of the demonstration had a positive effect within the dealer’s trade area and just the fact that he had participated in the demonstration brought regular customers into the store -- plus new customers who wanted to see the unit.
There was an additional benefit that accrued from these demonstrations; I became very expert in that product and could more easily convince a new dealer to stock and sell our unit. Actually, my boss called me to explain that we had other products in our catalog and I needed to sell some of those along with the 15-footers! Demonstrations pay dividends!