Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is a trade show demo a poor substitute for the real thing?

I usually don't write about politics in this blog, but I have written about it elsewhere. And if you've seen any of these writings, you know that I'm not watching the current Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. Technically, I did listen to the first twenty minutes of the first Presidential debate, but I haven't listened since. One of the reasons for my boycott is because a candidate's performance in a debate bears no relation to how a candidate performs in office. The next President of the United States will not have to stand in the Oval Office and argue about Big Bird in front of a crowd of millions.

While political debates claim to provide insight into how the candidates will actually govern, they are a poor substitute for the real thing. You'll get better insight by looking at how the candidates have performed while in office - and even that doesn't say how the President of the United States will act on a specific matter on February 27, 2013.

For various reasons, we are often prevented from experiencing reality. We can't stare at President Obama, or former Governors Romney or Johnson, as they sit at their desks and actually govern. Vegetarians cannot experience real bacon, as Lou Perry notes.

And in some cases, people who want to buy a product can't experience the product, so they go to trade shows.

I don't do it much these days, but I have spent a number of years staffing booths at trade shows. This meant that I was in a suit and tie, standing on a nice carpet (our trade show managers made sure that we had nice carpets), and standing in front of a computer monitor. A couple of people would walk by. 90% of the time, they were after the free pens or other stuff that we were giving out. For that other 10% of the time, I would enter into my routine, showing this software feature, then showing that software feature. The software application would display data from a small database that we, the vendor, provided.

What does this tell the potential software buyer? All it tells the buyer is what the screens look like - and that assumes that the vendor is showing actual software, rather than "pre-release" software.

What would you have to do if you wanted to use the software just like you saw it in the trade show? First off, you'd have to leave your office, go to a large convention center, and set up a computer on a pedestal. (Don't forget to bring your business cards with you!) Then you'd have to run the application, but you couldn't run it with your real data. Oh, and there's a good chance that all of the application features aren't set up. If the application relies on local data, you might find that the data isn't for your locality. Perhaps it's for Des Moines, Iowa (because the vendor installed the software in Des Moines a couple of years ago.) Perhaps it's for Anytown, USA.

Yet, despite the fact that a trade show demo is not reality, people make decisions based upon trade show demos, or brochures, or the experience of some other vendor. This software worked great at a Fortune 500 company - it should be super great for my small business startup! (I plan to pursue an example similar to this one in my forthcoming book.)

What's key is that everyone realizes that a trade show demo is just a demo, a brochure is just a collection of pictures and text, and even a simulation is just an approximation of reality like fake bacon.

You're only going to really understand the software when you put it on your computer and you HAVE to use it.
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