Soup to Nuts: Managing in Store Product Demos

Dec 14, 2012 in Retail

One of my first jobs was setting up and executing in store demos for a frozen soup company in supermarkets and specialty stores. My job was to show up to a the location with my kit: apron, folding table, soup pots, soup samples and sample cups. I set up shop as close to the product as possible.  I would set up the fanciest makeshift soup dispensary you’ve ever seen (not that you’ve seen all that many)!

If I was lucky enough to stand right in front of the display, I was handing customers product to walk away with as they enjoyed their tasting. If I was forced to a separate location, I had to hope they found the product themselves. As I grew more comfortable with my role, I would fight a bit harder to make my location work better for me and the company. No one trained me in this process.  In hindsight, I wonder if anyone else was fighting for the same real estate necessary for success. There was really no way for me to know.

Being a demo rep is no easy job! It’s face to face sales with an honest presentation of the product.  After the quick interaction, there is an immediate YES or NO. You get one chance, one sentence to sell the customer. Things like the consumer reaction, the impact of the demo, and the demo execution are things seldom measured with accuracy. There are issues with both demo consistency and compliance. 

Did the demo rep set up properly? Did they stay the full time allotted? Was the store itself helpful in getting the demo executed well?

And then there were all of the “human” factors related to proper customer engagement. I talked about the way in which the soup was made; how fresh the ingredients were and how they were not “water based” soups but started with a mirepoix base. “This is why the soup is so hearty, go ahead taste it! It tastes homemade!” That was how I was trained to carry out this demo. (Note: at no point was I asked to yell “No soup for YOU!” at any customer)

I would tailor my message for the target customer… For families and kids I talked about the amount of energy one family can get from the soup! For the health conscious, I talked about the quality of the organic ingredients and low sodium. For the older customer, I talked about sources of iron, calcium, and of quick, easy lunch solutions. While I became a more skilled salesperson, there was no way for me to communicate this process back to my employers or my colleagues. There was no network understanding of what I knew. I kept valuable knowledge to myself… and eventually left the company with that knowledge.

How do brands know these are working? How do they know which ones work the best? How do they understand how timing, language and presentation are being handled? Does every demo rep utter the magic words to get customers to buy? Better yet, once they discover the magic words, how do they share these insights with their colleagues? 

Gathering these insights can be costly and can take valuable time away from the next sale. Also, often times these initiatives are downplayed and don’t seem as important to the demo representative. On one blog post I read, it even insinuated that the job is desirable for the “make your own hours” flexibility and for “the lack of a boss”. The lack of a boss? Any brand who creates a promotion should make sure it is managed and not simply thrown against the wall to see if it sticks.

The ways in which companies manage this process, gather intelligent information, and modify execution can and should be more simple. This is something we’ve learned from some of the top CPG companies in the marketplace. I learned this during my brief stint demoing products.  Good thing tools like GoSpotCheck exist to make it easier to measure and analyze product demo execution.