HP’s Demo Days Turn Employees Into “Brand Ambassadors”


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The CRM end-game is improved economics between buyers and sellers. Discrete activities, such as great customer service, segment marketing and product cocreation are simply means to that holistic end. So, for CRM economics to work, you must optimize for the integrated CRM system—the customer lifecycle—rather than for a single discipline, such as marketing.

If you, instead, optimize the economic performance of individual CRM silos (such as sales, marketing and service), you may inadvertently sub-optimize the whole. What marketing department, for example, wouldn’t consider its brand-new online marketing implementation wildly successful if it increased the number of leads passed to sales by 150 percent? None I know of. But what if the upshot to the entire CRM system was that all the additional leads, qualified though they might be, over-taxed the sales organization to the point where prospects who opted in to the online campaign never received a sales follow-up? And what if the prospects ended up thinking that this company didn’t have its act together? So, in that case, optimizing that one marketing silo would turn out to be not so successful after all. Not to mention very expensive.

But what if you were able to make the sales force more effective without taxing other elements of the system? And without adding incremental cost? There are lots of ways to do this, and entire industries have evolved to address making sales forces more effective. But there’s also another much simpler approach: Get your employees to enhance a customer’s buying experience by participating in the sales cycle. This not only increases the size of your sales force without increasing your costs or taxing the CRM system, but also it strengthens ties with partners and customers.

One customer who went to “my” Circuit City ended up making a different purchase decision than the one he originally intended.

For example, HP (full disclosure: I work for the company) enthusiastically addresses this opportunity with an internal program called Demo Days, a tradition whereby HP employees, regardless of function and responsibility, volunteer to spend the day at local retail stores, helping showcase HP products to potential customers. Acting as ambassadors as much as product specialists, HP employees have the opportunity to interact with customers and learn first hand about customer needs. It’s one of the ways that HP is building a more customer-centric culture.

Demo Days is no small undertaking, but HP has it down to a science. Occurring several times per year and heavily internally marketed, the big events are usually around back-to-school time and the holiday season. Employee volunteers, who receive no monetary compensation, register through an online system and select the date, time and store they’d like to support.

Open to all

All employees including executive council members (and U.S. retirees) are welcome to participate in Demo Days, even if they’re not product specialists. Several thousand employees participate worldwide in the company’s attempt to reach out to as wide a swath of customers as possible. In the United States, there is even a separate set of events targeted at Spanish-speaking customers in which Spanish-speaking employees volunteer to participate. The program is increasingly popular, with more than 10 percent more employees participating in the 2007 Holiday Demo Days (held in December) than had participated just five months before for the Fall Demo Days.

HP provides product training in advance and support on the actual day. Several weeks in advance, employees receive their Demo Days’ kit containing things like the requisite HP logo shirt to wear that day, product overview information, suggestions for how to demo products and even a Starbuck’s card for their coffee breaks.

I registered for a Demo Days event, selecting a four-hour, Sunday afternoon time slot at a local electronics retail store near my home. Although I wound up having to unregister at the last minute because of a really bad cold, the experience gave me an idea of what’s involved at the employee end. Registration was easy, and I was reminded in the process that I would be a guest at the store and the store manager would be my “host,” (a cool idea, I thought). But what struck me more was the “tribal knowledge” built up in the system. Past participants shared their experiences with Demo Days and offered advice on such things as visiting the store in advance and introducing yourself to the store manager.

So how successful are programs like these? I don’t have sales figures, but employees, partners and customers alike report positive experiences. And it’s clear that the “WIIFM” (“what’s in it for me”) factor of Demo Days is high in several ways:

  • For customers: more personal attention to them when they interact with products and make purchase decisions
  • For partners: augmentation of their sales staffs and greater intimacy with suppliers and manufacturers
  • For employees: the ability to interact with customers, gaining a better understanding of the customer buying experience from the customer’s perspective
  • For the manufacturer: good will in the marketplace and sales augmentation for a nominal incremental cost

I can also offer anecdotal evidence that such interaction produces positive results. One customer who went to “my” Circuit City ended up making a different purchase decision than the one he originally intended, based in part on his experience interacting with the HP manufacturer’s rep.

How bad can that be? And (the cost of the internal support infrastructure notwithstanding), it’s all for the price of a Starbuck’s card.

Liz Roche
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Liz Roche is a senior leader with HP's Consulting and Integration practice and cofounder of Stamford, Connecticut-based Customers Incorporated. An industry-recognized CRM expert, she has 2 years of IT and business experience. Roche received a bachelor of arts from the George Washington University and an MBA from the University of Missouri.


  1. Dear Liz,

    Could not agree more.
    What was the Pros-Cons direct response from retail? Sometimes, retail can be reluctant, I guess. Afraid to see customers being scared away by the ‘white-collar working academics’…
    Best regards,



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