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Demonstration Disasters

by Hank Barnes  |  March 4, 2013  |  1 Comment

Every technology vendor relies on demonstrations as part of their sales efforts.  Customers want to see what the solution does and how it does it.  We’ve also heard the horror stories about demonstration failures at big events.  

While that can be nerve wracking, both for the executive presenting and the team supporting him or her, they don’t even come close to the top of my list of demonstration disasters.  A demonstration failure is easy to overcome.  Failing to demonstrate what matters is not.

Here are my top  two demonstration disasters, and they still happen way to much:

  1. Using pre-recorded demos in client meetings – Pre-recorded demos aren’t demos, they are product videos and they should never be used in client meetings.   Since you are forced to follow the recording, you can’t tailor anything to really fit what the client wants.
  2. Making it about the product, not the customer –  It’s easy to fall in love with your product.  When that happens, people often want to show everything that is great about it.  But if the customer doesn’t care, you don’t need to show it.  A demo that shows feature after feature after feature usually results it a shift of focus to the product and not the customer needs. 

In the right situation, both of the approaches above can work, but for client meetings neither of them really do.  Any approach that defines the path you need to follow independent of anything that the customer wants to focus on is a bad approach.

Years ago, I was a Sales Engineer for a Silicon Valley based company with some very cool technology that combined voice, data, and e-mail capabilities to automate common tasks (this was before the Web–which was added later).  Our founder and CTO created a very cool demo that showed all the key features of the product in a very cool and engaging scenario.  All of the Sales Engineers were tasked to “learn the demo.”  And it was used in most customer meetings.

One of my colleagues pulled me aside at a team meeting and asked me to show him “how I did the CTO demo.”   Evidentally, the sales team had said I was one of the best at delivering demos.   His eyes got big when I said, “I’ve never given it.” 

Instead, every demo was different, working with sales, we created custom demos on the fly, based on issues that came up in the meeting, combined with us adding, “What if you could do this” to highlight differentiation and new ideas that our product enabled. It never failed to engage.  

The lesson sticks with me today.  Your demos are not about your solutions; they are about what your solutions can do for customers.  

Learn your product in detail so you know what it can and can not do.  Focus on the customer scenarios that matter, and highlight key features that address those scenarios and set you apart from the competition.  And then, don’t do anything else.

Make sure you choose the right demonstration approach for the situation, then focus on doing enough to build excitement, highlight differentiation, and lead your audience toward the next step in your sales process and their buying cycle.  Do that, and you’ll avoid demo disasters.

Category: go-to-market  

Tags: demonstrations  demos  marketing  product-marketing  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
4+ years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to positioning, storytelling, the technology customer life cycle, and customer experience. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Demonstration Disasters

  1. Rich Taber says:

    In addition, not only are the customers business needs important when providing a demo; knowing your audience is as well. i.e – Demos for Executiveswill different than a demo for Engineers. My standard guideline for demonstrating a product, when the audience is Executives or decision makers, is to focus on TCO, ROI and how a certain technology will increase performance, productivity and save money. When demonstrating for Engineers, I focus on the details and how a certain technology does what it does. Configuration examples, technical lingo and command line examples are typically included. However, I still mention performance gains, productivity, TCO and ROI but my emphasis will be on the technology. With Executives and decision makers I talk about the technology but my emphasis is on the TCO, ROI, productivity and money aspects. If the audience is mixed I cover all areas. My point is thus, determining your audience is just as important as the customers business needs. I usually ascertain this information from previous meeting that lead up to the demo or at the beginning of the meeting through introductions and pre-demo discussions. Hope this adds to your excellent thread.

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