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Delivering the Perfect Demo

by Hank Barnes  |  February 10, 2015  |  2 Comments

In our most recent survey of technology buyers, live or technical demonstrations were consistently rated at the top of the list of provider marketing and sales efforts.  This was true of IT buyers and business buyers across a variety of solution areas.  As I’ve been exploring lately, a likely factor is a desire for information they can trust.  You can’t fake a live demo (if you do somehow and get caught, I’d be very surprised if you win the business). (Caveat – I do not mean you can’t use sample data, just make sure the product is actually running.   I’ve known companies in the past that create recordings of their demos to simulate the software running, then teach the reps who give them how to run them–hitting pause at the appropriate time.   That is not a demo.  It is a narrated movie.)

So, how do you deliver the perfect demo?   A great script delivered with flair and confidence?   Intensive training of sales engineers or sales representatives to make sure that they follow that script, like humans driving a cog in the sales machine?



Great demos, as I mentioned in a post a couple of years back, are not about the product–they are about the buyer.  A standardized demo does not cut it.   For today’s buying approach, I’d suggest that the perfect demo is tailored around two things – the stage of the buying process and the role on the buying team.  Its structured improv.

If buyers are exploring, i.e. still trying to decide if they should consider a change, some my say that it’s “too soon to demo.”  Our research indicates that that strategy could backfire–buyers want demos at all phases of their buying process.  But the demo for the explorer needs to be simple.  Focus on showing how the product can help the buyer achieve a specific business outcome.   You don’t have to show everything in the product or go into deep detail (yet).  Just “prove” that the claims you make can be accomplished by showing how.

When they are evaluating–looking at solution options–more detail is needed.  Here, pepper your demos with comparisons.  “With other products, we’ve seen customers have to jump between 5 or 6 screens, let me show you how ours makes it easy for you to do it 2 simple steps.”  This is a stage where understanding the role of the audience is important.  If it is the team that will manage the system, demonstrate how great the management tools are.  If it is executives, show the great information they will get from the system.  If users, illustrate how much easier it is to use than other products.   If you have a mix, work with your champion ahead of time to prioritize what roles you will cover and what order—and make it clear to the audience how the portion of the demo fits their world. (For example, you might show the team who has to manage the system some of the user aspects, focusing on how this will not become a support nightmare for them).

Finally, as they get deeper into the buying process, like the case study approach I mentioned recently as a huge content gap, the demonstration needs to be about how you implement and go from “out of the box” or “service activation” to achieving value.  Once again, tailor to the role you are addressing, but remember that this is when you are helping them internalize what they will have to do, or make happen, to have success.  This is not when  you show how “data automatically fills fields”; you focus on how you create links or configuration table that enable “data to automatically be filled in for users”

If you are a technology company, it is time to abandon the standard demo script.  Forever.  Train your sales teams and sales engineers on the buying process and roles involved in buying.  Work collaboratively to develop demonstration scenarios that fit different buying activity streams and roles.    Coach on how to interact with the buyer to get them engaged in the demo–making it about them v. about you.

Sure, you’ll need to make sure your team know what makes your product great and key things that “you should show”—but those need to be in the context of the buyer perspective.   I still remember a time a vendor was showing me the management interface for a product where part of their story was, “we manage everything for you.”  When I asked  why they emphasized the interface (that they use behind the scenes) when no customer would ever use it, they said “because we are proud of it.”  But they never linked it to value to the customer  and they were showing this early in the buying process.  It just turned people off.   Today, I’d tell them, save that for later in the buying process, and show some of it when they are ready to learn how you are going to keep their software running and not having any delays when changes are needed.”  That is when that demo would work.

The net, there is not perfect demo.  You can’t design it, write it, record it, package it.  The perfect demo is always changing, adapting to the potential buyer and focused on them v. you.

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Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: buying-cycle  demonstration  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Delivering the Perfect Demo

  1. Jon Reed says:

    Hank I agree with this buyer-centric approach. Live demos have a way of getting to the heart of the matter. The only thing I would add is that the entry and exit from the demo matter also.

    The entry: plans can change by the time you get the buyer on the call. It makes sense to begin the demo session by confirming not only who is on the call but what they are most interested in covering. Make sure that can be covered.

    If there is something new and a different expertise is needed (example: a technical guru who is not present) – ask the buyer if they want to proceed or reschedule when the right combination of folks are present.

    Also, come up for air during the demo for questions, makes the whole process much more interesting. I’ve lost track of how many times a vendor starts a demo with “ask questions as we go,” but then never stops long enough to ask a question.

    Finally, the exit – too many companies end the demo with a “hard close” by asking for the sale or aggressively looking for a decision point. Instead, I suggest asking those on the demo what the next steps are. Let them define the steps and the timeframe they are comfortable with.

    Live without a net is still the best way to really get a handle on the product and the competency of those who put the demo on. Trust goes way up if it gets done right…

  2. Hank Barnes says:

    Excellent feedback Jon. Applies to demos, presentations, and interactions in general.

    But you are very right, it is most often forgotten in the demo scenarios.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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