Demos are just not one-size-fits-all. Though the term “demo” is ubiquitous in presales and sales settings, teams aren’t consistent in defining what a good demo should look like. Any interaction where a vendor presents a solution to a prospect can be considered a sales or product demonstration, which leaves a lot of room for variety in the content itself.
A demo might include live technical presentations, workshops, digital demos, etc. Given the wide array of settings a sales team could find themselves presenting in, how do we identify or define a “successful” demo?
The short answer is: it depends.
Today we're revisiting some sage advice from Chris White, founder and Owner of Demo Doctor, and giving some additional insights on how Sales Engineers can make their demos more effective and increase overall success.
According the Chris, how we define success depends on a number of factors. "It depends on the context of the meeting, the account, the opportunity, your sales cycle, the buyer's sales cycle, etc." A winning vision demo sparks curiosity from which you build on in subsequent presentations. A great micro demo quickly creates stakeholder engagement. A successful technical demo shows a solution satisfies user requirements.
There are, in fact, 6 types of demos, and, to prepare for success, presales and sales teams should align their goals to each type before engaging buyers to ensure they’re sharing a cohesive message.
In whatever stage, a great demo will take interested parties on a journey. It’s up to your reps to help them successfully reach their desired destination. In his 2020 DEMOFEST session, Chris White lays out the must-haves that create an engaging, thought provoking demo that will separate you from your competition. These four must-use tactics will help you create and execute successful demo experiences:
Must-Have #1: Arriving at Consensus
Because closing deals isn’t a simple one-step process, or even a linear process, aligning your own team is one of the first steps you take before you demo as part of the larger discovery process. Even then, teams should recognize that while they spend significant time aligning goals and objectives, the buyer and other stakeholders may not have had the opportunity to make a similar effort.
Personal biases and opinions regarding current needs often differ between colleagues. Leaders may have competing objectives that will challenge their ability to be open minded while considering your story. There is also the risk of someone in the meeting having an expectation that you hadn't considered. "If you have someone who has an expectation that's way out of left field, we want to find that out before we even start the demo," Chris recommends to avoid leaving someone unsatisfied with your presentation. That is why sales teams must help manage and guide group dynamics to reach a consensus before diving into the pitch itself.
This first critical moment of agreement comes before you even begin a live demo. But how do you identify and evaluate the level of consensus within a group of people you’ve never met?
Before the meeting, spend time with the individual who is championing you to their company. Learn about their stakeholders and ask what challenges those individuals are facing that might impact the use of your product. As you introduce your story and solution, you’ll use that information to help drive the team towards consensus.
Much of this research can be automated through a digital demo experience, where vision and micro demos (repetitive harbor tour demos) are digitized and shared organically by your key champion to all stakeholders at the account. These let stakeholders self-select their priorities and give your team visibility into both areas of divergence and consensus.
A few simple questions will help you gauge how your audience feels about their needs and priorities, your product, and how well those are aligned. Questions may include:
I understand that your primary objective/challenge is ___. Is that still your main goal?
I’m here to show how our product can improve your ___. Is that still a key metric for you?
The reason we’re meeting today is to ___. Is that correct?
Most likely you won’t get unanimous nods. Instead, it will raise to the surface any confusion or disagreement that exists between stakeholders. This is healthy. It allows you to arbitrate between people and groups and quickly unpack gaps, building their confidence and trust in you. This is important to establish early because it sets the stage for soliciting additional feedback and securing more advocates later on in the buying process, where more technical requirements and process-related concerns come up.
By removing ambiguity early, you help align stakeholder expectations, and put yourself in a better position to start the live demo experience.
Must-Have #2: Deliver Climatic Moments
Presenting to a crowd has always come with obstacles: managing attention spans, dueling distractions, running against the clock, etc.
When demos move from in-person to online, each of those challenges becomes amplified—not to mention the propensity for people to lose interest in online settings. Energy and charisma aren’t enough to hold interest and drive engagement. So, then, how can your team capture and excite an audience?
Chris White recommends three techniques to create impactful, climactic moments that drive the sales journey forward:
Begin with the punchline
Peter Cohan, author of Great Demo! and expert on delivering compelling demos, has written extensively about this topic, and Chris agrees. To grab the audience's attention, you need to begin with the end. Putting the exciting part first, ensures the audience is getting the most compelling parts of your presentation right from the beginning.
When searching for a new recipe, how frustrating is it to click on a blog with a delicious recipe only to have to scroll through pages and pages of ads and unrelated content to find the actual recipe? You probably would rather look for another recipe than wade through the site to get to the ingredients list and directions. But what if the recipe was the first thing listed?
Now that "Jump to Recipe" buttons are more common, readers can jump directly to the part of the blog they're interested in. From a user perspective, this makes the recipe blog immensely more usable. The flushed out content is still available to the reader, but they are no longer required to get though the fluff to get to the meat of the content.
Sales teams could start live or digital demos with a similar approach by sharing capabilities in the context of a broader story that ties in stats and results to grab their attention. If they know up front the WHY of your business and product, they’re more likely to be attentive in a demo and appreciate the value of the HOW and the WHAT. That orientation will pull them more into the details and help them ask more relevant (and revealing) questions.
Activate the Reticular Activator System (RAS)
Have you ever been in a noisy, public setting where you tune out the nearly all chatter around you, until someone calls your name? Your brain automatically focuses in the direction your name was called.
Or have you ever researched a new car and found in the days after half the people on the road are driving it?
That’s because your Reticular Activator System (RAS) is a filter that decides what information makes it to your consciousness and what you ignore or filter out. Your brain is particularly attuned to things that you find interesting or have been thinking about and will latch onto those topics when they come up in your environment. The RAS is also a factor in matters of motivation, making you more likely to be interested in a familiar and meaningful idea.
That’s why piquing interest in a demo, which includes activating the RAS, is a great way to keep your product on your buyers’ minds.
It’s easier said than done, but here’s something you can easily test: pay special attention to any comments from prospects that begin with phrases like:
- “I need…”
- “I don’t know…”
- “The problem is….”
- “I’ve noticed…”
- “If we could....”
Those are obvious softballs for connecting your product’s WHY, HOW and WHAT to the issues already ensconced in their brains. Give tailored examples of real product use and impact that illustrate how other users—just like them—have navigated some problem or benefited from your solution, and that are connected to those impact statements. They’ll move from passive (sometimes disengaged) listeners to proactively engaged in the moment, and will remember you.
Think like a magician
A magician never reveals their secrets (not before showing you the trick, at least).
Start product demos with a theoretical bang! Grab attention by sharing a success, like a real user testimonial, to build trust and confidence. The more recent the better. The more practical the more useful. And include stats relevant to the stakeholders you’re meeting, like implementation time, availability, or accuracy.
Discuss return on investment or efficiencies gained in operations. Show that your “trick” not only works in a demo but also performs well in the real world.
THIS ISN’T just an exercise in showing some generic video or flashing a case study PDF. Relevancy is king, especially when it comes to success stories!
Then reveal your secrets. Why did your solution work in the way that it did? How could that same logic be applied to their business?
Sprinkle these “ah-ha” moments throughout your conversations.
“You know, while we’re on the topic of process, we just went live with customer XYZ and they had a similar setup as you, with some of the same KPI’s. Here’s what they did…” ”
“Last week, XYZ’s Director (similar role to the person you’re talking to) said his team struggled at first with….but then did this….and look now they’re seeing these results....” “
Allow for breaks in order to answer questions. Then you’ll be in position to hit the next milestone: contentment.
Must-have #3: Feeling Contentment
Wow factor and enchantments aside, the ultimate objective for a demo is to prove product or solution fit with prospective users. Stakeholders must feel contentment, excitement, and confidence at the thought of implementing your solution.
There are detours and reversals you must help them navigate on their way to feeling content. Curiosity, concern, and confusion will hinder their buying process if you don’t help to properly manage them. For that reason, you have to think of yourself and your team as buyer coaches, not just sellers or sales engineers.
Curiosity means your audience wants to learn more. It’s worth a few questions to provide additional insight and build confidence. Encourage discussion by providing answers that illustrate value, give more detail to how your solution would benefit them, and introduce deeper functionality.
Concern isn’t an automatic red flag. It implies a level of suspicion, but also means they believe your product could potentially solve important issues and thus warrants their attention and consideration for at least a while longer. This is where you need to demonstrate your expertise in addressing problem areas that come up in discussions. And that’s a function of how well you understand their industry, how effective your discovery has gone/is going, how familiar you are with their processes, etc.
Confusion, on the other hand, is potentially an issue indicating lack of understanding or feelings of uncertainty around the product. Chris warns, "If there's anything I've learned in this role, it's a confused mind always says 'no'.” Teams must actively address confusion by speaking in clear, friendly terms that build confidence in the relationship and simplify the benefits of the proposed solution. This is also a great opportunity to provide examples and success stories from current users that resonate with the perceived complications of the prospect.
Contentment doesn’t have to be unconditional. Your team simply makes the effort to help buyers feel more confident in a product’s ability, and your ability, to help them achieve desired outcomes. The goal of contentment is simply to get buyers to the point of having enough comfort with you that they’re willing to commit to further conversations.
Must-have Moment #4: Making a Commitment
Any sales demo will usually end with one of three scenarios:
- “We love it—let’s move forward.”
- “We aren’t sure, but really, we know it’s not going to work.”
- “We aren’t sure, but we’re still considering.”
When working with prospective clients who are obviously still on the fence about your solution, it’s important for your team to act as though you are still moving forward at all stages. The ultimate goal of a demo is commitment, and that engagement includes so much more than just a signed contract.
Commitment might look like a plan to:
- Have a follow-up demo
- Meet with additional stakeholders
- Introduce sales to procurement to discuss pricing
- Beginning contracting
Whatever form commitment takes, an agreement to move to the next step is a solid sign of a successful demo.
By considering the structure of their demos, members of your sales team will be better able to tailor their presentations to the unique interests and goals of each of your potential customers. Demos should never be generic or “cookie cutter” presentations--they should uniquely speak to the needs and interest points of each of your prospects. The most successful demos allow all parties involved, from sales teams to customers, to unite in solving a problem and eventually accelerate the implementation of that solution.