My recent Product demo experience – 3 key learnings

In the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to sit through three product demos that were all done using web conference (Goto Meeting and WebEx). Two of these demos went very well, we understood everything we wanted to know and we figured out whether the products will meet our business needs. More on that later.

The third one was an outright disaster. This particular  demo was in an area that not many of us knew enough about and we were looking to educate ourselves with not only on the product but also get a better understanding of the underlying methodology. When the demo was set up, we had clearly communicated to the vendor (at least we thought we had) on what we were looking to get. We had also indicated that time was tight and that we probably had 45 minutes max. To make the whole situation tricky, there was the software vendor, a potential professional services partner and an internal consultant who was introducing us to the software vendor.

Here is how the demo went (remember the 45 minutes equates to about 20 min of demo time if you account for the time needed to answer questions during the demo):

  1. 15 minutes were spent on the corporate slides – here is who we are, when we were founded, we do blah blah blah (nothing I remember right now), here is how much profits we made last year, here are the complex equations that are underpinnings of the technology (I am not joking, there were equations on slides), here are the Fortune 500 clients that use us etc.
  2. Another 15 minutes of the admin console where everything can be looked at etc.
Here is what transpired amongst the audience which btw had all the relevant stakeholders:
  1. In the first 2 minutes of the corporate slides, most of those in audience lost interest and were busy checking their emails
  2. By the time, 15 minutes were up, we had still not learnt anything that we came to learn about. People were feeling cheated – why are we wasting time on this?
  3. What followed was tech focused, nothing addressed the business problems we were looking to solve.
  4. Nothing was professional about the demo, everything looked like a hodge podge.
At the end of 45 minutes, we did not get much out of it. Half the folks had to bail because they had other meetings to go to.
Now allow me to compare and contrast the above experience to the two successful demos:
  1. These two vendors did discovery work to find out the business problems we were facing and they did this directly with me – before the demo. To their advantage, there were no middlemen.
  2. During the demo, they focused on our business problems and not themselves (not one word on who they are, how big they are etc.) until they had completely addressed how their solutions could solve our business problems.
  3. Everything was done in the allotted time. They followed up with emails to check if we had any outstanding questions and enquiring about the next steps.
So what are the key learnings from all of this for those folks putting together product demos. Here are my recommendations:
  1. Do the discovery call before the demo: If you are the one doing the demo, try your best to engage directly with the customer for a discovery call. Avoid leaving this to a third party unless these folks can educate you well on the customer’s business problems. Find out the business issues faced by the customer, how they are solving the problem today, what solutions they are using etc., timeframe they are looking to solve the problem and if they have a budget. Budget and timeframe to purchase are very important – if there is no budget, it is a lot harder to sell.
  2. Business problems first: Your prospective customers don’t care who you are, how big you are or how great you are, unless you can solve their business problems. The only reason they are engaging with you is to find out if you can help them. Satiate that need first, nothing else. Everything else can wait. Stuff for the economical buyer (financial viability, your revenues etc.) or for the technical buyer (technology underpinnings etc.) can come later – not in the first demo. Selectively disclose stuff – peel the onion one layer at a time – don’t bury the customer with information, keep it simple.
  3. Respect the customer’s time: Find out ahead of time how much time you have and who will be in attendance. If the time is insufficient for you to do the demo effectively, ask for more time. Explain why it would be beneficial to allot more time – start becoming an advisor to the customer. Once you know your constraints, honor them. Make sure you hit the salient points customer is looking for during the allotted time. If you do this right, two things will happen – you will get more time right there and then or a follow up demo will be set up to take this further. If either of this happens, you now have an engaged prospect and you are making progress towards closing a sale.

You can choose to avoid doing the homework to your own peril or spend the time during discovery to start building effective relationships with your prospects.

Thoughts? Do you agree?

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8 thoughts on “My recent Product demo experience – 3 key learnings”

  1. Gopal,

    I found this to be valuable input coming from the “other side” of a presentation.

    Reversing the classic sequence of presenting makes sense. Empathetically, a client wants to hear about how you can help him, more than about who you are. Getting them to a point where they ask about your company, and who you are, is a strong indication they have genuine interest and that the salesman has done his job.

    I have some slides to rearrange. Thank you ~

    Dudley Volcansek

  2. Nice post Gopal. It is critical that the presenter understand and articulate the goals of the presentation whether it’s an online or face-to-face meeting. And those goals usually surround the pain points as Greg indicated.

    Depending on the time, I get sales reps to ask each attendee (if practicable) their meeting goals. This should have been understood between the two people who organized the meeting. Frequently, the meetings are usually organized by junior people so this provides an opportunity to directly hear from higher level buying influencers. It helps to uncover additional needs and provides an opportunity to further tailor the presentation. This technique also indicates that you’re there for a “conversation” and gets attendees more engaged. If time allows, I go back to that list of goals in the last few minutes to make sure that they agree we’ve covered them. It gives the audience the opportunity to nod their heads which is a positive in moving the sales along.

    Unfortunately, most sales presentations are focused on what I call the institutional needs of the buyer: the need for a software solution, hardware, services, etc. The good presentations take into account the emotional or psychological needs of the buyers or influencers. This is to have peace of mind and security from buying from you. This is where the trust and relationships are key.

    I’d like to respond to TheFactors question about helping the vendor. If you believe that the vendor has the best solution for you then it is entirely appropriate to guide the presentation and seller. Trust and relationships go both ways. The best solutions are not always aligned with the best selling techniques and that should not get in the way of a “win-win” solution. My career in sales and sales management has been strengthened from great feedback from vendors.

    1. Larry – thanks for your comments. Good points about establishing trust and relationships. One thing I learnt early on in my career is that it all about people and not about products/services. Trust and relationships outlive products and services. Hummm, maybe a blog post on it is due.

  3. As someone who often presents our own software product to prospects and also attends a lot of product demos some very good points in here.

    I find the key when presenting is to make it as “non-sales” as possible. I take a “problem solving” approach – I’m there presenting because the potential customer has a business problem they want to solve and my goal is to understand it and see if our product could help them with it.

    Even if the answer is no, that’s valuable information and hopefully I’ve left the prospect with a good view of our product and they will consider us in the future.

  4. Great tips for presentations! I wish all vendors would follow your guidelines. I have a couple of vendors presenting to my company over the next couple of weeks. Would you recommend that I guide them in this direction if they seem to be taking the “traditional” path? Or is it best to just let them potentially lose a sale even though their product may be the best solution for us? I mean, i’m not paid to tell them how to do their job, but i’m responsible to use our people’s time effectively.

    1. I would let them know your business needs before the demo. After all, you are looking for solutions to your business problems and faster you can find a solution for them, the better.

  5. Gopal,

    Thank you for sharing these important lessons on the need to understand customer problems
    and pain points and requirements in order to deliver a winning product demo.


    Michael Skarzynski

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