There may be nothing quite so ubiquitous in the normal sales cycle for the enterprise software market as the software demo. And there may be nothing that kills as many promising deals as the software demo done poorly. And yet, the demo is such a critical part of the sales cycle. Delivered at the right stage in the sales process and sharply tuned to the prospect’s real needs, there are few tools in your sales kit more potent than a well-run demo.
The karmic gods must believe I deserve punishment for some dire past offence for they have obliged me to sit through well more than my share of wretched demos. The only solace I can take is that I don’t seem to be alone in this; a quick scan of colleagues plus my own experience made the following list of software demo failures all too easy to compile.
1. You show up late
Nothing telegraphs to your prospective customer just how little you care about them more than not respecting their time enough to start a demo when it’s supposed to start. And yet, this happens all the time. The technology on which the demo is being run hasn’t been teed up properly so you engage in small talk while the projector is being fired up or the slide deck is being loaded onto the demo machine or the webex is being pulled together or while we all wait for the sales engineer who’s actually going to do the demo to join the conversation. Whatever the reason, it’s a great way to let your prospects know exactly how important you think they are.
2. You don’t know the software
When the presenter doesn’t know the software, it’s obvious a mile off. It’s particularly embarrassing, as I’ve been witness to more than once, if the prospect knows the product better than the presenter. It’s okay if your sales guy hasn’t spent a whole lot of time living in the darker corners of your product garden; it’s not okay if he brings that ignorance to the demo. Train a specialist, maybe one of your software engineers, to give that kick-ass demo you need to close the sale.
3. You make it all about the company, not the product
Save the company and speaker bio for the end and shorten it to the bare necessities. If you’ve made it to this stage — assuming, of course, that you are giving the demo at the right stage in the sales process to begin with — then the prospect probably knows a fair bit about you already. Focus on the task at hand — educating the prospect about how your product can fix their problem.
4. You fail to adapt the presentation
There are few things more annoying to prospects than to have to sit through a bog-standard demo of your product that doesn’t even begin to address their specific situation. Again, based on the assumption that the demo is taking place at the right time, you’ve already brought your prospects through an investigative exercise to surface their specific pain and a value exploration to see how much it would be worth to them to solve that pain. So you know what their objectives are, what their particular circumstances are, maybe even what their data set or other critical variables are. You know what sorts of outcomes are going to create immense value for them. Blow their socks off by customizing your demo to address their specific requirements.
5. You spill all your candy in the lobby
The subhead above is a favourite expression of my favourite sales trainer, Terry Ledden. Terry is a huge advocate of learning all about your prospects, their pain, their willingness to solve that pain and both the company and personal value that would be created if that pain got solved. And he’s an even bigger advocate of learning all that before you ever show any of your stuff. This underscores the imperative referenced a couple of times already that there is a proper time for the demo in the sales process. And it’s almost certainly not the first order of business the first time you meet the prospect.
6. You think an online video is a demo
Lots of companies make videos of software demos and put them online. And lots of prospects look at those videos and get value from them. Nothing wrong with that. But if prospects then go on to ask you for a personal demo, they’re looking for something more. Find out what that is, incorporate it into a demo, blow their socks off and close the deal.
7. You can’t deviate from a script
This is a corollary to No. 4 above. Scripts are good; they keep you on message and make sure you cover everything in some sort of logical progression. A demo, however, works best when it’s an interactive exchange with your prospects. You must be open to their comments and questions, their requests that you show them more (or less) detail in given areas, that you demonstrate how their requirements would be met, and so on. By all means, use a script, but do not be a slave to it.
Bonus points if you:
- Deliver a concise presentation that meets the needs of your audience, offering different demos for different decision makers.
- Have the right people at the demo, the people who can, on the spot, answer all the questions your prospects are going to have.
- Endeavour to customize the software as much as possible to the specific requirements of each prospect.
- Deliver a copy of the presentation, or some quick overview of it, immediately following the demo and without having to be asked for it.
Image: Lorna rose training