Yikes … we forgot the demo!

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Associate Peter Hanschke is an Ottawa-based product management specialist. His post is part of our continuing series about the ecosystem necessary to bring technology to market. We welcome your comments.

By Peter Hanschke

The ability to demo your product to a prospect is a key activity in the sales process. Prospects struggle to make the connection between what is shown in a slide deck and the issues that they need to address or the problems they need to solve. Furthermore, they also need to be assured that the product you are describing is simply not slide ware. A properly constructed demo that shows how the prospect can address their issues takes time and effort to create. But many companies leave the design and creation of the demo to the last possible moment. The result is the standby method– open the product, show individual features and hope that one or more of the features resonates with the prospect.

The problem is that the prospect is looking for a solution to a problem that they currently have – not a set of features.

Prospects are interested in buying your product or service only if it addresses a need or problem that they have. In today’s tight economy, products that address issues will be considered more favorably than those that are simply a collection of features. The intent of a demo is to show the capabilities of your product in such a way that resonates with the prospect. The prospect needs to truly understand how your product addresses their core issues. Upon completion of the demo, the prospect should have a clear vision of exactly how your product helps them.

Start with the problem, not the feature

Let’s first dissect the demo. The design of a demo must start with a clear understanding of the user (or market) problems that your product solves. In other words, what are the challenges your prospects have in performing the tasks they need to perform that your product addresses? The design must never start from the features. If you get a “nice feature …how does it help me?” look or comment from the prospect, then the design of the demo did not start from the problem space, it started from the solution space.

It is key to clearly articulate all of the common and unique problems that your product solves. Create a list of the problems along with a description of how your product solves them. Highlight those problems that you uniquely solve or solve in a manner that far exceeds the alternatives. “Me too” solutions are table-stakes – users regard those as must haves and if that is all your product solves it may be time to re-think your product strategy.

Make sure to describe the problem and your solution in a manner that resonates with the user. This is critical, but in most cases is overlooked. Think of your prospect. Using language that they understand is vital for them to instantly identify with what you are describing. If they do not resonate with any of the problems you solve, then they’re not a match for your product and odds are you will not make the sale.

Take it one step at a time

For complex products or solutions, split the demo into three parts.

Part one should be brief (one minute). The idea is to whet their appetite to want to see more. The key value proposition must ring through loud and clear. Within 10 seconds the prospect should have an idea what your product is and why it matters to them. This could take place in the typical elevator or at your booth. Follow that with a brief demo – no more than 40 seconds. At this point the prospect either realizes that your product can help them or not. You are successful with part one if the prospect wants to see more.

Part two is longer – typically five minutes. This part should highlight the core problems that your product addresses. As mentioned earlier, using the “open the product and start showing the menu commands and what they do” approach will typically not produce positive results. There is a flow to the demo showing the prospect how specific problems are solved with the product. Start with showing the key benefits, then follow up with secondary benefits.

For example, if you sell your product to business to create internal or external facing products, then start with showing the benefits that your prospect’s customers receive. If canned data (e.g. contact data, manufacturing data) is needed, this needs to be thought through so that (a) it works in conjunction with the demo, and (b) it can be easily reset to its original state. Success at this point is the prospect wanting others in their organization to see the demo – they believe that your product will provide value to their organization.

Part three is a demo that does a deep dive to prove to the audience that your product is right for them. This is usually a custom demo that requires multiple conversations with the prospect to show exactly what they are looking for. A word of caution – anything beyond creating a custom demo for a specific meeting could venture into the realm of creating a proof of concept, which is beyond the scope of a demo.

Too many companies jump right into part three; the audience becomes confused and the engagement does not progress well after that. Avoid this at all costs. Start with either part one or two … depending on the time you have. If your product is not very complex, then parts one and two are sufficient.

Keep it part of the big picture

The design and creation of the demo needs to be part of the overall product development project. It needs to be scheduled and staffed just like any other activity. If not, then the risk of not having a top-notch demo is in jeopardy. The product manager is responsible for ensuring that the demo is part of the schedule. They are also responsible for gathering requirements for the demo. In some cases the development team will be needed to implement some of, or the entire, demo. In other cases it might be the product manager who implements the demo. The bottom line is to treat the demo as a mini-product and apply the same rigour to defining and creating it as you would the main product.

So to recap:

  • Make sure the demo is designed from the prospect’s perspective (i.e. their need for your product to solve/address their problems/issues).
  • Implement the demo in small digestible parts such that you educate the prospect through the demo process (never start by showing the deep details).
  • Ensure that the design and creation of the demo is a part of the overall project plan (i.e. it needs to be scheduled and staffed).

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