Turn product demo fails into sales

by Steli Efti

I was demoing a product to a person I’ve been following for a long time already. Not just some random prospect - someone very accomplished whom I’ve looked up to for a long time already. Let’s just call him Mr. Mysterious.

Just as I was getting into the groove of the demo, a red bar appeared on the screen with an error message. What to do?

How can you proceed when you’re giving a product demo, and you’re really eager to close that deal, and then your product fails in front of the prospect?

The single biggest mistake you can make during a demo fail… is exactly what most people do during a demo fail!

Fumbling around like an amateur.

They get thrown off their game and desperately hope things will go back to normal.

They click around and try to assure: “Hm, wait, I think this just takes a moment.” Click, click, click.

“Uh, let me go back here, and try this again.” Click, click. Wait.

“Uhm, this is embarrassing. Let me log out and log back in again, that should do.” Click, click, click, clack, clack, clack.

Click, click. Nothing.

“Uhm, you know... well... I think we should, erm, reboot the system. One moment here, I’m going to invite you again in a couple of minutes.” 

Then they try to bridge the waiting time with a bunch of senseless smalltalk, trying to appear calm while you can literally feel how adrenaline transforms their tension into anxiety.

Stress is contagious.

When the sales person is nervous, the prospect often picks up their agitation.

Do you think that uneasiness is a mental state which helps you to close the deal? Of course it won’t - people shut down their gates and put up a wall when they’re feeling stressed.

In order to make them feel relaxed - you need to be relaxed first.

“This has never happend before.”

Almost everybody says that when a demo fails. Almost nobody believes it.

Even if you have never encountered that particular, specific bug before… you surely have dealt with failures and crashes and outages before. So don’t act as if this is the first time ever.

Every experienced professional knows things go wrong. 

Remember Murphy’s law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. 

There's a reason why this law has gained popularity in the IT field.

From failed demo to fortunate deal

So how should you respond when your product fails during a demo?

Take a step back and think how you can turn this into an opportunity to connect with your prospect and demonstrate the strengths of your company.

Rather than staying focused on this one occurrence of a bug, make it about something bigger. Here’s how I did it with Mr. Mysterious when that red error bar popped up on the screen.

Step 1) Instead of stuttering and mumbling, be enthusiastic about it:

I told him: “See, this is the most important part of the demo. I didn’t plan for this, but I’m glad it happened. I’m going to show you what we do when things go wrong.”

Step 2) Re-focus on the big picture:

“Our app is pretty reliable. We process over 300,000 calls on Close.io every single month, and millions of emails are being sent and received on our platform. We growing rapidly all around the world. Thousands and thousands of sales people rely on us every single day. A lot of heavy users who spend many hours every day calling."

Step 3) Disarm them with honesty:

“We’re a crucial piece of software. We deliver on that promise but we’re also realistic, and acknowledge that once a while something might go wrong.” 

Step 4) Walk them through your support experience:

“We take this responsibility very serious, and that's why we're always here for you. Let's go through this together. You click on the little "Help" button. Do you want to contact us by email? Our average response time is between two to three hours. But if you want immediate help, go into our support chat."

"These are not some outsourced support agents. These are the engineers who built the product! Not some agent who will look through a database of prewritten answers, but someone with the technical expertise to understand, analyze and resolve your issue. So let's do this together now."

Step 5) Unleach the support beast:

In the support chat, our Product Lead guy was able to fix the issue right away.

Step 6) Explicitly spell out the value:

"Mr. Mysterious, I hope you see how dedicated we are to taking care of our customers. How many companies will actually go to that extent? We can't promise you that everything will always be perfect. Nobody can. But we'll always be ready to fix any issue you have. You'll always have access to us."

Bonus: Be playful!

If you can have some fun with it, do so. In this case, I was making a joke out of the fact that the prospect would chat directly with the engineer who was responsible for the bug - and that if he couldn't fix it, he'd be out of a job. (Real CEO-humor!) 

If it gets your prospect to laugh, that's funny enough. Helps to get rid of any tension.

In fact, the exact words or sequence you walk a prospect through during a demo fail isn't that crucial. These six steps are just one example of how you can turn a product demo into a sales opportunity.

What's much more important than the exact wording or sequence, is the state you're in: calm and collected, not falling apart. The message you want to implicitly convey is: This isn't a big deal, it can easily be fixed.

Be the kind of company people want to do business with.

Mr. Mysterious ended up buying. Not just despite the bug, but because of how we handled it.

He had witnessed first hand how level-headed we stayed when things went down.

Demonstrate that you’re going to have clarity and focus and fix the issue promptly.

When was the last time you had to deal with a demo fail?

Think back to the last time you were demoing your product, and something bad happened.

  • How did you handle it?
  • Did you react emotionally, or did you handle the problem professionally?
  • What could you have done better?

Replay this event in your mind, but re-write the script so that next time, you’ve already trained your mental muscles to handle demo fails like a seasoned pro.

Get early access to the Close.io Product Demo Course


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