How to give product demos that sell

by Steli Efti

tommy-boy

We’ve already covered how to get people to attend your product demos, how to properly prepare for demos, and how to do a demo discovery session in order to gather all the insights you need to have a clear understanding of the prospect’s wants and needs.

Now it’s showtime!

Actually deliver a great demo that will turn prospects into buyers!

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • How to structure and open your demo
  • The rules of effective demo engagement
  • How to deliver a compelling presentation
  • Deal with the various scenarios you might encounter when demoing to a prospect
  • And finally, how to close the demo

It’s going to be a long post (so if you want it as a convenient PDF or ebook, just click here and you’ll get it delivered right to your inbox soon!)

How to structure your demos

Structuring successful demos is something you'll get better at with experience. The more often you do this, the sharper your instinct will be. But to give you a headstart, I'm going to share a general blueprint with you that you can follow.

An important thing to keep in mind: this is a general blueprint. It's solid, but as with everything, there are many possible exceptions. If you have a good reason to structure your demos differently, by all means, do so! I'd rather have you experiment with 10 different ways of structuring your demo and fail nine times but learn a lot, than dogmatically stick to one sequence just because I said so.

I'm giving you a way of thinking about structuring your demos, more than an actual demo blueprint. That's a bit more work, but also much more valuable to you if you study it and apply the lessons to your own software demonstrations.

Always go from macro to micro

When you’re demoing a feature, always give your prospects the big picture first. They should never watch you demo something and not know what the purpose of it is. If a prospect wonders, “Why is this guy showing me this?”, then you haven’t properly explained first what it is you’re going to demonstrate.

Here's an example of how to do this specifically:

Sales rep: “You’ve said that you need a better way of managing your sales pipeline, because right now it’s a mess by always manually scheduling these tasks. We’ve solved this problem for you—I can show you how to automate your pipeline management, so you won’t have to deal with manual task reminders anymore. Does that sound interesting to you?”

By doing this, you achieve three things:

  1. You give them context for what it is you’re about to show them, and help them to understand how they will benefit from this.
  2. You’ve engaged them by making them say something.
  3. You’ve confirmed that the feature you’ll demonstrate is actually relevant to them, ensuring you make the best use of the time you have with your prospect.

The product demo is not the time to bombard prospects with minutiae. You’re the expert on your product and if you play your cards right, your prospect-turned-customer will also become an expert. However, before you can reach that moment, remember:

Reveal your capabilities in layers, in accord with the customer’s level of interest... First, show the route to achieve the desired result with the fewest number of mouse clicks (the “Do It” pathway). This proves your capabilities and helps build a vision in your customer’s minds: they can visualize themselves using your software.  Then, as your customer asks questions, you can drive deeper to show more relevant breadth of the Specific Capabilities desired (the “Peel Back the Layers” pathways). Note that the highest-ranking audience members may only need to see the “Do It” to be convinced. — Peter Cohan

Sketch the big picture first, go into details later.

Which features should you feature?

When you’re demoing a product, you always want to demonstrate value, not features or functionalities. Nobody cares about the features of your software—the only thing they care about is what it’ll do for them.

Your product is only as good as the problems it can solve for someone. What I want to hear during a demo is what problems you are solving and for who[m], not a laundry list of features in your product.—Ryan Leask

If you’ve properly qualified them and understand their needs, you’re in a position to deliver a compelling demonstration rather than throwing darts in the dark.

Begin with a big bang

Once you've gotten the introduction and qualifying out of the way, and you start with your actual product demo, it's important to start with something sensational.

I remember getting my first demo of a spreadsheet in 1979, from Dan Fylstra, the president of Personal Software. Dan understood some of the basics of giving a good demo. Before minute #1 was over, I had seen him enter a new number in one cell and watched the numbers ripple down and to the right. I know it was a great demo and a great product because I still get goosebumps thinking about it! Of course you can't expect to have a product as revolutionary as VisiCalc was in 1979, but there must be something that wows 'em every time. Don't save that for the end. Put it up front where it belongs.Dave Winer

For some reason, I see sales reps "keeping the good stuff for the end". That will backfire most of the time. Because if you keep the good stuff for the end, all that's left is the boring stuff for the beginning and the middle—and you'll likely lose your prospects' attention before you even get to the end.

Yes, you should have a great ending, but only after you had a great beginning!

Start with a killer feature of your product that serves an important need for your prospect. Based upon your qualification, you know what their pain points are, you know where they're itching. Scratch that itch. Show them how your product resolves a major frustration or helps them achieve their objectives faster, with less effort and more fun.

“[A] demo allows the customer to see and feel how things will be better if they buy (and worse if they don't).” — Geoffrey James

Paint a vivid picture in their imagination of how your product can make their lives easier and help them do their jobs better.

Create a vision of how your product makes them a better version of themselves.

A real demo should start with one of the specific problems or challenges the customer or prospect said they are having. They sound more like this: "During our previous conversation you stated your team was having a difficult time sharing documents and collaborating was difficult. In this part of the demo we want to show you how you would be able to share documents easier and increase collaboration without breaking your current file structure and maintaining federal compliance." — Jim Keenan

It's important that this clearly relates to one of their main priorities. It shouldn't be a minor feature or small optimization. This is even more important if you're demoing, not to an end-user, but to someone in a managerial position. They want to see how your software can affect the big picture.

Start off by talking about something in big, general terms before you drill down into specifics. Show them what your software can do to them, then ask them: “Would you like to see how this works, or do you want to move on to the next item?”

Asking them this question keeps them engaged, and you get feedback on how relevant a given feature is to them.

The worst thing you can do is just string together feature after feature, and make your prospect sit through a long parade of things he doesn't care about.

Rules of effective demo engagement

An effective demo is as much an art as a science. As such, mastering the technical qualifications is only one part; you must also convey competency and passion. As Maya Angelou eloquently stated, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Make your prospects feel great about you and your product.

Speak their language

If you've noticed while qualifying a prospect that they use certain words and phrases, use these same words and phrases later. Check out their website and see the wording they use in there. Look at previous email exchanges and study the terminology they use. Make an effort to speak their language.

But don't launch into jargon just to appear like you're a knowledgeable insider. If you use acronyms they don't understand, they usually won't ask you what it means. It's just like in school: nobody wants to be the person that asks the stupid questions.

Handle your mouse like a pro

Keep in mind that people are following your mouse movements. When you want people to see how you’re doing something, move your mouse cursor more deliberately than you usually would. No herky-jerky movements, please.

When should you interrupt a prospect during a demo?

A prospect is asking you a long-winded question and when he's halfway through, you already know what his question is. Eager to show him how well you understand him, you jump in and answer the question he's not yet completely formulated.

Wrong! Never interrupt a prospect who is asking a question. In the worst case, you've made a wrong assumption and answered a question he didn't ask, which will alienate him twice: once because you've cut him off, and again because you've just demonstrated that you absolutely misunderstood him.

Recovering from a blunder like this is tough, so it’s better to avoid putting yourself in a tough spot in the first place. And even if you actually answered the right question ... nobody likes a know-it-all. Let people finish their sentences.

Answering questions with questions

Sometimes the best way to answer a prospect’s question is by flipping it around on them.

Prospect: “Well, how does your software handle lead assignments?”

Sales rep (puffing his chest because he sees a chance to show off a cool feature of his product): “Oh, leads are automatically assigned to a rep based on the parameters you entered!”

Prospect: “Yeah, we’ve tried that in the past, that really destroyed our numbers.”

That didn’t go well, did it?

Now let’s look how the same dialogue could have played out if our rep had flipped the questions.

Prospect: “How does your software handle lead assignments?”

Sales rep: “I love that you ask that question, because that’s one of the things our customers really like about our sales software. Now tell me, how do you want your software to handle lead assignments?”

Prospect: “We’ve had this semi-automated system, and it really messed up our numbers. We found that this is one of the areas where it’s really worth manually reviewing and assigning each lead.”

Sales rep: “Absolutely, you can do that with our software.”

If your software has different options for handling a certain workflow, then it’s best to first inquire what the prospect prefers. Many times your product is flexible enough to adapt to their preferred workflow, but if you make assumptions and tout one way as superior, it’s hard to step back from that.

Flipping questions is a great way to learn more about the underlying motives and reasons for why a prospect wants things a certain way.

Questions you can't (or don't want to) answer?

Even if you've got serious product expertise, sometimes a prospect will ask you a question for which you don't have an answer. Or a question which would derail your demo if you took the time to answer it.

In these cases, just respond: "That's an interesting question. I have an idea what the answer will be, but I'm not 100% certain. Let me write this question down so I can follow up with you in a day or two about this."

Then, write down their question in a text file, in front of their eyes where they can see it. This will put their minds at ease and provide some closure.

Ask questions that dimensionalize the value you provide

Let’s say you’ve identified a problem they have, and you have the solution. What you want to do is not just show it to them, but first dimensionalize it.

Sales rep: “So, currently your company is losing out on sales opportunities because leads are falling through the cracks. You’ve got tasks and notes and reminders in your system for hundreds of leads, and it’s just a big mess right now. None of your reps are able to consistently complete all tasks on time and follow up as planned with every lead. That sounds like you’re losing out on a lot of potential deals, right?”

Prospect: “That’s right, that’s why we’re looking for a better system now.”

Sales rep: “I see. If you would just make a guess, how much revenue do you think you’re missing out on just because of ineffective lead management?”

Prospect: “Well, I haven’t really run the math yet, but I’d say roughly $2,000 to $3,000 in deals per rep each month.”

Sales rep: “Wow, and you’ve got 16 reps working for you currently?”

Prospect: “That’s right.”

Sales rep: “So we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost deals every year. Well, I’m now going to show you a feature that’ll make you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next twelve months. Do you want to see this?”

You bet he does.

Highlight the highlights

Don’t assume you’ve got your prospect's undivided attention just because they’re attending your demo. Especially if you’re giving a remote demo, it’s almost certain that prospects will multitask during your demo: checking email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Knowing this, you want to highlight the highlights and mark what’s memorable to ensure you have their attention when it matters the most.

When you reach that critical moment when you really want your prospect to listen, use the prospects’ name (if it’s a one-on-one demo) and pause for a second. Tell them this is the most important thing you'll tell them today, make sure they’re listening, and then make your point.

Deal with fails, bugs, and crashes

If you give demos on a regular basis, things will go wrong. It’s inevitable. Expect it and be prepared for it.

“Oh, I really don’t know why this is happening now, I’ve never seen this before” is not something that will make your demo attendees trust you and your software more.

The worst thing you can do is to allow a bug to throw you off your game. We’ve shared in a past article how to turn demo fails into sales. If you haven’t read it, do so now.

Requests that are hard to fulfill

Sometimes a request from a prospect is hard to fulfill, or you might not be sure if and how to fulfill it. And there's a clear line between saying  yes to anything you can, just to sell your product and making sure you're actually setting the right expectations that can still lead to a sale. Here's what you can say in such a case:

"I see this is an issue that we'll have to deal with at some point. Let me write it down so I can follow up with you after discussing this with the right person in our company."

Then, write it down in your demo notes.

Managing time

Managing time is extremely important to keep your demos effective. One of the main differences between an amateur and a professional is how they control their time.

An experienced demo pro will complete the demo within the agreed upon timeframe. An inexperienced person will apologize for going over time until the prospect cuts them off.

If you already know what you want to cover during your demo, set topic start and stop times.

Start your demos on time. If you start late because your prospect is late, confirm that they’ll still bring the full amount of time to the table they've promised you. (And if they insist on stopping at the originally scheduled end time, you're still better off knowing that so you can adjust your presentation accordingly, rather than being interrupted midway).

How long should your demos be?

15 minutes or less. Most founders think their software can’t be properly demonstrated in 15 minutes, but most demos are way too long.

Do you want to know why?

Because they’re confusing product demos with product training.

Product demos ≠ product training

The purpose of a demo isn’t to teach your prospects how to use your demo. It’s to show your prospects how your product can benefit them.

Waiting for a page/feature to load

Let's say there's one function of your app you'd like to show your prospect that takes a few moments to load.

If you know this in advance, the best thing is to already preload it in another tab or window.

loading

If that's not possible, then be prepared for it by having the words ready to mask the delay or ideally, a well-placed question that will prompt them to provide you with some related information. By the time they've completed their statement, the page has already loaded.

End with a close

What's your closing statement? It better be a strong, clear call to action. It's your job to get the prospect to take the next step.

I once sat in a pretty awesome demo and was ready to buy on the spot. Then, the guy finishes off like this:

"Thanks for taking the time to learn about our software, I really appreciate it. I hope this has been useful for you, and if you have any further questions at any time, just let me know. Thanks again, have a great day!"

What?

Are you kidding me?

Well, I guess it's not yet time to buy? I'll sleep over this and discuss it with some colleagues (who haven't attended the demo and don't know anything about this product).

Of course, the next day, I've got a thousand other things on my head, and the deal never happens.

Sell them when they're ready to buy.

Ask them to take out their credit card and sign up now.

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