On Demand Enterprise Software Demos

By Rob Bernshteyn, Jake Adger August 10, 2007

The rubber hits the road in the sales cycle at the demonstration stage. Therefore nobody can argue the value of delivering a super-compelling demo. But how? One common theme is that a top-quality demonstration should not simply list product features and functions but should grab the audience’s attention by speaking directly to business issues.

Demonstrations are fundamentally examples of usage situations that are presented to make the audience believe in a product. They are not responses to product requirement lists or exhaustive user training. Many times all that is required is a well-delivered taste of the product’s functionality. Many companies repeatedly stress this concept in their sales organizations only to trip over their own feet by delivering overly complex feature-function demonstrations that confuse prospects and lose deals.

An easy example of how to adopt a true business value-oriented demonstration is the example of demonstrating the Yellow Pages® to an audience unfamiliar with that product. The Yellow Pages for years has solved the business problem of accessing contact information for providers of goods and services. What is the best way to demonstrate the Yellow Pages to your audience? Would you start with the “A” listings and read to your prospect, page after page, from top to bottom, for an hour? This approach would yield a boring and potentially confusing presentation and is not the ideal way to engage your prospect in the process of coming to believe in your product.

What would be the ideal way to make your prospect believe in the Yellow Pages? First you would want to describe the general business

problem that your prospect is facing. This could be quickly and easily accessing contact information for virtually any product or service that they could imagine. Next you would give an example relevant to your prospect’s business. If your prospect is a restaurateur, you might want to demonstrate a tangible, real world example by looking up “Groceries” and then perhaps “Linen Service.” You might even do some research so that you can call a low-cost provider of linen services and quickly inquire about price. Your product demonstration will be sure to leave a lasting impression because your prospect will immediately see how your product addresses relevant

business challenges. You actually will have demonstrated only two of the thousands of listings in your product, but the user experience will be superb for those two listings, and your prospect will be able to see by the thickness of the book that there is much more value in your product.

This Yellow Pages example is simplistic, but it is also relevant to product demonstrations in the software industry. The biggest reason for this is that the Yellow Pages example draws out the theme of focusing all of your efforts on the purpose of your presentation, which is to make your prospect believe in your product. To make your prospect believe in your product, you must first capture their interest and then alleviate their fears.

Capture the interest of your prospects

The objective here is extremely easy to understand. You want your prospect to pay attention to your presentation and learn about your product. In an ideal world your prospects will begin to actively think about all of the ways that your product can solve their problems. Remember, you can’t possibly know your prospects’ businesses as well as they do. You have to capture their interest so that they will provide you with the information that you need to detail the benefits that they will receive from your product.

Alleviate the fears of your prospects

Particularly in the software industry, you need to alleviate fears that your prospects may have due to previous negative purchasing experiences and a variety of other factors.

  • Make it tangible – convince your prospects that your product actually exists
  • Make it understandable – convince your prospects that their organizations will be able to understand and use your product
  • Make it relevant – convince your prospects that your product addresses issues that their businesses are facing due to current or future market pressures
  • Make it valuable – convince your prospects that your product will provide value to their organizations and that their decision makers will see business value that exceeds product cost

Now that the objectives of the demonstration are well understood, how do you create a software demonstration that addresses each of these objectives? Our experience with in-house creation of custom software demonstrations has yielded a few key lessons.

Solve a core problem

In order to make your prospects comfortable and to engage their active listening right off the bat, a winning strategy is to solve a problem that is core to their businesses. This will make your prospects comfortable as they will already be familiar with the issues that you are discussing in your demonstration. Your prospects will also be assured of the relevance and value of your product to their businesses as you have already bridged the gap between abstract product capabilities and their business issues.

Describe the value

As you construct your software demonstration, take advantage of all of the vehicles available to you in making the value of your product apparent to your prospects. As you create the screen flow and select the items and content to be presented on the screens, make sure that the value of each item presented will be apparent to your prospects. As you create the storyline that you will deliver verbally to your prospects, emphasize the value of each element. Remember that one of your primary objectives is to get prospects to actively think about all of the ways that your product will provide value to their organizations. If you are successful, your prospects may periodically become distracted from the presentation. Emphasizing the value of each component both through the screens that are presented and your oral presentation will ensure that the message is fully absorbed by prospects.

Simple storyline

Nothing is more confusing than a demonstration that has no story. Reeling off features and functions is boring unless product detail is woven into an overall story that holds the audience’s attention. Think about the things that keep your attention when someone is speaking or when you watch a movie or TV show. There is usually a main character who is engaged in a compelling story. The character faces some sort of problem and usually overcomes it. In the beginning, an intriguing environment is introduced. In the middle you are taken though a number of twist and turns. Finally, at the end it all becomes clear and the problems are usually resolved.

Why then are software demos typically a long list of feature and functions with no real context or alignment with the business? For more compelling demos, the story has to be simple and must reflect a process that the prospective buyer can easily understand. This is important not only for your prospects but also for your salespeople so that they can quickly learn the demo and not rely on sales support every time. Remember that even the most successful sales situations are filled with distraction. An easily understood story can ensure both you and your audience are fully engaged in the demonstration and that it is easy to re-engage at any time following a distraction.

A year in the life

One of the biggest mistakes often made is trying to be overly comprehensive in demonstrations. Sales consultants who learn the product from the ground up often forget their role in the sale. Rather then trying to convince the prospective buyer that their solution is optimal, they often spend a great deal of time showing off how much they know about the product. Since the buyer is rarely interested in every detail of the software, strong demonstrations cover key areas across the application.

The best method of demonstrating these key areas is running through a day or year in the life a typical user. This allows prospects to truly envision what it would be like to use the software. This approach is analogous to offering prospects an opportunity to test-drive the software throughout the demonstration. Give the demonstration environment a fictitious name like ACME Corporation so that prospects can relate to what you are trying to convey. It is important to show key and sexy screens and hide any highly detailed functionality that may cause confusion.

Always return to the main storyline

Just like the table of contents in a book, the demonstration has to allow the audience to delve into some level of product detail and then return to the general outline. Even in cases where the audience may have lost track of what the presenter was doing, returning to the outline gets everyone back on track and moving along with the overall story. In addition, it serves to reinforce the overall message. Building a custom launch pad in the demonstration from which presenters can drill directly to product areas and return for context is a good approach for applications with highly flexible navigation paths. For internet-based applications, this can easily be achieved by building an HTML page with images that allow the presenter to drill directly to each product area they want to demonstrate in the context of the overall story.

Stress integration points

A commonly recurring concern of software buyers is data integration. Nothing scares a buyer more than needing costly systems integration consultants to weave together disparate applications. While integration concerns have largely been addressed for internet-based applications through web services,  prospective buyers are yet to feel truly comfortable with the notion of seamless integration across applications. For this very reason, compelling software demos have to make integration a non-issue. To achieve this goal, the demo must highlight how data will flow across application modules and identify the data that will come in and out of the application you are selling. Drilling specifically into screens that present data that has come from other systems can be an effective strategy. Demonstrating the user experience at points of real-time integration transactions can be effective in demonstrating performance in systems integration, which can be a key concern of your prospects’ IT resources.

Now that you have created a compelling software demonstration, how do you enable your sales organization to leverage your demonstration to close deals? Sales organizations often understand that all the brochures, datasheets,  and PowerPoint® presentations in the world cannot replace a highly compelling demonstration of the

software a company is selling. Prospective customers want to see what they are buying. They want to make sure that the software is usable and that it supports the capabilities they are seeking.

Traditionally, the demo has been a function left to the sales consultant to figure out. Once the “relationship” people get everyone in the room and feel comfortable, they introduce the product wizard. This person takes the prospect through a highly customized environment pulled together from the myriad of requirements documents sent a few weeks before the demo presentation. Sounds a little strange doesn’t it? Well, it is. Can you imagine a car salesman, a bookstore clerk, or coffee shop attendant calling in the troops to explain what they are selling? Obviously not, so why is it that in the software business this need for a stand-in remains? If the salesperson can’t demonstrate the product, how in the world will the customer and their employees ever use it? This begs the question, “Why is the salesperson not the one demonstrating the product? Is it too complex? Requires too much customization? Too technical for the average person? Has no storyline that is easy to recall?” The answer is probably all of these and more.

It is the job of Product Marketing to equip Sales with the tools they need to close business. The product demonstration is one of the most important tools in the arsenal. In order to ensure that the software demonstrations are hard-hitting, competitive, and most importantly, used by the sales force, Product Marketing must have an active hand in rolling out demonstration environments to the sales organization.

Demo scripts can be useful for describing the click path during a highly standardized demonstration. But they are a thing of the past. Simply reading and memorizing written text is not a great way to learn. Instead of spending valuable time writing scripts, Product Marketing’s time is better spent simply recording a perfect demonstration via a screen and voice capture tool. Allowing salespeople to view the ease with which recorded demos are presented and repeat is far more effective. This approach allows sales representatives to simply mimic what they see and hear as a starting point in their own demonstration environments, instead of reading a long set of instructions.

Active sales rep ownership vs. SC ownership

A highly effective software demonstration is extremely easy to understand and present. Such a demonstration adds incredible value to a sales organization, as it means that the sales representatives can give standardized demonstrations rather than requiring a sales consultant (SC) to step in. Duplicate the demonstration environment for each sales rep and allow access centrally over the web. Sales reps can then actively “own” their personal instances of the demonstration environment. Sales consultants still may be required for highly configured “proof of concept” demonstrations required by some prospects later in the sales process, but their role is significantly reduced. In addition to reducing staff costs, increasing the active use of the product by sales reps during demos ensures that your sales reps are aware of the latest product functionality. A highly effective demonstration may have the added benefit of increasing the confidence of your sales reps in your product’s ability to deliver value to customers.

Rich demo data can make or break an enterprise software demonstration, but it takes a great deal of time to create. The situation can become complex very quickly if the demonstration requires multiple logins and/or tracks aggregate-level data requiring hours of data entry. The key to doing this right is doing it only once. Product Marketing should carefully plan all the data elements required to deliver a strong demonstration and should spend the time required to populate a master demonstration environment from which all other demo environments become clones. This approach maximizes the benefit of the time and effort invested by everyone involved. If the salesperson needs customized data, they will have a very strong starting point once Product Marketing equips them with a fully populated environment to start with.esh demo environments on demand

It is very important that each salesperson has his or her own demonstration environment. This allows them to customize their application demo to their comfort level and enables them to focus on areas where they shine. In cases where the salesperson somehow over-customizes the environment, there should be a simple refresher method that returns demonstration to the default demonstration environment. Having this ability allows Sales to experiment without being overly concerned about irreparably breaking something.

Push out new releases of the demo

As your product grows due to engineering efforts, the features and functions will expand and the customer will be interested in seeing the latest versions. This is a great opportunity to release more product capabilities in your demo.

As we have seen, the steps required for the development, rollout, and delivery of compelling demos are relatively straightforward. The keys are thoughtful planning in design and development, optimized processes in rollout, and equipping the sales force with the tools to succeed.

Categories: Working with Sales Go-to-Market
Rob Bernshteyn

Rob Bernshteyn

Rob Bernshteyn is the Senior Director of Product Marketing at SuccessFactors, the leading provider of on-demand workforce performance management software. Prior to his current role, Rob directed product management and marketing activities at Siebel Systems. Rob has also worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company and an SAP Implementation Project Manager at Accenture. You can contact him at rbernshteyn@successfactors.com.

Jake Adger

Jake Adger

Jake Adger is a technical product marketing manager with SuccessFactors. Prior to his current role, Jake was a consultant with Deloitte Consulting focusing on marketing strategy and sales force effectiveness. Jake is a thought leader in the strategic design and deployment of software product demonstrations. You can contact him at jadger@successfactors.com.

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