Delivering a Winning Product Demo

By Ryan Sorley November 06, 2019

Product demos play an important and often vital role in the sales cycle. A great demo helps your company win the deal, while a poorly executed one may not only mean you forfeit the deal—it also could lead your buyer to rule out your company in the future.

DoubleCheck Research, an independent win/loss analysis firm, has conducted thousands of in-depth interviews and online surveys with buyers to uncover the specific reasons why they chose—or didn’t choose—a particular vendor and its product. You might be surprised at how often buyers single out their demo experience for praise or criticism. Based on the insights we collected, there are four key areas for delivering a well-received product demo.


Preparation: Know Your Audience

Oftentimes, lack of preparation before a demo is what ultimately prevents the best first impression. There are several actions you can take beforehand to better ensure success.


Understand Buyer Needs

Frequently, an exchange is missing with the buyer to find out what they want and need in advance of the demo. Stakeholders often are more than willing to provide this information and walk through which functionality they expect to see featured and addressed.

Solve this with a phone call to elicit the buyer’s pre-demo advice or with a brief pre-demo survey. If you choose the survey route, request your primary contact’s permission to send the survey to each demo participant. If buyers devote time to either or both activities, make sure the demo meets the needs identified during the call or in the survey responses.

Buyers who have already issued an RFP or RFI expect that a vendor’s team has carefully read that document and closely aligned the demo to its requirements.


Identify Demo Attendees

Work with buyer stakeholders and use third-party data sources like LinkedIn to identify each demo attendee’s current responsibilities, as well as their role in the product evaluation. In some cases, the demo may be the only time that a buyer’s senior leadership team—which controls the budget—is directly involved in the evaluation. This makes delivering a powerful demo that showcases the value of your product particularly important.

Remember that a well-received demo reflects positively not only on your company and product, but also on the buyer stakeholder or stakeholders who chose to include your company in their evaluation. Conversely, a poor demo that misses the mark can embarrass the buyer stakeholder in front of their peers and managers.


Determine Attendees’ Skill Sets

Before the demo, and particularly in software demos, find out the potential audience’s overall comfort level with the product being presented. This insight helps determine the level at which to demo the product

  • If the audience is a mix of business and highly technical people, it may be worth running two demos, one that is a high-level view and another that is more granular and technical
  • If this is a software demo and the first time the buyer is looking to invest in this type of product, your demo may need to address a few basic underlying concepts about the technology
  • If this is a software demo and your audience already uses the software being demonstrated, consider drilling down into functionality and features
  • If the buyer has previously used a competitor’s product, highlight your product’s key differentiators

 
Understand Your Buyer’s Goals

Do your homework by asking the buyer about the goals and objectives of the product evaluation, as this provides a framework for the demo. For example, is the planned purchase intended to resolve one or more of the buyer’s current pain points? Or is the intended purchase part of a larger acquisition?

It’s also worthwhile to find out whether there’s any bias among the likely demo audience. Uncover this by chatting with the buyer stakeholders and looking into your CRM records at any prior engagements. For example, if the buyer previously looked at your product and didn’t choose it because of the price, then one focus for the demo could be the value proposition for the product and providing estimates on time to realize ROI.


Resources: Assemble the Best Assets

We frequently hear buyers discuss the importance of seeing the best possible mix of resources in product demos. These resources include the demo content as well as the human element—the demo team that is presenting and responding to questions.


Provide Optimal Content

You can determine the optimal content once you understand what the buyers want to see and who the attendees are. For example, if the buyer doesn’t want a generic demonstration, make sure you deliver what’s being requested. Ask ahead of time if the buyer is interested in your team positioning your product in terms of your entire portfolio, within your partner ecosystem or within the competitive landscape.

Bring Your ‘A’ Game and Your ‘A’ Team

Typically, the product demo is your first chance to introduce the buyer to both your product and your organization. The buyer may already be impressed by your team’s response to the RFP or RFI, and they may appreciate the content you’ve already shared (i.e., white papers, third-party analyst reports). But the demo is where the rubber needs to meet the road—it may determine whether your product continues to the next round of evaluation.
Carefully consider the makeup of the team you’ll have at the demo

  • Will you only draw upon the sales team, or will you bring in more technical people, such as sales engineers?
  • Should you have a mix of junior- and senior-level staff?
  • Who’s going to lead the demo and who will field questions from the audience? 

At the same time, some buyers have told us that they can be overwhelmed when a vendor brings a large team to a demo, and they’re left wondering about the purpose of everyone who came.

Schedule time before the demo to bring your team together and ensure everyone is on the same page about this specific sales opportunity. Provide all team members with the information you have gathered about the buyer, including specific needs, the buyer’s knowledge of the market and any prior experience with you or your competitor’s products.

Also, ensure the entire team is aware of the demo attendees and their respective roles in the evaluation. We’ve heard from buyers several times that teams mistakenly pitch their demos at a known quantity—the buyer stakeholder they already know well. This might mean your team is overlooking the decision makers and budget holders who may be in attendance.

Present a United Front

If you plan to present with a partner, such as a systems integrator or design agency, connect your teams ahead of time. Discuss how you want to present the demo so that the buyer experiences a strong partnership. Seeing a strong collaboration gives the buyer confidence about how your company and your partner will likely work together post-sale. Again, you and your partner should pool your knowledge about the buyer so you can address their specific needs. 

During the demo, buyers will pick up any perceived tension or disharmony either on your team or between your and your partner’s teams. A buyer’s takeaway from that experience is that it may be hard to work with a vendor that shows internal or external strife—especially at such an early stage.


Timing: Work to the Buyer’s Schedule, Not Yours

We often hear customers express frustrations around the timing of product demos, the duration of those demos and the lack of time for asking key questions. When you first engage with the buyer, ask their preference for having the team come onsite to present or conducting the demo online. If the answer is online, ensure that the technology you’ll use is one the buyer is already familiar with or has time to learn. This way, you don’t waste time resolving technical difficulties as the demo is about to get underway.

Budget Sufficient Time

Ideally, you’re delivering a live, onsite demo of your product. When you’re scheduling the demo, do so at a time that ensures all or as many stakeholders and end users as possible can participate. Consider recording the demo for anyone who is unable to attend.

Work with the buyer to develop a mutually agreed-upon agenda that reflects roughly how much time should be spent on different sections. This agenda can vary significantly depending on the buyer audience’s interest and skill set. For example, some buyer audiences might want you to devote a lot of time on helping them understand the value proposition and specific benefits of your product so that they, in turn, can communicate that information internally. Other audiences may require a highly technical demo focused on one or more specific pieces of functionality.

 

Spend Your Time Effectively

Delivering a demo can be highly stressful, so make sure the logistics work in your and your team’s favor:

  • If you’re traveling a long distance to the buyer’s site, avoid having your team fly in the morning of the demo
  • Don’t schedule back-to-back demos with different buyers on the same day
  • Arrange with the buyer for your team to set up early so the demo starts on time
  • Check in with your stakeholder contact in case there are any last-minute changes to the demo audience or any late-breaking issues or concerns that may surface during the presentation
  • Delay formal introductions until after the demo if the room is packed with buyer stakeholders and decision makers
  • Start the demo strong and limit introductory remarks about your company
  • Encourage your team to pay attention to the buyer’s reactions regarding the pace and focus of the demo
  • Make the buyer audience feel comfortable about interrupting at any point to ask questions, so that the demo is more like a conversation rather than a presentation to a passive audience
  • Agree in advance with your stakeholder that they—rather than your team—take the role of timekeeper so that the buyer can step in if it seems like the demo is being derailed by questions from the audience

 

Take Time to Listen

Prepare your team for the likely eventuality that all questions raised during the demo may not be immediately answered. For difficult questions, note the query and promise to respond to the audience member who asked. It’s important that, post-demo, you provide that answer in a timely fashion.

If you’re unsure about how to answer a question, provide a nuanced answer rather than a flat “yes” or “no.” Buyers will note and remember if they’ve heard in the demo that your product includes or lacks a specific piece of functionality—and they will be annoyed later if they find out that what they were told is inaccurate.

The goal of every demo is for the buyer audience to walk away with a good sense of what your product does and how it can benefit the business. Don’t rush off to another opportunity as soon as the demo ends, as some members of the buyer audience may want more time to talk through what they’ve seen. It also may be useful to have a quick debrief with your buyer stakeholder contact either later in the day or the following day to get feedback on what was shown and respond to any post-demo questions or issues.

Remember: The demo may be the only time you or your team interacts with some of the decision makers or end users involved in the evaluation. We often hear from buyers that, after scoring vendors on their demos, the next step in the evaluation is finalizing their vendor shortlist. Make sure your demo really counts.

Context: Be Relevant

There’s no such thing as a “standard” buyer, so why would any buyer be interested in you presenting them with a standard, cookie-cutter product demo? Think about each buyer as a new job opportunity and your product demo as your organization’s résumé. While you may have a standard, baseline résumé, chances are that you tailor it for each job you apply for. In some cases, the changes are small. In other instances, you may completely overhaul your résumé to make you a compelling candidate and the best fit for a specific role or company.

 

Craft a Highly Relevant Demo

When putting the demo together, identify up front any areas of misalignment between the buyer’s needs and what your product delivers. Determine in advance how your organization can resolve such issues (e.g., through an existing or future partnership with a third-party vendor, via upcoming functionality on your product roadmap, by providing a customized solution). Then, when delivering the demo, you can be honest about those gaps and discuss potential resolutions.

In the feedback they’ve shared, buyers often praise teams that have taken the time to personalize the demo to the buyer’s line of business and industry. This attention to detail indicates that you see the buyer as an individual entity whose needs and pain points are being addressed.

Personalization can take many forms, including providing examples during the demo that relate specifically to the buyer and/or its industry. It also can be a case of referencing your company’s existing customers whose stories represent the best match with the buyer’s own organization. Some buyers might like to see the entire story of how they implement, integrate, benefit and grow their use of your product.

 

Give Buyers Confidence

The best product demos are those that give the audience confidence that your company understands the buyer, its industry, its needs, its use cases and its future plans. Such demos also help establish that your team—and your company—has a deep knowledge of your own products, the current needs of the market you serve, and a strong sense of where the market is heading.

Buyers have shared examples of late entrants to an evaluation winning the deal over the former front-runner primarily because of a stellar product demo. Buyers also have mentioned that it was during the demo that the buyer audience realized additional benefits and/or use cases for a product they had not previously considered. 

By contextualizing a demo to the needs of an individual buyer, you can confidently showcase your product and display your team’s passion for both your product and for winning the buyer’s business.

When you approach a product demo, do it with confidence and by putting yourself in your buyer’s shoes. Ask yourself, “What does my audience most want and need to see from a functionality standpoint? What is likely to impress them versus what may potentially bore them?”

Remember: Even though a buyer may decide not to buy your product today, a great demo experience sows the seeds for future sales. This is especially true when you’ve used part of the demo to provide a compelling overview of your entire product portfolio and explain how various elements can fulfill your buyer’s future needs.

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Ryan Sorley

Ryan Sorley

Ryan Sorley is founder and CEO of DoubleCheck Research. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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