Read how to communicate the benefits and/or functionality of a software product to your target audience in a measurable, scalable, repeatable way.
Two little words–product demo–can take on huge proportions in a company that sells software. How do you communicate the benefits and/or functionality of a software product to your target audience in a measurable, scalable, repeatable way? Too often, having a sufficient supply of “demo aces” that can demonstrate your offering is the limiting factor that inhibits a product from reaching its full market potential. Turnover, shorter product cycles, individual style/capability, and accessibility are just some of the factors that can lead to a shortfall in selling capacity to educate prospects and customers to the benefits of an offering.
Not long ago, face-to-face was the only way to demo a product. Now, the World Wide Web enables remote demos that challenge traditional thinking about the role demos play in the sales process. There are several alternatives to consider. The best solution depends on your needs. What are the various approaches/solutions, and when should you consider using one versus another?
Decide what you want to accomplish
Before you can determine the best solution for your demo needs, you must first give some thought to what you want to accomplish with product demos. This important step helps direct your decisions and actions toward arriving at a measurable outcome. A good place to start is defining what action you want participants to take after the demo. Some examples are:
- Download and try the product
- Purchase on-line or via another sales channel
- Telephone a sales representative to further assess their needs
- Demo another product or service that may fit their needs
- Gather more information from your website
You may want to offer several alternatives, and prioritize them according to your most-to-least desired outcome. Demos can also serve to filter and rate a prospect, which in turn helps sustain an efficient sales process. As with any marketing activity, determine how you will measure and report results. Be sure to identify all individuals who have a stake in product demos, and include them in the decision process as appropriate to their role.
Assess your current demo portfolio
Consider your sales process as it is in its present state, and what role (if any) demos play in the process. How prominent a role product demos play in the sales process tends to be greater where product complexity, sales cycle duration, and transaction size is higher. If you have not already done so, assess how effective your current demo is in achieving your goal. Vendor product demos, which occur earlier in the sales process, are different than product evaluations which typically occur further along in the sale cycle. Be sure to maintain a clear distinction between the two.
Demo medium evaluation criteria
I use the following set of attributes to help quantify the relative strengths of each demo approach:
- Reach: Capacity to reach one or more attendees
- Scalability: The cost and amount of effort required to increase the reach
- Measurability: Ability to gather feedback from attendees; quality and timeliness of data
- Scheduling: Ability to coordinate and schedule with prospective attendees
- Cost: Development and lifetime cost
- Flexibility: Effort and cost required to create and modify content
- Effectiveness: How well it achieved the goal
Tried and true: live, in-person
There’s a popular school of thought that says in-person demos are the standard to which all other demo methods should be compared. While in-person demos are a useful basis for comparison, don’t infer that live demos are always the best, or even a viable option for your demo needs.
On the plus side, in-person demos provide an opportunity to establish a personal relationship with prospects early in the sales process. Developing a good rapport at the outset opens minds and promotes better listening; it’s a truism that most people are more likely to buy from people they like and trust. Also on the plus side, in-person demos enable real-time two-way communications between presenter and audience. This mechanism enables both parties to tailor the demo on-the-fly to achieve a higher degree of relevance. Live demos capitalize on the characteristic strengths of a presenter, able to show a product in its best light applying passion and enthusiasm. However, if the demo ace is having a bad demo day (which happens), he could cost your company a sale.
In the minus column, in-person demos have a limited reach–you can only demo to so many people at a time. Scalability is poor; you have to add more demo experts to extend your reach. As a marketer, I have both been the demo ace and I have sought the help of demo aces. It can be difficult, even impossible to secure firm commitments from demo aces that are in high demand. The cost to deploy a demo ace can add up quickly, too. Demo aces are usually responsible for more than demos, so the time spent traveling, preparing for and delivering demos may come at the cost of other activities such as product management. It’s difficult to measure the effectiveness of in-person demos. Post-presentation surveys can serve as a structured feedback mechanism; however personalities, politics and yes ‘egos’ can distort results.
Live via web/web conferencing
The nearest to in-person demos are live demos delivered over the web. In this form, the audience watches the demo on a computer while listening to the presenter via telephone or computer. There are several approaches and a wide array of offerings that include application service providers such as WebEx, do-it-yourself hosting, even free tools that come with Microsoft Windows. A full analysis of the offerings is beyond the scope of this article, therefore the discussion that follows applies conceptually to live, web-based demos.
First, dispel any notion that live web demos are equivalent to in-person demos. Some vendors and users would probably disagree, but in my opinion, live web-based demos are simply not as effective a medium as being there for establishing a personal relationship with prospects. The big advantage live web-based demos have over in-person demos is that they overcome the barriers of time and distance thus enabling broad reach–hundreds, even thousands of attendees can be reached concurrently at a lower cost than traveling to deliver an in-person demo. Keep in mind that the quality of the demo experience for the viewer tends to diminish as audience size grows.
You’ll have to experiment to find the optimal target audience size. Advertising that an expert will be available, live, at a predetermined day and time to conduct a demo may have the beneficial effect of increasing attendance and/or the quality of attendees. Live web-based demos afford measurement that is equivalent or superior to in-person demos. The web offers an effective means to solicit, gather, and analyze attendee feedback in a timely fashion. Schedule automation helps you manage the complexities of driving attendance and coordinating demo resources.
Like live in-person demos, live web demos rely on accessibility and availability of demo experts. Because travel is not required, though, the problem is not as severe as with face-to-face demos. Still, I have experienced first-hand the challenge of scheduling demo experts. Last-minute presenter no-shows can leave attendees (understandably) less enthusiastic about your product.
Record/replay via the web
Demos can be recorded, edited, and played back via the web. Here too, there are several approaches and offerings including building and hosting your own demo using tools such as Camtasia? and Macromedia? Flash?, and ASP solutions such as WebEx Presentation Studio among others.
The big advantages web-based record/playback has over in-person and live web-based demos are its broad reach and superior scalability. Once captured in digital form, the constraint imposed by live demos that require access to demo experts is removed, the limiting factor to scaling a demo shifts from demo ace availability to technology infrastructure capacity such as bandwidth or server configuration. Another big advantage to record/playback is on-demand capability; viewers can request demo sessions at their convenience, thus improving your ability to reach an audience. Record/playback also enables you to create demos that portray precisely what you want, the way you want, every time. Keep in mind that production value counts; be sure to align production quality with your target audience expectations.
Record/playback demos require time, effort and expense to create, edit, and maintain. High-production quality and rich media sophistication cost more and takes longer to develop. The risk that viewers will encounter technical problems during a demo can skyrocket with the use of audio, screen capture, and streaming video. My own experience investigating how best to overcome the various technical barriers to delivering an effective, measurable record/playback demo led me to an ASP offering called Demos-on-Demand, from Point Marketing. I supplied the demo ace, they supplied the studio along with expertise and equipment to capture and recreate his demo via web with film footage of the expert paired with screen capture. They also provided the back-end infrastructure to reliably host the demo, which included measurement and reporting of each demo recipient’s experience. Because their approach relies on capturing extemporaneous delivery with minimal scripting and editing, I was spared the effort of attempting to synthesize that which came naturally to the demo ace–a great demo.
|Live web demo
|Live web demo
|Complex sales process
(long duration, high ticket price), many individuals involved, relationship selling)
|Either could work||Consideration for early in the sales cycle for pre-qualify||Consideration for early in the sales cycle for pre-qualify|
|High transaction volume sales
(online purchasing typical)
|Demo experts are difficult or impossible to secure and/or schedule||Best bet|
|% of target audience does not have ready access to high bandwidth||Best bet||Either could work|
|Large number of product offerings||Consider||Best bet|
|Demo content changes frequently||Either could work||Good bet|
|Under time pressure to solve demo problem quickly||Good Bet||Good bet|
|Budgets are tight||Good bet|
|Consistent, repeatable measure is a high priority||Best bet|
|Non-technical telemarketing process in place||Best bet|
There are many options when it comes to remote demos. The one that is right for you depends on your goal. In-person demos will likely continue to play a role in your demo portfolio for some time, however if you haven’t yet considered remote web-based demos, you should. Invest the time up front to define goals, map your goals to the alternatives, and keep an eye on the demo technology landscape for new developments.