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Designing a Better Demo Experience to Shorten the Sales Cycle

by Doug Davidoff | Oct 31, 2017 11:30:00 AM

DougTwitter.pngI recently was a part of a debate on Twitter with Brian Moseley about the role of salespeople, especially in SaaS. As you can see, Brian was saying the sales rep is dying.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve heard about the “death of the salesmen” over the past twenty years, and I’ve come to learn that one should never underestimate the resilience and the relevance of salespeople.

Brian then made an interesting point. He tweeted in response to me, “In SaaS at least, prospects don’t want a “demo” anymore, they want a “free version” with all the features.”

That got me thinking, as I’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of experiencing a multitude of demo’s over the last two months as we’ve been spending more time helping our clients navigate the technology they need to support their sales and marketing objectives.

Shortly before I was going to agree with Brian, I realized a flaw in the thinking. Most (like 90%+) demos are bad, disjointed, boring and self-serving. While I would agree that no one wants a bad demo, I disagree that no one wants a demo.

A quick note for those readers not involved in SaaS or not involved in giving demos- you can substitute the word “presentation” for the word “demo” and this post will still play to you.

Demos are still an important, potentially valuable touchpoint and the time has come to revitalize the demo. Here are some keys to making that happen:

Demoing Without Diagnosing is Peddling

The most common, frustrating and valueless experience comes when a demo or presentation is delivered with no diagnosis, needs assessment or tailoring of the presentation to the needs, knowledge and context of the prospect. I regularly see two flavors of this approach:

  • The first occurs after the sales rep does a little small talk and then launches into their demo.
  • The second starts off better, with the rep actually asking some questions to gain an understanding of the prospect’s situation. Unfortunately, that conversation is basically useless, as the rep ends up demoing with no thought about what was shared. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve had to remind a rep that the feature set they’re showing me isn’t on point for my needs.

What’s unfortunate about this problem is that it’s not really the sales reps’ fault. The number of sales processes that put demos at the front is frighteningly high and getting higher. The reason for this is because of the miscalculation of two data points:

  • Prospects want to know how the product works and what the key features are.
  • Demos are a crucial step on the path to the sale.

These data points are dangerous because they’re accurate. Prospects want to know how a product (or service) works and they want to know earlier and earlier in their journey. And, of course, demos are often a necessary part of the journey.

That doesn’t mean demos should be shoved to the front of the sales process, with the mistaken belief that earlier is better. [tweet this]

Our analysis of hundreds of SaaS sales processes (and the results from those processes) demonstrates that if a live demo is necessary, (and oftentimes it’s not) it should occur in the middle or towards the end of the sales process.  

Designing a Better Demo Experience

Begin the process by acknowledging that all demos are not created equal and that your demos should be designed to address specific objectives, for both the prospect and seller. In general, we’ve identified three purposes that demos address:

  • Gain an understanding of what the product is, how it works and what the potential impact would be. This is probably the most common demo and the one most poorly executed.
  • Connect the dots of how the product addresses key needs and/or objectives. This is highly customized and is done after a full understanding of the needs and objectives have been determined.
  • The deep dive to address key, technical elements of the product and how they fit with the prospect’s current tech stack and IT. This demo generally involves the technical and/or IT team.

Let’s address the first demo. Having had the opportunity to experience more than 20 demos over the last couple of months, I’ve made an important observation. The call was completely unnecessary. Frankly, most initial demos create negative value. There are two tactics you can take to improve the prospect experience, enhance conversion and save a tremendous amount of time.

  • Offer a full-featured, free trial (with enough time for the prospect to experiment). While this is a tactic gaining a lot of momentum and advocates, I’ll also warn that it’s often not enough. Many buyers don’t want to “hack” their way through figuring out how to use the product or, more importantly, figuring out the best purposes to use the product.
  • For this reason, I also recommend that you create a series of videos that recreate the demo experience. Actually, scratch that, don’t recreate the experience, improve it. Video is extraordinarily powerful. It allows your prospect to engage and learn on their time, in their way, without the perceived threat of a sales rep stalking them.  

We’ve taken this approach with significant components of our sales process, where we’re educating a prospect on the same things we educate others on (and we’re a service, which is much harder to do). We’ve seen tremendous results in the four months since we started doing this. It’s saving us about 15 hours/sales rep/month, while enabling us to weed out prospects that don’t fit earlier in the process and enhancing our conversion throughout the sales cycle (I’ll be sharing how we do this in an upcoming online event hosted by Vidyard).

If you insist on doing live demos early in sales conversations, be sure you have a strong process in place to tailor the demo to the prospect and teach something valuable. Don’t wait until the demo to begin tailoring the approach. Create tools that engage your prospect and provide insights that enable you to customize your approach before your sales rep says “hello” in the first meeting (you can see an example of some of those tools here).

One last point on using videos for early demos. Do not gate the demo. Asking for my contact information before I watch your demo destroys trust. The moment you gate your demo video, I’m back to worrying about being chased down by a salesperson. The entire reason I want to watch the demo on my terms is to determine how much time and energy I want to put into this effort. It’s okay to add a form at the end of the video, but don’t require one to watch it. (On a side note, if you’ve done a good job with your marketing and website, you’ll know who most of the people are that watch your videos without having to ask.)

The Product Being Demo’d is Yoda, Not Luke Skywalker

The next two problems I see with the majority of demos are:

  • They’re disjointed and boring.
  • They treat the product like it’s the star of the show or the hero.

Remember that your demo (especially an early demo) is a story and should be structured as one. A strong demo lays out the vision, identifies the obstacles (or the “why” for the product) and clearly lays out how the product enables the prospect to overcome their obstacles to achieve their objectives. A good demo has a clear purpose, is tight and it tells a story.

The next point - and it’s REALLY important - is to note whose story you’re telling. Always remember and never forget, the product being demoed is not the hero - YOUR PROSPECT IS THE HERO. You need to be telling your prospect’s story. Your product is the muse or the enabler. In a demo, the sales rep plays the role of Yoda to your prospect’s Luke Skywalker. (By the way, this point is equally applicable for on-demand webinars.)

Take the time to build a powerful story and ensure your demos tell that story. Put your prospect at the center of the entire process and you’ll quickly see that your sales team is more valued, prospects drop their guard and start collaborating with you, and the disruption that so often describes sales disappears. What’s more...you’ll see accelerating growth and profits.

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