On Giving and Getting Great Demo

Over the past few days we've been looking into buying a new toolset for monitoring and tracking our PR efforts. It's been enlightening in a number of ways, but the biggest thing it's provided me with is an opportunity to watch how other companies sell.

I spent the better part of three years prior to this on the other side of the table (er, screenshare) demo'ing software and attempting to get potential customers to quickly understand the value inherent in our offering. It can be a tricky proposition - lots of unknowns, little face-to-face contact, high probability of distraction, near-certain failure of screen sharing tools.

But maybe the biggest challenge is conveying - in 60 minutes or less - the value inherent in a software product that took months to build. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of the familiar, glossing over features that seem obvious to you but are brand new to your customer; and still easier to go the other way - gushing over the new feature you just shipped, without realizing that it's a shiny "nice-to-have" for the majority of your customers, but not a pivot point for them to purchase.

It's easy to say, but hard to remember: the only goal of the demo is to eliminate product objections and move the prospect closer to close. It's decidedly not to show off how smart you are, how much product you've built, or how often you ship. These are the things that go into the product - they should be felt and seen but heard in your demo.

All that said - I've been impressed with the quality and consistency of demo's we've seen so far. Here are a few things I thought contributed to the highest quality demos:

  • Use my data. The demos that included my own company's information into the demo were by far the most relevant - they allowed me to see myself using the software and immediately grasp the use case. If your product is such that you can find (or build) a way to support this, I highly encourage you to do so. It takes more time to build each demo, but I'm willing to bet the success rate will make up the difference in volume.
  • Focus on use cases. It's still pretty common (and easy) to give a demo where you talk about features first and then back into use cases: "This is our X feature. It can do Z,Y,B. This can be really helpful when trying to accomplish A,B,C." That's a lot of combinations of things the feature might do, and it's not easy for me to wrap my head around which one makes sense for me. Instead, try something like: "Let's imagine you have to accomplish task A. To do that, you would use feature X in this manner. If you want, you can also use feature X for task B and C." It's a subtle but important difference. Customers don't tend to think in features (even those of us who are product people).
  • Ask questions that demonstrate expertise. These are questions that generally start with "Are you guys currently doing X?" where X is a relatively advanced/high vale activity that your product makes easier. Customers will give you a half-hearted "yes" as they take a note that they should start doing this. This helps in two key ways: it establishes your authority on the topic at hand, and makes customers think that using your product will make either be better or appear better at their job. And there's no more instinctive motivator to buy than that.
  • Handle the swings. Shit's going to break in a demo. That's just the way it goes. The best presenters realize quickly when something is broken and move on, instead of trying to triage the problem on the spot. Even if you manage to fix it there and then - the impression left is that the product is buggy and hard to use. You're better off if you quickly acknowledge the issue and move on to the next feature/use-case. These can also be good times to flip back to a reliable/home screen and check for understanding with the customer. Never hurts to have a second tab open and loaded before the demo to make this flip seamless :).

Giving good demos is hard, but incredibly valuable for those companies who can get it right. I've really enjoyed being on the other side of a few good ones recently and I'm looking forward to seeing more.