Three Sales Demo Disasters and How to Avoid Them

27 May 21

Don't make these three big Demo Blunders. Prepare for your demo and use a guide to ensure success and increase your win rate.

At SBI, our consultants sit through hundreds of Demos per year as part of our Go-to-Market consulting where we view existing clients and their competitors. The disparity between great and bad demos is astounding. The demo interaction within the overall sales process is instrumental in differentiating your product and moving the buyer through early stages of the buying process.

Reps that conduct a formal demo without discovery win 73% less often in a competitive opportunity (non-RFP). Companies that tie back the demo to specific pain points and articulate the value of the solution, are 35% more likely be selected as the preferred vendor during selection.

The Demo is when your customer gets to see how the product fits their needs. Here are the top three demo disasters we observe at SBI, and how to avoid them.  Names and details have been altered to protect the guilty.

1. Everything Under the Hood Demo 

Sales Rep Bill has a cursory phone call with a client who requests, “We’d like to see the demo.”  After a few feature questions, Bill goes out to the client to show them the product.  The Sales Engineer begins to march through the demo.  The audience is engaged for the first 15 minutes and the overview.  However, as demo hits 30 minutes, the attendees start saying, “We won’t need that,”, and “Does that cost extra?”  A few of the features are captivating, but they are brief and not explained thoroughly.  The CEO eventually checks his watch and leaves 60 minutes in.  Soon, the room is silent.  As the demo goes into the 2nd hour, the IT Lead Project Manager cuts Bill off.  “We’ve got another appointment in 10 minutes, can we wrap this up?”

What Happened:

In an effort to appease the customer, Bill rushed out to conduct a demo without a proper discovery.  Without understanding the customer’s needs and pains, he threw the kitchen sink at the customer:  Irrelevant features and overly detailed processes.  In order to make the demo most effective, the Sales Rep and Sales Engineer should establish the customer’s goals and how the solution will help achieve them. 

Key Message:

Trying to hit every aspect in a product demo bores the customer with features they don’t need, and is too shallow on the solutions they want to see.

(Avoid the common blunders we see in demos and by downloading our Pre and Post Demo Checklist.)

2. Sales Engineer Express Train Demo

Malcolm is an astute Sales Engineer who is handed a set of needs and pains the customer would like to address in the demo.  The next week, he comes with a customized presentation, and begins.  At first everyone is captivated, “this solution will be great and save me some time”, they exclaim.  Malcolm doesn't even pause.  He goes through the next set of features, “What has been the typical improvement in a business when they add this feature?” The customer asks.  “We’ll answer those questions following the demo.” Malcolm replies.  Malcolm speaks for the next 90 minutes of demo, with brief interruptions from the sale rep.

What Happened:

All aboard the Malcolm Express!  At SBI, we routinely run into situations where the Demo consists of the Sales Engineer marching through features, without tying back the value this will bring to the customer.  This is not the fault of the SE, it’s what they are trained to do.  It is the Sales Rep’s responsibility to tie the product back to the customer needs and value of the solution, address audience questions, and pull the reins in on the SE.  Too many times we see a highly technical SE lose the audience in the minutia of the product.  Remember: The Sales Rep drives the demo, the SE supports him. 

Key Message:

Make sure this time is completely devoted to addressing and resolving the customer’s needs, not letting the SE systematically show requested features.

3. The Small Player Q&A Session Demo 

Three months ago, I attended a big demo to try and close a strategic account.  It would have made the Rep’s quota for the entire year.  The CEO, previously inaccessible, set aside 90 minutes on his calendar to attend.  Also attending were several light users, including an HR rep named Mary, to see what the new product would look like.  The Rep and SE began their demo, and immediately Mary asked a specific question about the functionality within her position.  The SE responded. Her hand went up again. The SE responded.  The room erupted in a series of questions, which the Rep and SE diligently answered.  When I looked up at the clock, there were 15 minutes left for the CEO, and they hadn’t addressed 2/4 items on the agenda.

What Happened:

The Sales Rep and SE lost sight of who ultimately made the decision and veered off course.  Instead of sticking to the agenda and the Economic Buyer’s criteria, they tried to make everyone happy by answering questions about secondary features.  The Sales Rep should have stopped on the second question, and stated, “That’s a great question Mary.  Unfortunately, we have a limited amount of time today to address the items in the agenda.  Let’s see if we can talk about it later, and if we don’t I’ll make sure to follow up with you.”  Instead, they missed a key opportunity to win over the CEO.  Other vendors honed in on the CEO’s priorities, and he ultimately selected a different vendor.

Key Message:

Make sure your message speaks to the most important person in the room, and don't let your demo turn into an informal Q&A.

Does this remind you of one of your demos?  Before you conduct another one, make sure to use the Pre-Demo Guide to assess the strength of your demo.  It also includes follow-up questions to test yourself Post-Demo. 


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