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Software Demos that Actually Sell

A lot of the most seasoned software salespeople I know do some pretty terrible demos. Tell them that, and they will be taken aback. After all, they had done hundreds of demos and closed dozens of orders. They are pros, right?

But often, it’s the salespeople with extensive experience who do the worst demos. Once their initial enthusiasm has waned, they truly start believing that they know demos ‘by heart’, as if demos are like the nursery rhymes we learnt in kindergarten. When they have a demo scheduled, they just pick up their laptop in time to reach the customer’s office, and kick their bikes, or turn the keys of their cars, as the case may be.

Worst Case Scenarios: This lack of preparation gives rise to demo ‘worst-case scenarios’. Let’s look at all the ways in which demos go wrong:

  1. Salesperson has no idea who will be attending and what each person is looking for: If the salesperson has not asked specific questions earlier, he just walks into a roomful of people, of which he has interacted with one or two previously. Then he guesses what would make his software attractive to them, and starts showing it. This is simply shooting in the dark.Usually, many stakeholders show up for a demo. Each one has a specific perspective as to what the software being considered for purchase can do for the organization, and for his tasks.The actual decision to buy often needs the approval of senior management, and there may be senior management representatives attending the demo. If the salesperson is unaware and unprepared for this, he often starts by showing the software at a very tactical level, and going into all the details that appeal to operational level people. Senior management will walk out after the 30 minutes they had allocated for this activity, usually saying something like “You guys keep looking at this and evaluate it”. In their minds, the impression they are carrying is “It looks pretty complex, and I don’t think it’s going to do that much for us”.
  2. Salesperson self-consciously draws attention to gaps and bugs: This is one trap which few demos seem to escape. The presenter is acutely aware of any gaps, or great new features that are on the road-map, or bugs in the system. She believes that the audience is on the lookout for these, although in reality, nothing could be further from their mind.As a result, she makes remarks like “Our system will be doing that… the feature is under development…” or “This graph doesn’t seem to be working now” or “Oh, I think this is an error, I don’t know why this is happening”.These remarks draw attention to defects that would have escaped the audience completely.The result is that the audience doesn’t really get an idea of the 95 things that the software can do wonderfully, but of the 5 things it can’t do yet.
  3. Missing the woods for the trees: The presenter does not present the benefits at all, but tries to show all the detailed features. Often, the presenter is extremely familiar with the software, and simply rushes through a large number of screens. This produces, what I read in one article had been termed as, ‘demo vertigo’ – leaving the audience dizzy and confused. Worse, they are sometimes not even aware of the really important gains they can get from using the system.
  4. Precious demo time is spent on showing inputs and not outputs: This one sounds basic, but a lot of salespeople still make this mistake. They start to show how their software can be configured, how users can be added, how access rights can be given, and how data can be entered into it. I have seen many demos that never get beyond this point.

That’s because the presenter and audience are both exhausted, and actually bored, because it’s the most mundane aspects of the system that have been shown.

The presenter then simply glosses over the really powerful benefits and features. Once the demo is over, he waits for the customer to revert to him, and wonders why the order is not forthcoming.

Better demos, which avoid these ‘worst case’ scenarios, and actually make the sale more probable, are possible to create. If the salesperson can take a fresh look at the opportunity presented by the demo, no matter how many demos he has done before, he can deliver a power-packed one.

Here are the steps that will certainly go a long way in improving the effectiveness of software demos:

  1. Ask beforehand who will be attending, and what each person is looking for: At the time of the demo, make it a point to know each one individually, taking down their names and designations.
  2. Address strategic concerns first: If you know that the CFO is attending, don’t forget to actually show how the company is going to cut costs or increase revenues by using your product. Showing the operator how to enter data should be shown much later, possibly after the CFO has already left the demo.
    You can create a ‘bigger picture’ – of all the ways they would benefit from your product. You can start with this, get their buy in, and then show how it is possible.
  3. Focus on the cool stuff: Remember that the first time viewer has no idea where the bugs are. So go ahead and show all the cool stuff that’s in your software. If you do encounter a bug, which you will, go ahead without making a big deal about it. Bugs happen in every software demo, what the audience will be looking at is whether they shake you up.
  4. Keep the demo ‘viewer friendly’: Explain what a particular feature is about, how it works, and show the relevant screens. Remember to give the audience enough time to appreciate each point. No demo can show everything a software is capable of, and attempting to do this creates horribly muddled presentations.
    Whatever you do decide to present, do it lucidly. Then mention the other features, your audience will get the picture.
  5. Communicate your passion in the product: This is our closing point, but it’s really the most important ingredient of an impressive demo. Don’t convey boredom, resignation, or “I have demo-ed this so many times, I can do it backwards”.
    Convey your passion for the product, for your company, for your job. Be bright, alert, good humored and confident while delivering the demo. This will go a long way in building confidence of everything you are selling.

Passion and planning – with these two vital ingredients, your demos will be having you notching up orders in no time.

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