Written by: Mark Cox, Managing Partner, In The Funnel Sales Consulting

So you’ve worked your tail off to get a foot in the door with the perfect prospect for your solution, and now it’s time to show them your wares. It’s demo time, baby.

Many of our clients are in the software or software-as-a-service space, and being able to perform a killer demo is crucial. Not only is it necessary to move a deal through to your sales pipeline, a solid demo it goes a long way in instilling confidence in your product and company.

In my experience however, the majority tech companies are actually pretty bad at doing demos, and I think that to a large extent this is related to the fact that nobody is ever really taught how to do a proper sales demo. Add to this the fact that it often involves presenting to a scary group of people you are trying to impress and things can go off the rails quickly. I’ve seen my fair share of demo train wrecks, and this is my list of 8 software demo mistakes that scream ‘rookie’.

1. Going in blind

Being unprepared for any sales call is unacceptable, but an unprepared salesperson can get lucky the odd time and get by on wits alone. Failing to prepare for a demo, however can very often result in a dead deal.

The discovery process is an absolutely critical aspect not only of delivering a successful demo, but it plays a huge role in the success of the deal itself. I learned early on in my sales career that if you need to use the word “if” during your demo, you simply don’t know enough about the prospect or what business outcomes they are trying to accomplish. For example:

“IF you have X system and need to integrate with our product”

“IF your team sends invoices by email”

“IF you plan to provide access to managers”

You need to know the answers to these “ifs” BEFORE you get on the demo, otherwise you run the risk of wasting your prospects’ time showing them things they won’t use and don’t care about.

No matter how detailed your discovery is, however, there will still be the odd point you will need to clarify during the demo, but use this as an opportunity to engage with the audience. Asking something like, “So George, I’m about to get into the [X] area…can I ask how your team handles [X] today?”. Sometimes I will even throw a couple of these engaging questions in if the audience has been a little quiet, already knowing the probable answer. This can also help you gauge the temperature of the audience (especially over a remote web demo).

2. Junk data

I cringe when I attend a software demo only to see “test, xxxx, demo” or some other fake data peppered throughout the software. Not only does this make you look lazy and sloppy, it distracts the prospect from the ability to envision how your technology is used by real people in real businesses like theirs. Businesses who have actual clients with actual names and actual addresses.

Get creative! Make up realistic names and show that you know their business by having realistic data in your demo system. I like to advise clients to go the extra mile and tailor some of their demo records specifically to the prospect. For example, if they are a company that operates only in the state of Texas, show them Texas data. It’s remarkable how unimaginative some people can be, so if you can reduce the level of friction between showing them your solution and them being able to envision how it would work in their business, it can go a long way.

One more thing — do your prospect and yourself a favor and please don’t try to enter a bunch of data during the demo. A good rule of thumb to use is that if there is data entry that it so involved that you need to stop talking, set it up before the demo. Plus, for some reason people’s typing skills seem to go out the window when others are watching!

3. Not showing the product

I recently attended a ‘demo’ that was scheduled for 45 minutes, and 35 minutes in the rep was still going through his slides. I had to stop him and ask if his demo would actually include looking at the software!

It’s absolutely fine to have a few visuals or slides to introduce your product, and I even recommend keeping a couple on hand to pop up in order to explain some more complex workflows or other concepts that might warrant it, but if you actually have a good product — show it!

4. It’s all about you

This one is purposely #4 because it is normally seen in the same natural habitat as never-ending slide guy from #3 — the salesperson who goes on and on about their company until it makes you want to get up and leave the room. “ABC Company was founded in 1999 in Fargo, North Dakota”…”We are listed on the NASDAQ under symbol ABC”…”Our CEO was named to Fargo Businesses Quarterly top 50 over 50 in 2004”…

They. Don’t. Care.

But, you might argue — we need to show them we are a legitimate company and worthy of their business. There is a much better way to do this than talking ad nauseam about you and your company and wasting your prospects’ time. The key here is to establish expertise and legitimacy through the questions you ask and by showing you understand their business in the context of what you are demonstrating to them. Yes, obviously spend a minute telling them about your company, but if the really want to dig in they will ask questions. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that they want (or need) the whole company history. It’s about them.

5. Showing too much of the product

The most powerful demos I’ve seen are the ones in which the presenter takes you on a wonderful journey of what life could be like with their product. These people who really know what they’re doing don’t go rapid-fire through all of the features of the product to try and show you “all the neat stuff” it can do. They paint a picture of what life would be like if you should have the chance to someday use their amazing solution.

Obviously there might be some cases where a later-stage ‘deep dive’ is necessary to progress a deal, but once you get the prospect excited about their future as a user of your product, this becomes much less important.

Don’t make the rookie mistake of showing up and throwing up — powerful storytelling will win the day every time over this showing features and functions.

6. Not being ready for disaster

Inevitably you will have demos where something just goes very wrong — your phone cuts out, the connection is slow or you hit a nasty system bug that triggers some kind of unstoppable perspiration in areas you didn’t know could even sweat. It happens to the best of them.

The way you can minimize the chances of something disastrous happening is to stay on a planned path and do not deviate. Whether it be running a report with parameters you have never tried before, taking an unexplored workflow path or upgrading your demo software at the last minute and hoping it works…unpredictability will eventually bite you.

You should know exactly what will happen in your demo system with every click of the mouse. Also be sure to guard it with your life. Stay on an older, more stable versions longer than your product people tell you to — err on the side of caution. Worst case scenario, if a prospect asks about a feature you don’t have yet in your demo version, simply pop into another system to show them the upgraded feature.

This also demonstrates that your product is continuing to evolve, which prospects love to see.

7. Putting on a dizzying display

I once worked with a sales engineer who, possibly through some kind of nervous tick, would shimmy and vibrate and oscillate his mouse around on the table so aggressively during a demo that is made me want to jump across the boardroom table and smack it out of his hands. Watching a cursor zipping around on the screen aimlessly can be very distracting to your audience. Similarly, I have seen people scroll so fast down a page that it almost gave the audience whiplash.

There are three simple things you need to think about when navigating through your software demo which will make a huge difference in helping your audience follow along:

1. Never click on anything unless you explain what you are about to do.

2. Don’t touch your mouse while anyone (including you) is speaking — this is a quick fix for the cursor shakes.

3. When scrolling, assume the audience wants to read everything you are scrolling through on the page.

Remember, you know your product better than probably anyone in the world — you work with it every day. It is so easy for people to get disoriented and lose interest if you’re moving too quickly.

8. Running out of time

Don’t make the rookie mistake of trying to cram as much content into your time slot as you can. The most important part of your presentation is actually the last ten or fifteen minutes when you aren’t showing anything at all. This is the magic moment where you have the opportunity to solicit feedback and field questions and is the true gauge of how your demo was received by the audience.

Sometimes you will run into a situation where you get no love at all from the audience at this point. This doesn’t necessarily mean they hate what you just showed them — sometimes the group dynamics or the fact that everyone is dialing in remotely can also play a part in this. One tactic to try in this situation is purposely creating an awkward silence. Simply say, “so, what do you think?”…and then stop talking. Simple as that. This is a tactic that Jeffrey Gitomer talks about in The Sales Bible, which is very powerful, but often very difficult for many salespeople.

Someone is going to break the silence…and as long as it isn’t you, you win. Yes, you will have some pretty awkward pauses, but I have found it super-effective in getting the audience to give you the straight goods.

Lastly, like any sales call, you need to close off the demo with agreeing on the next steps with the prospect. It might be a presentation to IT or perhaps a business case, but setting the stage for the next step in your process is key. And remember, the information you are gathering during your demo is just as important as the information you are presenting…so ask a lot of questions.

Happy demoing!

Article reposted with permission from In The Funnel

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