juggling fail
Doing your due diligence and preparing for a product demo can prevent your sales demo from going up in flames PHOTO: Roger H. Goun

Most technology selection projects at the enterprise level involve some sort of in-person demonstration phase. 

On the customer side, there's a special art and science to structuring this properly as part of a systematic decision-making process. On the vendor side, everybody wins when you participate more effectively in the demo phase.

We at Real Story Group sit in on hundreds of technology vendor demos in order to advise our subscribers. Based on years of witnessing failed (and successful) demos, we'd like to break with our tradition of not advising vendors and offer a few tips to the sales side of the table.

8 Pieces of Advice for Vendor Demo Teams

1. Show Up Early

Among other things, you'll want to figure out the connectivity situation in advance. Fiddling with network settings while the salesperson strains to make small talk will drain energy from the beginning of your demo. 

We're amazed at how many vendors show up late for demos — it introduces a bad vibe at the very beginning that can be difficult to overcome.

2. Invest in Decent Tools

How many times have we heard the Sales Engineer (SE) explain in the face of an inconvenient hourglass, "you see, I have so much running on this little machine ...." Or for the cloud-based solution: "this is running on an underpowered demo instance ...." 

We have news: the SE who came before you ran through her use cases without a pause. She probably had a better laptop, or a top-flight cloud environment that didn't hiccup on her.

3. Prepare for This Particular Customer

If the customer is doing this right, they have prepared some very specific scripts and questions. They expect you to have thought hard about their needs, and will sense quickly if you haven't. 

Yes, we know your industry is hot and you are very busy, but why did you bid at all if you weren't going to treat your customer's time with respect? You can lose something more important than the deal: your reputation.

4. Don't Ignore Bugs

As every SE will confess, bugs are part of demos, especially when the customer (as we would advise) creates a custom script. If attendees are paying attention as closely as you would like, they will notice even little bugs — so don't ignore them or talk your way around them. Acknowledge the bug, take a stab at explaining it and try to fix it at the break. 

Note to buyers: always schedule mid-demo breaks so your team can caucus and the vendor can regroup as necessary.

5. Test Your Demo That Day

Every now and then something goes really, really wrong: some new setting causes a conflict or a key service won't start up. Then the poor SE is left to exclaim, "but it worked last night in my hotel room!" 

Your best prevention is to test your environment and any remote services against the use-cases just before your demo begins (remember, you arrived early).

6. Don't Argue Amongst Yourselves

Vendors who bring knowledgeable consulting partners or their own professional services staff to a more complex sales engagement tend to perform better than the simple salesperson plus SE combo. Just make sure you carefully work out roles in advance. If you haven't figured out the functional, financial or business division of labor, it will surely come out in the demo. Do yourself and the customer a favor by sorting all that out in advance.

7. Remember: Show Always Beats Tell

If the customer is savvy — and you want savvy customers — they are going to approach technology vetting with a healthy dose of skepticism. When an important topic comes up, show how your technology works, rather than just talk to it. People will remember screens — and what they thought when they saw them — long after they've forgotten spoken words.

8. Pay Attention to What the Customer Actually Requested

Vendors tend to over-expend energy trying to figure out "what the customer really wants." Well, if customer has scripted some use cases, you should assume they have put some good thought into this. We find vendors often try to circumvent certain difficult scenarios and instead demo what they think is cool or useful. 

A strong agenda will allow extra time for a vendor to be creative, but if it comes at the expense of demonstrating something essential, it can backfire.

Here's what happens. The SE shows some nifty capability outside the scope of the use cases. The customer responds enthusiastically. The sales team leaves thinking they won a great coup. But then later — always later — calmer heads prevail and someone reminds their fellow selection team members, "hey, they never showed us X, Y or Z!" 

Suspicions arise and you're not around to allay them. You get zapped.

Customers should always establish a coherent and well-prepared selection process. The most successful selections occur when vendors participate in a coherent and well-prepared manner.