Demo Is a Four Letter Word

By Tibor Shanto

This is not about bashing demos, but more about how many sales reps use, or misuse them, and the lost opportunities that result from the misuse. The fact is that many in sales love demos because they feel that it creates the sale for them; and while it would be easy to blame the rep, it is often part of the corporate approach. Many sales processes are built around the demo rather than discovering, deriving, driving and delivering value. Nothing is more of a throwback to feature based selling than selling by demo.

What differentiates a good demo from a bad one is the demo’s timing and sequence in the sale. In most instances, a seller meets a prospect, they have the right title, a pulse, and agree that they have the time for a demo; once completed, they spend time and effort retrofitting the “needs” of the buyer to things that seemed to appeal to them in the demo. The net result is a longer sale, with more work, and generally reduced value for both the buyer and the seller.

The typical scenario is you get the opportunity to meet with a potential buyer, after a few obligatory questions, what most will consider and tell you are qualifying questions; three check marks, and a demo is offered up. All this before you have learned anything specific about the buyers requirements, objective, and here we are not talking about product objectives. We’ve all seen the example where the seller does not probe or explore beyond the obvious, beyond the range of their own product, after all, they took an appointment with a copier rep, so they must want a copier. Yet the buyer’s objective could extend far beyond the obvious, and beyond the one demoed product, and to other potential services.

Rather than selling, this resembles more the routine of throwing enough demos against the buyers in the hope that some stick. This is especially worse when the demo consists of giving the buyer a free XX day trial. Same process as above, the variation is instead of just sitting through a 20-30 minute live demo, the buyer gets to test drive it for 14 days, then the rep comes back, sees if the buyer is ready to buy, if not, then they probe a bit more, hoping to uncover further information. It really needs to be the other way around.

I remember working with reps who would do the above, and when asked what they were hoping to get out of the exercise, the response was always a sales. But rarely did they have the results to validate the process. To be fair, the reps not only get pressure from their managers to provide demo accounts, but since the market has conditioned the buyers, they too want a demo before agreeing to exchange valuable insight.

A much better approach is to think of the demo as a closing tool, not a selling tool; a proof of concept that is the bow on the sales, rather than the heart of it. I remember selling information services, the market had been conditioned to expect a trial, and “then we can talk”. The reps would return after the agreed on period (the better ones would actually call the buyer once, even twice during the period) to hear the buyer’s verdict. I use the word verdict, because the decisions, and reasoning behind it was very much done behind closed doors, without the knowledge or input of the rep.

The preferred approach for me was to actually keep the product/service under wraps as long as possible, right to the end. The strategy was to spend time with the buyer, understand their objectives, buying criteria, buying process, qualify financially and agree on a solution. Once that was successfully completed, you could offer a demo under two specific conditions, first was that other than the demo, there were no barriers to the sale. That is if the demo did in fact demonstrate and address their criteria and delivered against expectations that were set, there was in fact a deal in place. The second was that if the demo validated 80% of the key criteria uncovered and agreed to, and there was a specific means of addressing the fifth, again the deal will happen. As stated above, the demo needs to be a proving point that seals the deal, not something that happens before any discovery or qualification takes place.

No doubt it takes work to do it the right way, but that is what selling is about. Furthermore, your close ratio on sales where the demo is the closer is always higher than when the demo is the “light show” before the sale begins. This is usually because the demo in the latter scenario often kills the opportunity, because it is not tied to any specifics driving the buyer; be that financial, productivity gains, efficiencies vis-a-vis time, individual interests or risk avoidance. It is a light show looking for an audience. If the demo is not directly tethered to the above factors and objectives, it is just a light show that requires you to work much harder as you now have to breakdown misconceptions, and still build the case for value.

There are a number of ways to uncover objectives and drive the value factors; we obviously like our GAP Selling approach. But real success lies in the sequence and execution, done in the right order the right way it adds value to all involved; wrong sequence just creates grind, risk, and lost sales.