DemosProduct ManagementProduct MarketingSaeedSales

Product Demos are like First Dates – Here’s Why

How often do you see a product demo and think, “OK, this is 20 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.

The fact is, most product demos, particularly those for “technology products” are severely lacking. People, usually a sales consultant, spend far too much time explaining all the wonderful features of their product in excruciating detail with little regard to customer needs– “show up and throw up” is the phrase that comes to mind.

In most cases, you can’t blame the person giving the demo. They’re just doing the job with the tools and training they’ve been provided. So where should we point the finger?

I’ll be honest; the finger should point back at Product Management and Product Marketing, who in all likelihood, have not provided the proper foundation to the people who are giving demos. And so, without the needed information, what else can the sales consultant do, but talk about what they know — i.e. the product.

What’s the point of demos anyway?

Let’s analyze this a little. Product demos are given very early in the sales cycle, when the prospect doesn’t know much about the product and the vendor knows little about the customer’s true intent and needs. They each know a little about each other but there are still a lot of unanswered questions and trust needs to be built before things will go much further.

What does this sound like to you? To me, it sounds like a first date!!

Seriously, think about it.

Obviously one side (the vendor) is looking for a commitment much more aggressively than the other (the buyer).

You’ve got two parties, each with their own objectives, meeting for an initial “get to know you” session before deciding if there is value in moving forward to the next step. . . . . . . a second date!

So, with that in mind, here’s what Product Managers and Marketers should be thinking about when they equip their Sales teams to demo their product.

Understand what the other side is interested in – If there’s anything that will kill a demo (or a date), it’s talking at the other person, vs. talking to them. And the only way you can talk to them is to know what they are interested in, or what their goals are. This is probably the single biggest problem with most demos. The demonstrators have NO IDEA why the prospect needs the product.  Equip your sales teams with clear problem statements your product addresses OR enable them to identify them with the customer.

Listen more than you talk – This is tough, especially when you’re the one who’s supposed to be doing the talking. Arm your sales consultants with key questions to ask as they engage with the prospect. It should NOT be a “demo script” that they blindly follow. This requires consultants who can manage a good conversation and ask insightful questions at the right time. A few well thought through questions can make a huge difference and allow prospects to open up.

Deliver with Confidence – I’ve seen demos where the person giving the demo is nervous or seems to be hesitant about their product. They may know where all the warts and blemishes are in the product, but there’s no reason to let the prospect know (or suspect) that that product is anything but amazing. Ensure that anyone who is giving a demo is confident in what they are talking about. Humming and hawing or sentences spoken in a monotone or robotic manner scream “No Confidence” to the audience.

Watch out for red flags -Sometimes things don’t go as planned. People start looking distracted, pick up their Blackberry, check their email, or simply shut down. You can see their impatience. Learn to read these signals and if you see them, don’t be afraid to stop and ask questions to see what the problems are. What’s worse than a boring demo? A demonstrator that doesn’t realize he’s giving a boring demo!

Don’t reveal too much – Keep the ultimate objective in mind. And it’s not to wow them with the awesome technology you have at your fingertips! It’s to show them you understand their needs and your product will address those needs and make their jobs better. You want them to leave the demo wanting more. Yes, they should leave the meeting excited about your product, seeing value in it, and WANTING to know more about it.

Ask for that follow up meeting – Don’t forget the goal of the demo: to get that follow up meeting. So make sure you ask for it and get their input on what they want. and let them help plan the second date!


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  1. RB

    Great post as always, and a great analogy. Having been dating lately, the analogy really works. In most sales these days, that first sales visit, or even the first N sales visits, are not about closing a deal. They’re about getting over the hurdle, getting your date interested, and determining your interest level (in this case, the problem space and how your product portfolio can uniquely address it).

    1. Saeed

      Thanks RB. Building trust is the most important thing in those early stages and that’s definitely true for both sales and dating. In fact, if you really look at it, dating — particularly if you are looking for a committed relationship, really is a sales process. You just have to close 1 deal! 🙂

  2. Candyce Edelen

    Trying to do a product demo this early in the sales process is trying to get the girl to sleep with you before you take her out and learn something about her.

    Sales should be engaging the client in discussions to uncover business needs long before you demo. Demos should be used as PROOF that your product fits the clients needs.

    Using a demo as part of the needs analysis stage of a sales process is lazy selling and will reduce close rates.

    1. Saeed

      Hi Candyce

      Thanks for the comment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about a “blind date” here. Proper preparation is required before a demo and there are meetings or calls to discuss needs, but prospects rarely open up 100% and tell you what you need to know.

      Prospects are skeptical of most products because of experiences with vendors who’ve either hyped their products or made patently false claims. In the end, seeing is believing and even then the skepticism (and therefore lack of trust) can continue.

      What I hear a lot from prospects is something like — “OK, I think the product will help us but we really need to see it running in our own environment with our own data” or words to those effect.

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