04025 Demonstrable Value: Making Demos Better

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I have given countless software demos in my career. But the funny thing is that when I myself sit down to listen to a product presentation, my heart sinks and all I can think is: “Oh, no, not another boring demo!” The problem with software demos is that so many of them are so very tedious to sit through. You don’t really attend a demo so much as undergo one.

That last statement is unfair to the many individuals who deliver compelling demos every day. But we all know that many demos – often ones that we ourselves have delivered – could use a whole lot of improvement. I have written in the past (see the Previous Topics section below) about various mechanisms or processes to build a better demo. The tips in this article focus solely on how to make a better delivery of the capabilities you want to cover.


A Book Worth Reading

Here’s a book that’s good enough to recommend even though I have not read it (I plan to soon). Merely based on an interview of the author, I can tell the book has some great advice.

The book is called Great Demo, by Peter Cohan, and has just been published. There’s a fascinating interview of Peter on the Software Market Solution website. The site, which Rick Chapman publishes, has original commentary on high tech marketing successes and failures. Read the interview at:

  • www.SoftwareMarketSolution.com.

Click Previous Articles and search for “Cohan”, or just call up the following page:

  • http://www.softwaremarketsolution.com/SMS%20Articles/Great_demo.htm

Make a Record

There’s nothing more frustrating than depending upon a couple “demo divas”, stars who wow your prospects with their stories and understanding of the business. You hire more pre-sales people to help ease the burden on your stars’ schedules. Then everyone criticizes the demos by the new hires and insists on using your stars instead. The stars keep shining and the rest of your pre-sales folks continue to struggle.

What you need to do is take those stars, bottle them, and pass the bottles out to everyone. Find a way to record the seemingly magical content of those great demos. Make a videotape or audiotape. Record their webcasts if your webcast tool offers that capability.

The key is to capture the best examples of demos that you have and use them as training materials. And if you want it to be a useful learning tool, you’ll probably have to have a written version, even if you make a videotape, so that your pre-sales folks can learn the content by heart.

The bias in sales, and often with pre-sales as well, is toward great talkers and poor note-takers. Select an appropriate team member to be the scribe and write down the top demo content so that you have a tool to give good demos no matter who delivers them.

Stories By the Fire

Since the beginning of time, except for recent centuries since the printing press has been around, people have passed on knowledge one way and one way only: by telling stories, usually around a fire. Make your demo content come alive by collecting anecdotes from customers and prospects, and telling them.

When you tell the story, give it the elements of a story, namely setting, characters, and storyline. Don’t just tell what someone did (for example: “We have a customer who manages his entire business from a single report showing new sales, profitability, and percent increase.”) Explain the setting (“We have a customer who is a small manufacturer of heavy equipment trying to fend off inroads from really huge competitors.”) and the beginning of the story (“For five years they struggled to manage their cash flow, which fluctuated wildly because it was so affected by the product launch cycles of its giant competitors.”).

Again, recording the stories and anecdotes gives you a vital tool to scale up your demo delivery power by hiring new people or training sales channels to give effective presentations of the product.

Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear

When a prospect wants to see a demo, they could be talking about a 20 minute presentation, or one that lasts two hours, or even eight hours. A demo can mean many things.

Define distinct demos for different lengths of time. Sometimes what’s right or wrong about the content of a demo is not that it isn’t interesting, just that it’s more than what was wanted.

When you create a shorter demo, you’ll be eliminating much of the content of the longer demos. When choosing which content to cut out, you’re better off keeping the stories, anecdotes, and conversational portions, even if that means your short demo may be short on details about screens, fields, and buttons.

Someone Just Like Me

Nothing grabs a listener’s attention like hearing about someone just like them. As you craft your stories and examples, describe companies, people, and situations that match your prospects closely.

This doesn’t have to be a matter of trying to modify your stories for different segments of customers (executives versus line managers, men versus women), though sometimes that might be necessary. Instead, try to cover a full variety of types and situations in your demo. If you have a prospect from the public sector, don’t take all the examples from private companies. That doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily required to make every example take place in a government agency, since most sectors are also curious about how other sectors or vertical industries handle similar challenges.

Monologue or Conversation

A conversation, with back and forth between the speaker and the audience, is vastly more interesting to most people than a monologue. Monologues remind people of lectures by professors, or worse yet, lectures by parents and bosses. They call upon the audience to become passive, and discourage questions when someone doesn’t understand. So a monologue demo has the potential to waste a lot of its impact because the audience remains stuck on a point that it hasn’t fully understood.

Instead, turn every demo into a chance to have a conversation with your prospects. Present a given idea (Such as “We have found that the only way to have a good understanding of the relationship with your customer is to see orders consolidated across all product lines and divisions.”), then solicit your audience’s opinion (“Can you see orders across all divisions? How do you consolidate that information?”).

The key to having a conversation is getting into the habit of following your statements and assertions with questions, and encouraging each person who is listening to speak up by making sure you ask each person in turn what they think.

All the World’s a Stage

Giving a demo is like giving a performance. It’s like being up on stage. Since it’s already a performance, why not make it like a real play or skit? Have two people take different roles and talk to each other. It’s a very natural way to talk about the business issues, the pains and struggles, as well as to address the doubts and objections. One person asks the question, the other person answers. One person raises an objection, the other person explains how that objection doesn’t really apply.

This can be a useful format when you have a lot of standard material to cover and you don’t necessarily want the demo to turn into an unplanned conversation with the prospect that wanders in many different directions. Listening to a dialogue is almost as engaging as participating in a conversation yourself.

You are not forced to have more than one person if you want to present the material as a conversation. You can do this as a single storyteller, introducing the characters and relating their conversation, just like you might relate a conversation between two colleagues to a third one.

Empty and Full Words

Finally, there are full and empty words.

In software and technology especially, there are many new and complex concepts, unfamiliar to your audience. Every specialty has its jargon. Jargon words are ones that are full, full of meaning to those who use them. Unfortunately, they’re usually empty of meaning to those outside the specialty.

It’s easy to use words that you find are full, but that are empty to your audience. That’s because you spend a lot of time discussing some specialized and intricate concepts (take “Ease of Use”, for example), which become very full of meaning after you have talked about them at length. But what most of us fail to realize is that while we have made words full of meaning for ourselves, through discussing them extensively to define and flesh them out, these same words are merely placeholders, like a kind of shorthand that we use. They are empty of meaning to someone who is hearing them for the first time.

So if you must use words that you have filled with meaning, be prepared to introduce them with a good explanation the first time the word crops up in your demo. Better yet, avoid the words by simply describing the background details that you are using the words to represent. Instead of talking about “Ease of Use,” you can explain that any transaction takes no more than 3 mouse clicks, and only three fields require typing, with all the other fields providing dropdown boxes to select from a list. That’s a much more successful way to get the “Ease of Use” concept across, rather than relying on a word or term that is full to you but empty to your audience.

— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges


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