Product demos that get you the sale

Demonstrating your product is a really great way to tick a number of important boxes and will mean the prospect and you can be confident that you’ll both benefit from a sale. But what’s the best way to deliver a product demonstration and how can you maximise the chance of mutual success?

We’ve been working on our sales CRM, RealtimeCRM for six years now and in that time we’ve delivered countless product demos.. As it’s our own product it falls to us to deliver the full range of sales and marketing services needed to make it a success. As part of that mix I have been involved in countless client meetings where I’ve been called on to demonstrate the product so that the client can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for them. I wanted to share some of the expertise I’ve built up over the years so that you too can benefit.

Considering the delivery

You should see the delivery of a product demonstration as a step in the sales process. Just like any other step you need to be sure that you have adequately qualified the lead before scheduling a demonstration. You don’t want to waste your time and you certainly don’t want to waste the prospect’s time if their requirements don’t fit with what your product is offering.

I always make sure that myself or one of my colleagues has a conversation with the prospect before scheduling. Not only does this make sure their expectations are something that you can deliver on but it’s also nice to know ahead of time the type of person you’re going to be presenting to.

As we work in the software world, we get the option of presenting either face-to-face with the prospect, via a screenshare or, for distributed participants, a webcast. I appreciate that some companies may always require an on-site visit, particularly if there’s a physical product involved. Either way, make sure you make the right choice based on what is best for your prospect.

In fact, as I’m writing this one of our sales team is driving back from a meeting he could have delivered via a screenshare. He understood it was a board level meeting, and going with his gut he felt it better to be there in person. Always listen to your sales antenna on this.

Sales Demonstration Preparation

As a salesperson that is engaging with a qualified prospect you should already have a good idea about what the prospect company does, who the decision makers are and any incumbents you’re up against. If not, do your homework and make sure you get a rounded idea of the industry, sector and needs that you’re looking to verify.

It’s important to know exactly why you are presenting. By that I mean you should know the prospect’s current level of understanding of your product.

For instance, are they trying to get a few questions answered or are they at the stage of needing a deeper dive to see how their process will work? This should support your overarching objective of making sure the prospect knows things will be better after they buy.

If there’s anything else you can prepare ahead of time then get those done too. As an example, I like to demonstrate the feature whereby our product looks up details of a company when you enter their web address. It’s reliable and it’s nice if we use the prospect’s company as the example. I just do a quick test to make sure we get good, meaningful data back when I use their URL. If there’s a problem, I just use ours in the demonstration. It’s simple but makes the presentation more predictable, less stressful and more polished.

Similarly, we can’t really demonstrate our CRM’s connectivity with Xero and Mailchimp very easily and so I always have some static slides to hand which I switch to if that’s on the sales deck. In fact I’ve become so slick at switching from live to static presentation that the audience sometimes don’t even notice!

Although we’re all busy I like to build time into my schedule wherever possible to get things ready in advance. This means that for online demonstrations I’m connected 15 minutes before and am ready to go 5 minutes before. Video chat has become much more reliable in recent years but having a few minutes to sort out or configure an unexpected glitch will mean your demonstration shines.

Even for on-site demonstrations I aim to be turning up at least 30 minutes beforehand. You’d be amazed what you can learn about a company by having to lurk in a reception area until everyone is ready. How are they handling their incoming calls? Do they get many scheduled or drop-in visitors? You’ll also get a feel for the company’s overall professionalism, organisation and processes. As far as possible make sure you’re ready to plug-and-play when it’s time for any laptop powered demonstration as oftentimes all eyes will be on you when you’re setting up, so know where the VGA and HDMI cables plug in!

The Demonstration

During the demonstration itself the greatest advice that I can give you is to empathise with your audience. This breaks down in a few ways: Firstly be mindful of what they are looking to get from the presentation. There may be features of your product that they don’t care about. By all means mention them but don’t dwell on them or make them a central part of your act.

Be mindful of what they do as a business. Where possible try to use their lexicon and interpret what you are demonstrating in the context of what it can do for their business. RealtimeCRM is incredibly flexible so I walk through the way that I would use its features if I were a sales person in their company. It may not be perfect but they see the way the system can capture their sales flow, as well as how it can be used to close the sale and for reporting later on.

Secondly, empathise with where the prospects are at that moment. Imagine you were in their shoes, what would you want to hear? Make sure they’re comfortable, that time is not an issue, that they can see the screen, that they can hear you etc. In particular if there is a technical problem then acknowledge it and don’t try to cover it up. Be honest and you’ll get the best from them too.

Thirdly, make sure that your mind is focused on the benefit of the product and in demonstrating that value benefit to the prospect. While they might initially be pleased with the way something looks or is designed you need to get to the detail sooner rather than later so that they can see why they would pay for this. The best presentations acknowledge the problems they have that matter to their business and demonstrate how your product solves their problems..

Getting engagement

A key part of delivering a good presentation is to try and engage with your prospect. A demonstration can easily become a very one-sided affair with the prospect tuning out if you’re not careful. In my experience, questions are one of the best ways to overcome this.

Make sure that you encourage the prospect to ask questions as you go along. It doesn’t matter if this breaks your flow, it’s much better on balance if you have their attention and proof that they are interested. In point of fact, your demonstration shouldn’t be too rehearsed anyway – otherwise you might as well have just sent them a link to a video!

By encouraging questions and perhaps starting with a few open questions you can gain the prospect’s trust, their attention and encourage their feedback as you deliver. The weather is always a good topic if you can’t think of anything else to break the ice and get shy prospects to open up … but this kind of thing is no different from sales techniques 101 – just make sure it’s authentic.

Screenshare sales demonstrations

If you’re doing your presentation by sharing your screen then be sure to take time to set up your screen before connecting with the client. Clear your desktop, open the appropriate applications and do all the tedious stuff like logging in and configuration beforehand.

Going further, I like to set my product logo as the desktop and I open the client’s web home page on the browser. This not only allows them to easily confirm the video connection is working but also gives the – truthful – impression that I’ve looked up a little about the company via their website before speaking to them.

Once connected make sure they can see the screen clearly, that they can hear you and explain that if there’s a problem with the connection you will call them back (or whatever contingency works for you).

When in the demonstration make sure that you use your mouse cursor in a controlled way. Take time to practise this if you’re not sure because it’s certain that it won’t be the same fashion and speed that you use it day to day. Also, if you have any typing to do either make sure you’re a reasonable typist or (like me) prepare text blocks that you can copy and paste. There’s nothing worse than slowing down a slick presentation while you write a sentence by prodding the keyboard.

Presentation Style

The style is of course your very own and other than saying that it should be professional and accommodating I wouldn’t assume to set any other guidelines for you. I can however share a few pointers that may help turn your good sales demonstration into a great one.

If possible, opening with a nice big win can really be advantageous. This gets people’s attention and allows you to immediately show value. Indeed you should never leave important features until last in your sales demonstration – there’s a risk that you might not get to them and at that point your audience may not be as attentive as you’d hoped for.

Talking of time, be sure to get enough of a time commitment from the prospect to do a proper demonstration. Timescales vary depending upon the complexity of the product, your audience and what you want to cover but keep in mind that shorter is always better, unless of course your prospect wants to lead into deeper waters with questions. To allow for this, your schedule should not be too tightly packed but rescheduling for a “demonstration part 2” is always better than rushing.

Additionally, if there are a number of ways to do a particular action in your product then always try to show the quickest one first. This will clearly demonstrate the value benefit of the action. If you’re paying attention to the client you’ll see whether this has generated any interest from them. If it has, you’ve got an opportunity to double-down on that feature and either repeat it or go a little more in-depth perhaps by showing them a more detailed or configured procedure which may take longer. Ideally they’ll be more willing to indulge you because they can now see the end benefit.

Some industries have their share of acronyms and jargon – the software industry more than most – but try to avoid it as much as you can in your sales presentation. Some prospects see it as presenters masking their lack of understanding, those few that continue to follow along that is! That said, incorporating appropriate terminology from your prospects’ industry is fine and may be a good thing to do … but please make sure you fully understand it and don’t make a fool of yourself by confidently using language that you know nothing about.

Much as it might be painful to hear, the prospect at the end of the presentation may not always be fully focused on what you’re saying. Cues, like using their name, ensure that you get their attention during key moments of the presentation.

Questions, questions, questions …

I’ve already suggested that you should encourage questions because it enhances engagement. There’s more to this very important aspect of the sales demonstration. Some of it is just good manners like not interrupting questions when they’re being asked. Some think doing that makes them look in-tune with the prospect but the majority of time it’s taken as a bad sign and means you could even miss the detail of their specific instance within the question.

When you’ve responded to a question, check back with the person that asked the question to make sure that you’ve answered it satisfactorily. There may be more opportunity to go into more depth and learn more about what they are trying to achieve and to demonstrate even better solutions. For example, jumping in too quickly with an answer to “Can your CRM group our data?” might mean we go off on an excursion about creating, assigning and managing records with the tag feature. However, what they meant – and what we have found out if we had probed a little deeper – was that they needed to set up their own grouping options which is something that would have benefitted from an overview of how to customise fields in the CRM. By not reflecting back the question and understanding the reason for asking has meant we’ve lost precious demonstration time.

While you should always seek questions at the end of your demonstration it’s probably going to be best if you encourage interruptions for questions as you go along. The question is fresh in the enquirer’s mind, it gives you engagement and your screen is set up to answer it immediately. If you’re going to answer a question later in the presentation then by all means say so (after waiting until the question has been asked) and note it down – in sight of the audience if possible. Indeed I have Notepad open for that very thing.

Lastly, but importantly, never be afraid to admit that you can’t answer a question. This is often the worry of people delivering their early sales demonstrations and it’s easily countered. Be confident but explain that you can’t answer it but you can check back with the team and get an answer to them by the close of business (or whenever is appropriate). Avoid blathering and follow the procedure to note it down so you can demonstrate what is being asked.

There’s no doubt that questions can be a good sign of engagement but be careful to make sure you remain in control of the overall presentation pace. It’s all very well answering key questions but not at the expense of failing to get across all of the key benefits due to lack of time. Remember to use your notepad to record questions that you can go into later or, if time dictates, on a seperate call.

After the sales demonstration

In terms of closing out the sales demonstration, be sure to end professionally by thanking people for their time and the opportunity for you to show them the product. Remember you need to leave them with a good feeling about you, the product and the company. Give contact details and be sure to invite follow up questions and let them know what support they’ll be getting from you.

Even when you’ve left the room or closed the screen sharing app you should never see the end of the sales demonstration as the end of the sales process. Yes, it’s a big hurdle out of the way but now it’s time to double-down on closing the opportunity. On the assumption that you’ve been given good signals, that there were no objections that you couldn’t bust and you remain a good fit for the prospect then it’s time to think about closure.

One eventuality that is seldom documented and that I’m amazed that some sales people aren’t ready for is when the prospect wants to sign up and get going straight away! All being well you’ve got the prospect at the point of maximum engagement so turning it into a sale right away should always be an option. Be prepared to collect payment details, raise an invoice or whatever your process requires to close the sale there and then.

There are a lot of variables in actually closing the deal and much of it will depend on what your product is and how easily it can be adopted. For our CRM system we look to close at the end of the presentation if we can. It’s always a soft close as we have a trial period which means no money will change hands for another month. Nonetheless, getting the client into the mindset that this is theirs to continue with and to invest time in is the key factor.

If you can’t close during the presentation then be sure to continue adding value to the client during the remainder of the sales process so that you can eliminate any blockers from adoption and get valuable feedback. If you can monetise any of these then that will obviously be beneficial. As an example, say your software process saves staff an hour a day each and then multiply that up to give potential annual cost savings.

Talking of feedback, and away from closure, it’s really important to do a review of your demonstration. Some people that are very keen on this video or screen-capture their presentation for review but that may not be necessary. Just be sure to take away any learning experiences, add items to your preparation list and objections list so that you are better prepared next time. You should do this even if you thought the presentation was a success and even won the business there and then.

Key Takeaways

Sales demonstrations are a key step within your sales pipeline and give the client the opportunity to really engage with you and your product. Likewise it gives you valuable access to the prospect and for you to learn about their requirements.

Always make sure that your presentation is appropriate to the audience and you empathise with their needs and feelings throughout. This includes timings, style, problems and obtaining and answering questions.

Throughout, concentrate on allowing the prospect to see value benefit. It’s not a training exercise and you don’t need to cover everything, focus on the needs of the people watching.

The guidance I’ve given here is very much based on my own experience and has hopefully given you some food for thought. However, don’t be afraid to step off the path that I’ve laid out above and discover patterns of sales demonstrations that work for you. I’d love to hear about how it went, let me know.

Good luck with your next sales demonstration, I hope it goes well.