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How to Give a Killer Product Demonstration

Want to close more business? Then start using customized product demonstrations to close your deals.

Unfortunately, some sales pros view product demos as just another part of their sales process.

Ideally, though, a product demonstration needn't just help a sale along. It can, in fact, actually close the deal.

Are you ready to close your sales more quickly than you ever thought possible? If so, read on...

CLICK for the first step »
NOTE: An updated chapter on demonstrating products is featured in my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.
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Artwork by: Lorelyn Medina

STEP #1: Research Your Audience

A product demonstration does more than just prove that the product exists and that it works as advertised.

When done correctly, a product demonstration allows the prospect to see feel, at a gut level, how things will be different after they've bought the product.

A product demonstration captures the imagination and holds it. Ideally, it makes the very idea of not-buying into a sad state of affairs.

Because of this, the idea of a "one size fits all" demonstration is completely ridiculous. Because every prospect is unique, every demonstration must be uniquely matched to that prospect.

And that means research.

Before crafting a demonstration, you need to know what motivates the prospect, what keeps them up at night, what they hope to accomplish, what they feel they must avoid.

So, get on the Internet, use your network of contacts, and use your sales skills to discover what will motivate this individual prospect to buy.

Only when you've got a clear picture of the prospect, should you proceed to the next step, which is...

CLICK for the second step »

STEP #2: Customize a Compelling Story
A product demonstration should NEVER NEVER NEVER be a tour of features and functions. NEVER.

A perfect product demonstration always tells a story, using the product as the visual hook that makes the story real.

The story that you tell is the prospect's story, with the prospect as the hero who must overcome an obstacle in order to achieve a goal. In your demonstration, the product is the "magic sword" that helps the prospect, the key element that makes the prospect's success possible.

The perfect product demonstration also frames that story in a way that makes sense, not just to the prospect's business, but to the individual goals and desires of the person or person viewing the demonstration.

For example, suppose you're demonstrating an inventory supply system to a manufacturing director. His concerns include lost inventory, excess inventory and warehouse space. The resulting demonstration would sound something like this:

"Imagine that a call comes in from your plant that they've almost run out of component parts and will have to shut the line down if they don't get more within two days. All you need do at this point is to query the system (like so...) which now locates any excess inventory at your other plants as well as your key suppliers. Voila! You select a new source with a point and click (like so...) and the system is already printing shipping orders and labels so that the needed inventory arrives tomorrow."
Suppose, by contrast, you're demonstrating that exact same inventory system to a CFO. Her concerns include cost overruns, cost saving and auditing accountability. The resulting demonstration would sound something like this:
"Imagine that increased cost of component parts is pushing your profit margins down to single digits. You generate a quick report of costs associated with those parts (like so...) and discover that your company is paying extra to have some of them warehoused across the country and Fedexed as needed to the manufacturing facility. You check available inventory space (like so...) and discover that there's floor space available locally. You redirect shipments of the components (like so...), thereby eliminating the intermediate warehouse. Voila! You just saved $1 million a year, and raised the profitability of the final product by three full percentage points."
Get it? A perfect demonstration is all about how the prospect's story will change once that prospect has become a customer.

Your demonstration should have a script like the above that touches on ALL the major hot buttons for the individual prospect.

Dave Stein of ES Research suggested in a comment that one of the customized scenarios to consider is, "a day in the life," which would take a user or manager through the screens, reports, dashboards, etc., that they would use every day, in order of their own work flow. This can be very effective in creating early buy-in for the new solution, especially when you use the prospect's data--customer numbers and names, products, parts, etc. It's a good idea to get permission first. (Thanks, Dave!)

Now that you've got your story together, it's time to get turn your demonstration concept and script into something that will really close business...

CLICK for the third step »

STEP #3: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
Giving a perfect demonstration is three times harder than giving a perfect sales presentation. Why? Because with a demonstration, you must simultaneously focus on the prospect, the effect the demonstration is having on the prospect, and the mechanics of the demonstration.

That's why it's utter madness to try to give a demonstration without rehearsing it AT LEAST THREE TIMES.

Man alive, you'd be amazed how many sales reps think that they can wing it when it comes to demonstrations. The result is almost always a disaster.

Use the rehearsal process to tune up your overall message and make the demonstration more effective. As you rehearse, here are some rules to keep in mind.

  • Rule #1: Never show a meaningless feature. Every feature you demonstrate must be tied directly to a prospect's problem or opportunity.
  • Rule #2: Pay attention to the plot. A prefect demonstration tells a story, with a beginning, middle and end. Remember: the prospect is the hero, not you, and not your firm.
  • Rule #3: Use the demo as a proof point. Some prospects are disposed to think of reasons not to buy rather than reasons to buy. A good demonstration "proves" that sales claims are true.
  • Rule #4: Keep it Simple, Stupid. Find an appropriate goal (like "show the CFO why the ROI claims are true"). Achieve that and forget about the rest of stuff the product does.
  • Rule #5. Edit your script. The "talking" part of your demo must accommodate the rhythm of the product. If it takes ten seconds to execute a feature, you must fill that time with appropriate patter.
  • Rule #6: Pace yourself. A perfect product demonstration should be seamless, without long pauses and dead spots.
  • Rule #7: Avoid techie-talk. Even if the audience is technically oriented, don't get too deeply into HOW the product works. Focus on what it does for the prospect.
  • Rule #8: Jettison the biz-blab. Avoid tired and trite phrases like "best in class", "robust", "bleeding edge" etc. Such phraseology only make you look foolish.
  • Rule #9: Minimize your activity. This isn't a piano concerto! Too much activity on your part makes the demo look too complex. (Thanks to Dave Stein for this one.)
Once you've rehearsed at least three times, and know exactly what to say, you're ALMOST to the point where you can present the demonstration. However, you must still...

CLICK for the fourth step »

STEP #4: Test Everything Beforehand
One of the most painful sales-oriented scenes from Hollywood in recent years appears in the Oscar-winning film. The Pursuit of Happyness.

In that move, the Chris Gardiner character (played by Will Smith) simply MUST make a sale of some medical equipment in order to keep himself and his son from becoming homeless. The equipment fails during a key demonstration, causing the sale to be delayed indefinitely.

That film was true to life, because there is NOTHING that can happen in sales cycle (short of accidentally killing the prospect) which is going to kill a sale faster than a demonstration that goes sour.

Sales pros like to pretend that prospects will be forgiving, and treat a demonstration glitch as "one of the those things." WRONG!

A bungled demonstration tells the prospect, at a visceral level, that either you didn't adequately prepare (in which case buying from you is probably a mistake) or (worse) you DID prepare adequately and the product is a piece of crap that fails even under the most forgiving of circumstances.

That's why you should never, ever, give a demonstration without a dry run, preferably at the very location where you'll be giving the demonstration.

Never assume that the equipment that's available at a customer site or conference facility will work. As far as practical, bring EVERYTHING that you need to do your demo. For example, if you're demonstrating software, if possible use your own laptop, your own projector, your own pointing device, etc.

And for heaven's sake, have a backup plan. If the demonstration does encounter technical difficulties, have some other sales-oriented activity that can fill the gap while your engineers fix the problem. You did remember to get them involved, we hope?

CLICK for the fifth step »

STEP #5: Let the Prospect Lead

Congratulations! You've laid the groundwork for a perfect product demonstration. Now it's time to deliver the goods.

In step 2, you constructed a demonstration that included scripts for ALL the major hot buttons for that prospect. And in step 3, you rehearsed all of those scripts.

You probably thought that you'd be presenting all of the scripts when you give your demonstration. But that's not the case.

Here's the secret sauce, folks -- the real reason for this post.

The trick to giving a perfect demonstration is to draw the prospect in, and let the prospect guide the demonstration.

After all, that's what you want, right? You want the prospect to know what it will feel like after the prospect has actually bought the product.

The reason you prepared multiple scripts -- and based them on research -- is because now you're ready to articulately address just about everything that the prospect might surface.

You can lead into the demonstration with whatever you think would be of interest, but the purpose of drawing the prospect into the demonstration is so that the prospect takes control.

Some sales pros intuitively understand this, because they're accustomed to adapting to prospect's needs and interests.

However, you'd be amazed at how many people are annoyed when a prospect tries to take control of a demonstration. It's almost as if they're thinking of it as a dramatic performance and the prospect as an audience member who ought to remain silent.

If you've done your research, just about anything the prospect acts will fall naturally into the patterns of the stories that you've created. However, now you're creating the story along with the customer. The more active the participation, the more likely the demonstration will close the deal.

Dave Stein of ES Research pointed out in a comment that "it's great to have the customer lead, but DON'T let them take you into places in the software you haven't rehearsed and are very comfortable with. I'd rather say, "Let me show you that on the break," than have the demonstration blow up or you get lost."
As you're demonstrating, frequently test (with neutral questions like "does this make sense?") to confirm that the demonstration is achieving its goals.

When you sense it's time to bring the demonstration to a close, it's on to the most important step...

CLICK for the final step »

STEP #6: Ask for the Business

If a demonstration has gone smoothly, make a final check that the prospect has seen (and experienced) what it would be like to own the product.

If you get anything that looks like a green light, ask for the business.

Seriously, there is no better point in the sales cycle to ask for the business than after you've given a solid demonstration.

Because the prospect has participated in an imaginative exercise of using the product as if it were already purchased, the current state of affairs (where the prospect has not yet bought) seems odd and wrong to the prospect.

The only way to make the world "right" again -- and to continue to experience the positive feelings associated with using the product is to buy.

And that's why this is the PERFECT time to close.

CLICK for a summary and additional help »

SUMMARY
  • STEP #1: Research Your Audience
  • STEP #2: Customize a Compelling Story
  • STEP #3: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
  • STEP #4: Test Everything Beforehand
  • STEP #5: Let the Prospect Lead
  • STEP #6: Ask for the Business
ADDITIONAL HELP
Closing a deal using a demonstration is a variation of the standard close. It's therefore useful to understand that process as well. Here's the post where I describe it:
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If you're in software, you might also be interested in this book: