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The DOs and DONTs of Product Demonstrations

Many products require a demonstration as part of the sales cycle. Many sales reps take this fact for granted and think that learning how to use the product is sufficient preparation to demonstrating it. That's dead wrong.

A product demonstration is actually a type of sales presentation. The intent is to sell, which means that a demonstration requires as much preparation as a sales presentation. More, in fact, because PowerPoint slides are usually pretty foolproof, while real-life products often behave in surprising ways.

Unlike most of the subjects that I write about in Sales Machine, I have EXTENSIVE experience with live product demonstrations. Over the years, I've compiled a list of DOs and DONTs. Here they are:

  • #1: DO use the demo as a proof point. A good demonstration should reinforce the sales message and "prove" that the sales claims are true.
  • #2. DO focus on the decision-makers. Make sure that the demo shows clearly what in the software for THEM!
  • #3. DON'T try to show too much. Focus the demo on an appropriate goal, like "show the CFO how the ROI claims are true".
  • #4. DON'T repeat yourself. Repetition doesn't add credibility. It just makes the demo boring. So don't show a feature more than once.
  • #5. DON'T anticipate feature needs. Unless you are 100 percent certain that a specific feature is of interest, don't demo it.
  • #6. DO test to see whether you're done. When you have given your demo, check to see whether the prospect understands and is satisfied.
  • #7. DON'T demonstrate to non-stakeholders. Demoing to all and sundry creates opportunities for something to go wrong.
  • #8. DO take control of the demonstration. If you let the customer lead the demo, you could getting into areas that your product doesn't do well.
  • #9. DO give demonstrations at the right time. There's a natural time in the sales cycle when the demo will have the most impact. Use it.
  • #10. DON'T talk too techie. Focus on what the product will do for the prospect's firm, not on how your product functions internally.
  • #11. DON'T use the jargon. Phrases like "best in class" and "bleeding edge" just make you look foolish, especially in front of a tech-savvy audience.
  • #12. DO have a plot. A good demo tells a story with a beginning, middle and end. The plot ALWAYS stars the customer (not YOU!).
  • #13. DO prepare for disaster. Provide, prior to the demo, a plausible excuse why it might not work, ideally one that can't be blamed on you.
  • #14. DO have a backup plan. Have some other sales-oriented activity that can fill the gap if the demo encounters a problem.
  • #15. DON'T use a spokesmodel. Hiring eye candy to do your demos just tells customers you think they're stupid and easily distracted.
READERS: Any other rules that ought to be on this list?