Sales Presentations: No demos….EVER!

I recently spoke at the NY Xpo for Business at the Jacob Javitz center on the topic of “Knockout Sales Presentations” and one of my tips that drew the most controversy was when I said, “During a sales presentation, you never, ever, ever, ever give a demo.”

Before I fully explain my position, I want to give credit where credit is due.  Much of the basis of my presentation comes from the Pitch Coach himself, David S. Rose, who provides advice to entrepreneurs looking for angel investors.  If you want to view his presentation, its on his blog here.  What my presentation did was rather than look at presenting to raise money, it was how to take theses ideas and apply them to making a killer sales presentation.

I plan to post on all of the points that I brought up in the presentation, but I’m going to start with the most controversial point: NO DEMOS!

When I mentioned this in my presentation, I immediately had about 10 hands go up to challenge my claim.

“But… my company sells video conferencing, and I have to show them how my quality is better than my competition.”

“But… unless I show them my great interface, they won’t understand how I’m better than competitor X.”

I challenge all of this.  If you can’t articulate the value that you provide over your competition, or that value you bring in general without a demo, then you aren’t going to get the sale anyway.  If you make video conferencing software, then tell me that your algorithm was developed by listening to the mating calls of owls or whatever makes your technology great.  If I can grasp and believe WHY you built your product the way it did and am sold on your thinking, then the demo is icing.  If I don’t believe it, then the demo is wasted time.

Demos are a chance to screw up.  What if the product doesn’t work during the demo?  You lose all credibility with the prospect and you killed the sale.  Convince the customer of the value that you bring to them, and you don’t need a demo.  If you convinced them of the product benefit, then the demo either confirms the sale that is already won, or it kills it.

Why are salespeople so shocked by this statement?  Because giving the demo is easy.  It takes up a lot of time in the presentation.  You feel busy, as if you did a lot to move the sale forward.  But you didn’t.  Spend that same time focusing on how to convince the customer of your value and save the demo for after you’ve sold them on the value of your product.  I have even gone as far as to say that software salespeople should not even be given a way to log into their software.  When you focus on the features of your product, you take focus away from the value that you bring to them.

I sold a $2M contract before the customer ever saw the software.  I convinced the largest marketer in the world to trust me for SMS voting on a live TV program without ever seeing the software.  What did I talk about in my sales presentations?  Why my company was great.  Why we were different from the competition.  How we were providing great service for their competition, and other companies in industry.  How our algorithms would protect them, etc.  THESE are the things that matter – not what my interface looked like.  The interface can change, but the reason we were a great company – is much harder to change.

  • Dave Valentino

    Excellent. Many are guilty of making the demo the center of the sales process, when indeed it is not. Ironically, customers have become trained to expect demos and trial versions. All of which assumes the customer will figure out the benefits and business value on their own. As of today I will do a better job keeping this in mind. Thank you for turning the lights on.

  • Dave Valentino

    Excellent. Many are guilty of making the demo the center of the sales process, when indeed it is not. Ironically, customers have become trained to expect demos and trial versions. All of which assumes the customer will figure out the benefits and business value on their own. As of today I will do a better job keeping this in mind. Thank you for turning the lights on.

  • COD

    I might also point out that sales management frequently counts demos as a sales metric. People do exactly what they are paid to do. if you are counting demos don't be surprised when the team spends a lot of time on demos.

  • Mark I LaRosa

    OH so exactly true! When you have sales management that doesn't get the sales process, you can see them using metrics like this to judge activity.

    But… its not about activity – its about results.

    If I have a salesperson that comes to the office early, does 22 demos a day, meets with 1,000 companies in a year – and hits 10% of quota, he will probably not have a job the next year.
    If I have a salesperson who takes an extra 4 weeks of vacation, but has happy customers and hits 200% of quota, he will be retained.

    Proper sales management is key.

  • COD

    I might also point out that sales management frequently counts demos as a sales metric. People do exactly what they are paid to do. if you are counting demos don't be surprised when the team spends a lot of time on demos.

  • OH so exactly true! When you have sales management that doesn't get the sales process, you can see them using metrics like this to judge activity.

    But… its not about activity – its about results.

    If I have a salesperson that comes to the office early, does 22 demos a day, meets with 1,000 companies in a year – and hits 10% of quota, he will probably not have a job the next year.
    If I have a salesperson who takes an extra 4 weeks of vacation, but has happy customers and hits 200% of quota, he will be retained.

    Proper sales management is key.

  • interesting. I am just learning about sales process and strategies and this really magnifies some of my faulty logic. I really need to stop jumping straight into a demo or providing a trial.

    Your experience confirms my ideas that our demos occurred too early in the sales process, before the customer really trusted us and before we really knew what the customer needed. To me it is becoming more important to listen, listen, validate and then address the specific stress points and build the relationship before advocating any solution. If only I read this years ago.

  • interesting. I am just learning about sales process and strategies and this really magnifies some of my faulty logic. I really need to stop jumping straight into a demo or providing a trial.

    Your experience confirms my ideas that our demos occurred too early in the sales process, before the customer really trusted us and before we really knew what the customer needed. To me it is becoming more important to listen, listen, validate and then address the specific stress points and build the relationship before advocating any solution. If only I read this years ago.

  • interesting. I am just learning about sales process and strategies and this really magnifies some of my faulty logic. I really need to stop jumping straight into a demo or providing a trial.

    Your experience confirms my ideas that our demos occurred too early in the sales process, before the customer really trusted us and before we really knew what the customer needed. To me it is becoming more important to listen, listen, validate and then address the specific stress points and build the relationship before advocating any solution. If only I read this years ago.

  • Not sure I agree with this in every context. When deploying a new service or technology (NEW, not a “new & improved” or “slightly modified” version), you better be able to show a customer what they're getting unless you have the chops of the blog author to be able to sell something that a customer can't see. This goes doubly, IMHO, for new companies that need to establish credibility with a prospect. There's a fine line between salesmanship & selling to the right person without HAVING to demo and being perceived as a purveyor of vapor. Which mistake is the worse to make? Having a demo boot up and then crap out (to which one can easily talk to Murphy's law) or not having anything to show the prospect other than vapor? If you can sell vapor, I need you on MY team!!!!

    And I agree on separating your firm from the competition, but how about focusing on the points that resonate with the customer? This may be a differentiator vs others, but it could also be a point of value that nobody else has, restated in the customer's point of view. In other words – separate YOUR product and YOUR firm from the competition the right way. If you don't have to compare your firm to the competition, why invite the comparison and inevitable evaluation by the prospect after the call?

    The above also all assumes that Engineering gives you a “demo-ready” unit in the first place – if this can't happen, there are other issues in the organization.

    $0.02

    / ramblings

    Great post – definitely thought provoking.

  • Not sure I agree with this in every context. When deploying a new service or technology (NEW, not a “new & improved” or “slightly modified” version), you better be able to show a customer what they're getting unless you have the chops of the blog author to be able to sell something that a customer can't see. This goes doubly, IMHO, for new companies that need to establish credibility with a prospect. There's a fine line between salesmanship & selling to the right person without HAVING to demo and being perceived as a purveyor of vapor. Which mistake is the worse to make? Having a demo boot up and then crap out (to which one can easily talk to Murphy's law) or not having anything to show the prospect other than vapor? If you can sell vapor, I need you on MY team!!!!

    And I agree on separating your firm from the competition, but how about focusing on the points that resonate with the customer? This may be a differentiator vs others, but it could also be a point of value that nobody else has, restated in the customer's point of view. In other words – separate YOUR product and YOUR firm from the competition the right way. If you don't have to compare your firm to the competition, why invite the comparison and inevitable evaluation by the prospect after the call?

    The above also all assumes that Engineering gives you a “demo-ready” unit in the first place – if this can't happen, there are other issues in the organization.

    $0.02

    / ramblings

    Great post – definitely thought provoking.

  • Brandon,

    You are right that at some point you need to show that the product is real. The point of this post; however, is that it is very easy for a salesperson to run to the demo. If you are in a sales meeting, then the meeting should be about sales not demos. If they want to see it, schedule some separate time to provide a demo – preferably with a technical resource or sales engineer.

    If you are in a sales meeting, don't go for the easy demo unless you have taken all of the necessary time to understand the problem, the pain, and hear what the customer needs to say.

    My post is extreme on purpose to help get my point across. Once you have exhausted all of the talking, and truly understand the problem and how and if your solution applies, then you can prove its real.

  • Brandon,

    You are right that at some point you need to show that the product is real. The point of this post; however, is that it is very easy for a salesperson to run to the demo. If you are in a sales meeting, then the meeting should be about sales not demos. If they want to see it, schedule some separate time to provide a demo – preferably with a technical resource or sales engineer.

    If you are in a sales meeting, don't go for the easy demo unless you have taken all of the necessary time to understand the problem, the pain, and hear what the customer needs to say.

    My post is extreme on purpose to help get my point across. Once you have exhausted all of the talking, and truly understand the problem and how and if your solution applies, then you can prove its real.

  • Mark, thanks for the reply! With the broader explanation (and also digging to find a related post on this blog), I see where you are coming from. I understand firsthand the pitfalls of demos (along with talking price before we talk needs / wants / pain / value) and have no desire for Murphy to interfere with an otherwise good dialog. Thanks!

  • Mark, thanks for the reply! With the broader explanation (and also digging to find a related post on this blog), I see where you are coming from. I understand firsthand the pitfalls of demos (along with talking price before we talk needs / wants / pain / value) and have no desire for Murphy to interfere with an otherwise good dialog. Thanks!