A Story of LEGO Bricks, Software Demos, and Vision Generation

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The wonderful thing about “toolkit” software offerings is that they can do so many things – the challenge is that the customer often doesn’t know what’s possible – they have no vision of a solution…

The Set-up

I was preparing for a Great Demo! Workshop for a software toolkit company that enjoyed/suffered from the exact problem above – their demos explored a number of individual components (many, actually!) with descriptions of what each component does and how they interact with one another.

Their demos were a component compendium, with the presenter describing each in turn: Name, location, followed by a list of its feature-function capabilities, including how they connect to other components (with a large number of “if’s” and “or’s”). Component name, location, features-functions, connections. Name, location, feature-functions, connections…. Name, locaaa…, ffffffea… Zzzzzzzzz…

On the scale of boring, their demos were somewhere in the range of watching your laptop update its operating system, studying drying paint, and standing in the long check-in line for an economy flight (when you have no status on that airline and no battery life remaining in your phone).

Clearly, they had a problem with their demos…!

The Story



On my way from the airport to their facility to start the Workshop, I had an idea.  I stopped by a toy store and browsed the “LEGOÒ” section, selected a box that looked like a good example, purchased it, and continued on my way to the customer.

As we began the Workshop, I pulled out the LEGO box and poured the contents onto the table in front of me – a pile of 174 various LEGO pieces, in a range of shapes and colors:

I then invited one of the participants to join me at the table and asked him to choose any LEGO brick and describe it to the balance of the Workshop participants. He did so, listing its color, noting the number of attachment points and the overall shape – and he included some remarks about how it might connect with other pieces.

I asked him to repeat the process with three more LEGO bricks – and he obliged, following the same pattern.

I then asked the audience what they understood so far about this toolkit – the response was, “Well, we understand that there is a pile of LEGO bricks with different attributes and they can be connected…”

Very accurate! I then asked, “So, what is the value of this toolkit?”

The painful answer was, “Well, it can’t be very much because it’s just a bunch of bricks…”

My point exactly. It’s just a bunch of individual tools – individual components that by themselves have low perceived value.

What is missing from this? What would make the “bunch of bricks” more interesting – and be seen as substantially more valuable? An understanding of what the bricks can make – the end result – and in this case, the picture on the box is the solution to this challenge:

The picture generates a vision in the customer’s mind of what is possible. It’s the end result that captures the customer’s interest and generates the desire to build that “Mighty Dinosaur” – and in the case of LEGO bricks, entices the customer to purchase that package.

Many software products suffer from exactly this same problem – toolkit software in particular – and traditional demos are generally insufficient to solve it. Traditional demos present the individual components, with descriptions of what they are and how they might connect to other things (API’s, for example), but neglect to communicate what the toolkit can enable or create.

I’ve seen dozens of demos that do just that – consume 60 minutes describing the features of each component – but leave it up to the customer to figure out what the components could make…!

Note that Early Adopters and Technology Adopters actually synthesize solutions very well on their own – once they understand enough about the components – but they represent a very small portion of the population. Everyone else lacks the ability to see the end result without help from the vendor… This is often articulated by the sales team in comments such as, “…They just didn’t seem to get it…!”

Start with The End Result (aka Do the Last Thing First)

So, when presenting software, and especially toolkit software, show visuals of the end results the software enables the customer to create – the ultimate deliverables. Share “the art of the possible” to build a vision what good things the toolkit can produce – to stimulate the customer’s desire to gain those end results.

Once the customer sees what is possible – and in alignment with their goals – they’ll begin to ask how the software works. They’ll ask, “How do the pieces connect to build sub-assemblies; how do they communicate; how can workflows be constructed; can alerts be set up for exceptions and problems; can reports be modified or customized?” This is where you enter the delightful universe of “Peeling Back the Layers” in accord with the customer’s depth and level of interest.

Here are few examples of “toolkits” in other disciplines – and example end results and deliverables…

1. Other boxes of LEGO bricks:

And two end results:

2. A pile of building materials:



And two more creations:

3. Another toolkit:

And something truly fabulous!

Get the picture?

A Vision Generation Exercise

One of the biggest challenges in the world of software sales is communicating what is possible. Most customers are unfamiliar with the range of solutions available to solve their problems. Further, most customers are unaware of the options and possibilities that our software packages provide.

Traditional demos try to show as much as possible in the allotted time so that the customer can be exposed to this range of possibilities – but they present far too much and at far too low a level. Tons of components, features, and functions.

Sadly, with traditional “overview” demos the only vision generated is, “This looks like way too much for us; it looks complicated and confusing…”

Vision Generation is all about communicating the Big Picture – sharing the art of the possible. And the best way to achieve this communication successfully is to have a number of compelling end-results ready to show your customer, along with a description for each that describes what the customer is seeing, how it can help them solve their business problems, and how much value the customer may enjoy by consuming the software.

Here’s the exercise:

Review your current demos and ask yourself: Which screens (or reports, etc.) in the demo get your audience excited? Which screens and reports cause them to interrupt and ask questions? Which screens and reports generate an animated discussion between audience members?

These screens and reports represent terrific candidates for Vision Generation. Capture them and pop them into PowerPoint so that you have them ready to use any time you are in a “What does your software do?” or “Show us a demo…” situation.

Next, practice communicating the three key ideas for each visual:

1. What the audience is seeing

2. How it will help them solve their business problems

3. How Much value could be gained by consuming the capabilities

Once you have a “talk-track” that you like, consider recording it or documenting it (in the “Notes” area of PowerPoint, for example).

Great! Now you’ve got a set of compelling, engaging visuals, along with your verbal delivery, sufficient to support Vision Generation discussions with customers. [Note: Great Demo! practitioners call these visuals “Illustrations” – an apt label.]

“…The Risotto Looks Good…”



There are (at least) two ways you can use your pack of what’s-possible screens/Illustrations:

1. Ad hoc, in Vision Generation meetings

2. In conjunction with a Menu…

A terrific starting point for Vision Generation is to share a list of high-level solution areas that your software addresses – present it as a Menu of what is possible. You can introduce each Menu item briefly and ask your customer for an indication of level of interest – e.g., “High”, “Medium”, or “Low”. The result is a rank-prioritized list, based on the customer’s interest (what a refreshing idea!).

Where do the Menu items come from? Well, your pack of Illustration screens is a great starting point. For each screen, identify what high-level challenge or problem it addresses and add it to your growing Menu. Once you have five or more items, you are ready to open for business…!

[For more on The Menu Approach and Vision Generation Demos, check out our articles on these topics.]

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