Peter Cohan

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

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.]

Copyright © 2019 The Second Derivative – All Rights Reserved.

A Humbling, Yet Valuable Lesson

I was delivering a Great Demo! Workshop last week in Europe to an international audience and during our first break, a woman came up to me and asked me to:

  • Slow down a bit and
  • Be a bit more careful with my choice of words.

This was a great reminder – and humbling, personally.  I work hard to slow down my delivery and try to choose more “internationally”-understood English words and phrases (and to avoid U.S.-specific colloquialisms), when presenting to non-native English speakers – and I generally believe I do a good job.  However, it was clear I could do better…!

It is very difficult for non-English audiences to spend a day or two working in English, as a second language – it can be confusing, at minimum, and very tiring overall…! 

During the last few months, I was at a number of sales kickoff meetings, where many of the presenters were from the U.S. (and audiences were very international).  The number of U.S.-specific references, analogies, metaphors, examples and colloquial phrases was truly staggering…!  Here are some examples that I heard (along with possible non-U.S. interpretations):

  • “Hit it out of the park” – [What are you hitting, and why?]
  • “That’s the minor leagues” – [Is this a music reference or perhaps a follow-on movie to the Justice League?]
  • “The cat’s out of the bag” – [Why was the cat in the bag?  What did he do?]
  • “That dog don’t hunt” – [Whose dog doesn’t do what?  And why?]
  • “It was wicked” – [Wicked – is that evil or good, or a referenced to the musical?]
  • “Piece of cake” – [Ahh, it must be time for dessert or our next coffee break, yes?]
  • “That’s just putting lipstick on a pig” – [Um, why and what did the pig do to you?]
  • “Break a leg” – [Sounds painful…]
  • “Monday morning quarterback” – [Do they play American football on Monday mornings?]
  • “The whole nine yards” – [What happened to the 10th yard?  And how many meters is that?]
  • “Go Dutch” – [Is that like, “Go Amsterdam FC!”?]
  • “It fell through the cracks” – [Are there cracks in our software?]
  • “We threw him under the bus” – [Now THAT’s going to leave a mark…!] 
  • “Off kilter” – [I’m totally lost on this one]
  • “Out of whack” – [Too bad, no more whacks in your bag, huh – perhaps the cat has more whacks in his bag…]

Annnnnd, (I hear you cry), how does this apply to demos?  Directly! 

Contemplate the challenges faced by YOUR customers when they are receiving demos presented using phrases and language that are U.S.-specific – and delivered at rapid-fire pace.  One of our top priorities in presenting demos is clarity of communication – so we should take the guidance from my Workshop participant above and

  1. Slow down
  2. Choose words and word phrases that are as international-English as possible…!

And by the way, “tabling” something in the U.S. means the opposite in the UK, Australia, and many other English-speaking countries – but that is an opportunity for another post…!

What’s the Value of Better Demos?

For the clueless, not a thing.  (Yes, there are those who believe their demos are just fine – no reason to change or improve.  Let them continue with that belief…!)

But for those who are awake and aware, better demos are exceptionally valuable…

On a per-customer basis:
-       Getting the initial business (vs. a competitor).
-       Securing the renewal (vs. churn to someone else).
-       Upselling.
-       Cross-selling.
-       Acquiring additional users and license expansion.

With respect to a market, vertical or channel:
-       Blocking competition and increasing one’s market share.
-       Enabling market presence and expansion into new verticals.
-       Establishing market dominance.
-       Gaining rapid traction with a newly launched product.
-       Leveraging the investment made in new releases.
-       Enabling an effective channel strategy.
-       Amplifying sales overall.

For the individual presales or sales practitioner:
-       The joy of knowing that it was your demo that got it done!
-       Acclamation from your colleagues.
-       The associated commission or bonus from that order.
-       Winning just one or two more opportunities – to make quota.
-       Winning just one or two more opportunities – to move to the next commission level.
-       Winning just one or two more opportunities – to go to “President’s Club”.

So how could we not pursue getting better with our demos?  But what does that really mean – in what ways can demos get better?  There are three dimensions to consider:

1.     How we show the content – personal style and verbal delivery.
2.     What we show – the script or content of the demo.
3.     And when we should (or should not) deliver a demo.

Most teams focus on Number 1 – but it has the smallest impact, so we’ll start with Number 3 instead…

When – Opportunity Cost

A wise colleague commented, “Just because you could show a demo doesn’t mean that you should…!”

There are only 225 (ish) selling days per year.  Clearly, any day consumed by a demo that does not yield reasonable progress is a waste.  And, that same day could have been invested in a sales opportunity with a better likelihood of success – so the loss of that day is doubly hurtful…!

Ask yourself, “What sales opportunities could I have been working if I had not been consumed by demos that went nowhere…?”

When – Waste Avoidance

What constitutes a “wasted” demo? 

·      "Overview” demos that go nowhere.
·      Demos that result in a “No Decision” outcome.
·      Unnecessary “repeat” demos – typically delivered in situations with multiple customer players.
·      Most trade-show demos.
·      Traditional demos delivered to large, unqualified audiences.
·      Any “deep dive” demo presented to any executive.
·      Nearly all “end-to-end”, “show-them-the-full-range-of-offerings” demos.

(It is interesting – and not surprising – to note that this list is largely comprised of demos delivered without sufficient Discovery.)

If we can avoid “wasted” demos, we’ll enjoy some terrific gains.  That means, of course, determining ahead of time which sales opportunities are poor candidates for a demo.  Here are a few ideas:

1.     “Overview Demos”:  Far too many overview demos are delivered too early in a sales process or without sufficient qualification or Discovery.  “Give them an overview and get them all excited – it’s a huge opportunity…!”

Software vendors often attempt to use an “overview” demo to start a dialog with a customer – and may try to use these to do Discovery along the way.  If you ask presales managers how many of these “overview” demos actually lead to a qualified prospect, the answer can be painfully low:  “Wasted” overview demos may run as low as 10-20% and as sadly high as 50% (and it gets worse with inside sales teams). 

Traditional overview demos show way too much, yet still miss the mark for the customer.  Instead, consider a crisp Vision Generation Demo to stimulate customer interest and move the customer gently (yet firmly) into a Discovery conversation.  That’s a huge improvement!

To repeat, “Just because you could show them a demo doesn’t mean that you should…!”

2.     Avoiding “No Decision”:  B-to-B software sales teams suffer from a surprisingly large number of “No Decision” outcomes (where the customer doesn’t purchase your offering, they don’t go with a competitor, they choose to do nothing – they remain with status quo). 

The best B-to-B software companies report ~20-25% of their forecasted opportunities ending as “No Decision”, the worst are around 75-85%, with most running around the 45-50% level. 

This is frightening…!  Why?

First, it means that perhaps half the sales projects that you pursue end up going nowhere…  Second, would you like some of that time back in your life?  (Say, “Yes”, with passion…!)

Third, there are typically three reasons why sales opportunities end as No Decision outcomes.  Is there a Critical Business Issue – or is it just a problem the customer willing to live with…?  Is the value clear?  Is there a date by when the customer needs a solution in place? 

Great Demo! practices help qualify-in or qualify-out deals before investing time with any substantive demo.  Far too many sales projects languish, “Living in the Land of Hope…”

[To be fair, some of these deals may eventually close – but close dates are typically waaaaaay after what was originally forecast…!]

3.     Multiple Demos per Opportunity:  Very (very!) frequently, vendors present multiple demos per opportunity – and even per customer stakeholder.  This is commonly due to the above, where vendors offer “overview” demos followed by one or more “deep dive” demos for various players on the customer team. 

One needs to ask, “Was the overview demo necessary…?”

-       Or would the customer have been willing to invest in a Discovery conversation – and avoid that first demo…
-       Or would the customer have been satisfied with a brief Vision Generation Demo – and again avoid that first longer demo…
-       Or would a few minutes of Discovery rule the customer out as a qualified lead, again avoiding that overview demo and possibly many subsequent “deep dive” demos – and potentially avoiding a No Decision outcome?  Hmmmm…

Next, we need to ask, “In addition to overview demos, why did we need to present ‘deep dive’ demos twice (or more) to the same person or people?”  Could it have been…

-       We didn’t do sufficient Discovery and, in spite of delivering two hours of demo, the customer said, “I didn’t see what I was looking for…”
-       The customer said the first demo(s) looked too complicated and confusing…
-       We ran out of time in our first demos (by spending too much time in Set-up Mode and workflow options before we got to the “best stuff”)…?

When – Do Your Own Math


-       How may demos do you present per week or month?
-       How much time is consumed in demo preparation, travel, and delivery?
-       What percent would you say is pure waste?
-       What percent end up as No Decision outcomes?

Multiply accordingly…  Then ask yourself, “Is this acceptable?”  (The correct answer is “No!”)

Great Demo! defines when to say “yes” to delivering a substantive demo – and when to push back, gently – and how to use self-rescue techniques to successfully deal with typical real-life situations.

What – the Content

Traditional demos attempt to present as many features and capabilities as possible in the time allotted – often without ever covering what the customer needed to see.  The resulting demos are perceived as confusing and complicated, the product appears bloated with more than the customer needs; there is little interaction between customer and vendor and with little communication of the business value. 

Great Demo! emphasizes completing sufficient Discovery prior to a Technical Proof demo to enable a critical focus on the Specific Capabilities and key deliverables the customer needs. 

The “Do the Last Thing First” approach assures that the most important elements (from the customers’ perspective) are presented right up front, enabling customers to see exactly what the software will do for them, how it can solve their business problems and how much value can be gained.

Great Demo! applies the fabulously simple concept of “Fewest Number of Clicks” to reduce the perception of complexity – and to build a vision in customers’ minds that they can visualize using the software themselves…!

Further, the Inverted Pyramid strategy enables vendor teams to organize and deliver demos in accord with customers’ depth and level of interest – presenting just enough to satisfy customers and complete the technical sale – without the risk of product bloat.

Multiple-player and multiple-solution scenarios are elegantly “chunked”, transforming painful “day-in-the-life-multiple-hats-do-you-remember-when-I-showed-you-this-now-we’ll-go-back-and…” sagas into well-structured, consumable segments mapped specifically to executives, middle-managers, staffers and administrators.  What a delight!

Best of all, perhaps, is that these ideas have been fully validated in recent studies.  It’s one thing to know in your heart that these methods are advantageous, it is truly wonderful to have them proven!

How – the Delivery

New hires in software firms are told to “learn the demo” – and often need to prove proficiency showing each of the steps in a traditional overview demo.  Their delivery style is generally dry and wooden as they struggle to simply follow the proscribed pathway.

As practitioners grow more seasoned, they become comfortable with the software and develop their own personal delivery style – generally defined by (and generally limited to) word choice, presence, energy, pace, and personal stories.

This is partly relevant in our equation, but not sufficient.

Far too many seasoned veterans (as well as new hires) present screen after screen after screen – without actually presenting the screens.  Customers struggle to take in what they are seeing while the presenter works through his or her “talk track” – a net zero in terms of successful communication. 

Similarly, traditional demos emphasize showing as much as possible in the time allowed – severely reducing or eliminating any chance for interactivity.  Customers perceive these demos as firehose deliveries, furiously flinging features and functions, frantically overfilling customers’ craniums with a copious cornucopia of confusing capabilities.  [Yes, I had fun with this sentence…]

Great Demo! practitioners learn how to clearly, crisply and compellingly communicate what the audience is seeing on the screen, how customers can solve their business problems using the tool, and how much value can be enjoyed by making the change.

The methodology enables a real conversation to take place by “Peeling Back the Layers” – encouraging interactivity by chunking, avoiding “pre-answering” questions, and frequent summaries.  Demos are perceived by customers as engaging and focused on their interests, resulting in a true dialog – requiring fewer demos to move the process forward and secure the order.

Further, Great Demo! Workshop participants learn to apply advanced techniques to make their demos truly remarkable, through the use of props and visual aids, whiteboard techniques, structured movement, real storytelling and other skills.

What You Don’t Know Does Hurt You

Here’s a truly frightening realization:  Most seasoned demonstrators don’t know how much they could improve…!  They have no idea of what is possible…  And most presales and sales managers similarly have a limited idea of what improvements are possible with their teams.  They don’t know what they don’t know…

Most practitioners and managers focus on style in the delivery – seeking small improvements in word choice, energy and related – but ignoring the larger, higher-impact changes to our topics above:

-       When demos should be presented and
-       What content should be presented. 

And frankly, these two items represent the real opportunity – and gains that have been validated!

So, What’s the Value of Better Demos?

Only you can determine this for yourself, so here’s a personal challenge:

-       Each time you realize you delivered a wasted demo, ask yourself, “Could this have been avoided?”
-       Each time a sales opportunity in which you invested one or more demos ends up as a No Decision, ask yourself, “Could we have predicted this earlier?”
-       Each time you deliver a demo, ask yourself, “Is this really getting the job done?”

Perhaps it is time to get better…!

Copyright © 2019 The Second Derivative – All Rights Reserved.

For information on Great Demo! Workshops, as well as more articles on demonstration effectiveness skills and methods, visit our website at  For demo tips, best practices, tools and techniques, join the Great Demo! LinkedIn Group or explore our blog at

How Would You Feel If…? A Hospital Example of Daily-use vs. Set-up Mode

Imagine you go to the hospital emergency room because you think you may have broken a bone in your arm…

You arrive and:

  • The ER admissions person greets you, but then takes you through a presentation of how the hospital was built, where the funding came from, the key leadership, some of their famous customers, and their locations around the country…
  • After 15 minutes, he finally goes through the forms.
  • (Your arm hurts more and is swelling…)

After finally being admitted, you are taken to the X-Ray Department, where:

  • The ER nurse describes how to set up the X-Ray apparatus and the other imaging equipment, then discusses the network requirements and infrastructure needed to move high resolution images throughout the hospital, followed by showing you many of the nuances of the Department’s new equipment…
  • After 20 minutes, she then runs the scans.
  • (Your arm has gotten really large and hurts very, very much…)

You are taken to a room and are told that a doctor will be with you shortly.  She enters, says hello, and:

  • She logs into the hospital Electronic Health Records system, noting how easy it is set up a new doctor in the system with all of the required documentation, including current (and future) training status, specialties, hours, patients, tasks and current appointments for the day.  She shows how to add new info to the doctor’s record and how to set up a series of appointments for the next week.  She offers comments about how privacy and security are paramount and are maintained in the system, and shows how two-factor authentication works. 
  • After 25 minutes, she locates your record and reviews the completed X-Ray scans.  She concludes that you have a broken arm that needs to be set.
  • (Your arm is huge and has gone numb…)

The doctor leaves the room, noting that a nurse will be in shortly to bandage, splint and put a cast on your arm.  A few minutes later, he enters and:

  • He describes the history of bandaging, splints and casts, from medieval times to the present, followed by detailing the chemistry of how casts are formed, noting the impact of temperature, humidity and air pressure on the resulting plaster.  He then reviews the options for mixing the plaster, depending on the expected duration of use, the size and location of the cast, and finally whether the cast will be expected to support no use, occasional use, or light-continual use.
  • 30 minute later, he mixes and sets the cast on your arm.
  • (Which still hurts like hoo-ha, but the pain medication portion of this story will come another time…)

So:  How is this experience different from a demo where the presenter shows “Set-up Mode” functionality for each module, before getting to “Daily-use Mode” operation? 

For solutions on how and when to present Set-up Mode vs. Daily-use Mode, see my article

Rescue – From the Tyranny of Traditional Demos

Ask yourself:

·      Have you ever felt like you have far too much to show in a demo – and insufficient time to show it? 
·      Have you ever said, “I’d like this to be interactive…” but you don’t get many questions?
·      And when you ask, “Any questions so far?” you hear, “Nope, we’re good…”
·      Have you even run out of time before you got to the best stuff?
·      Have you ever felt like your audience just didn’t “get it”?

You are likely suffering from the tyranny, the terror, and the trap of traditional demos.

The Tyranny

Traditional demos force us to present as much as we can in the allotted time.  We talk rapidly, mouse vigorously and cover as much demo territory as we can.  There is so much to show – and an hour is simply not enough time…

And it gets worse with each new release – all of those new capabilities to highlight!

The Terror

Has this ever happened?

“I promised them an overview demo…” reports the salesperson, “…and it’s a huge opportunity!”

We respond, “What do we know about the customer?”

“They are really interested…” is the response, “and they need to see a demo right away!”

We jump onto a web session and start our demo, only to realize that the customer is completely unfamiliar with our offerings and we know very little about them…  We pump up the energy in our delivery to try to connect with the audience, but they aren’t very responsive…

It feels like the more we show, the less they respond – we’ve entered terrifying territory – a place without time or dimension – we’ve entered The Traditional Demo Zone…!

The Traditional Trap

When a demo is first created for a new product, it is typically short and well-focused – there’s simply not that much to show.  With each successive release, demos get longer as new capabilities and workflows are added. 

Don’t we want to show the new stuff that’s just been released?  Don’t we want to show the latest and greatest?  Oh, and the slightly older stuff is also good, and the earlier stuff has some really cool capabilities and…

Release after release, year after year, our demos grow inexorably…!  And what fit nicely into an hour originally couldn’t possibly be done in an hour – so now we’ll do an hour-long overview and then schedule a deep dive…

But wait, there’s more terror in this trap…

Each time we hear a question that is asked by more than one customer, what do we do?  We add the answer to that question to our growing talk-track.  Not only do we need to cover more features and functions, but we also need to address all the questions we’ve heard more than once. 

We’re trapped!  There’s just too much to demo to do it well…!

And Our Customers’ Perceptions?

What about our customers – what are they thinking during these demos? 

“Wow – this looks really complicated…”
“This is more than we need…”
 “Where is this going…?”
“I just got lost – what are they talking about now?”
“Hmmm – just got a text I need to respond to…”
“And might as well check email…”
“Did they just ask us something?  Must have missed it…”
“Is this an hour meeting?”
“I wonder what I’ll have for lunch…”

Oh-oh…  And what are they saying after the demo, when we (the vendor) are gone?

“Well, that’s an hour I’ll never get back…”
“They don’t understand our business at all…”
“I got completely lost…”
“It looked really complicated and confusing…”
“Who invited those guys in…?”

Not good.  How did we get into this predicament?  We built traditional demos, that’s how…

The Traditional Approach to Building the Traditional Demo

The customary approach for creating demos is to outline a long story – “end-to-end” – designed to cover all of the workflows and capabilities, using a handful of fictional characters to tie things together.  Demos become training sessions, describing how to navigate the interface, how to customize for specific user types, how to set up forms, dashboards, create and edit records, enter and update supplementary data, walk through multiple interrelated workflows and (eventually) customize and run reports.  Very little is left out – “we need to communicate the full value of our offering…”

Intricate interdependencies seek to link disparate parts of the demo together:

We say, “Remember the record that we created for ‘Jane’ an hour ago?” 

Customer thinks, “Nope…”

We plunge on, “Now we’ll show how to take that information and edit it as Jane’s manager Jack and then pass it on to John and Jill in marketing and accounting…”

Customer is checking phone…

We say, “There are several ways you can do this…”

Customer wonders, “Is there a way out of this room?”

These demos often show multiple ways to accomplish individual tasks (why would a user want to see anything but the fastest possible way?).  Traditional demos attempt to show way too much – and strangely, not enough of what the customer actually wants to see. 

Wasted Time, Wasted Demos

And it gets worse…!  In theory, the more demos we do, the bigger the pipeline, correct?  Well, in theory…

But let’s examine.  How many demos that we deliver we know were simply a waste of time?  25%?  33%?  50%?  (Please don’t say more than 50% - that’s simply too painful…)

So we do more and more and more demos to try to fill the pipeline.  And the faster we go, the behinder we get (to paraphrase Lewis Carroll).  Our true productivity is frankly pretty poor – but it is not our fault!  (Or is it, at least partly?)

We are caught in the terrible, tyrannical trap of traditional demos.  There must be a way out…!

A Refreshing Approach – and Rescue

First, let’s invest a few healthy minutes in doing Discovery, before offering any substantive demo.  That alone would be a huge improvement…

But our sales colleague said they want a demo right away…!  We understand that – but let’s push back, gently but firmly, and use part of that “overview demo” meeting to do enough Discovery to enable a focused, customer-centric demo to be put together. 

Let’s stop guessing.  Let’s stop assuming that one demo fits all users.

Let’s use the Menu Approach to help our customer understand what high-level solutions are possible and enable them to self-qualify by letting them choose the Menu items of most interest to them.

Once they’ve selected a few topics, we’ll share brief Vision Generation Demos to provide our customer with a vision of what is possible – and to enable the Discovery conversation to take place.

And during our Discovery conversation, we provided some intriguing insights that lead to capabilities competitively biased in our favor.  Now we’ve got what we need to put together a truly Great Demo!

We know what Specific Capabilities we need to show in the demo – so we can leave out everything else that is not of interest to the customer – how refreshing!

We know what key deliverables the customer wants to consume – so we show those right up front, to engage our customer and begin a real conversation – and make our demo truly interactive.  How wonderful!

By knowing what is important for the various players, we can manage questions to avoid being dragged down rabbit holes or get lost in the weeds.  How delightful!

And we can organize our demo in accord with the relative importance and availability of the key players, engaging executive first, then middle managers, staffer/users and ultimately administrators and super-users.  How elegant!

Now our demos are crisp, prospects’ needs are clearly addressed, and the sales process moves forward productively.  And we’ve reduced the number of wasted demos substantially.  How productive!

And our lives take a pleasant turn for the better, as well – and since we do many fewer wasted demos, we have more time to prepare for the demos that really matter.  Rescue is at hand!

Excelsior!  Forward!  Banish the Traditional Demo Tyranny!

If you seek liberation from the tyranny of traditional demos, consider making a change.  And not a small, incremental, get-a-little-bit-better-but-still-do-largely-the-same-things change – make a real change.  A step change – a substantive change that will likely change your life…

Throw off the shackles of the old traditional approach – embrace a new, delightfully effective approach to creating and delivering demos. 

When you do, you’ll hear your customers say to you, “Wow – that was a Great Demo!”

Copyright © 2018 The Second Derivative – All Rights Reserved.

For information on Great Demo! Workshops, as well as more articles on demonstration effectiveness skills and methods, visit our website at  For demo tips, best practices, tools and techniques, join the Great Demo! LinkedIn Group.

Stunningly Awful Sales Outcomes – the Opportunity That Just Wouldn’t Close

Getting Critical Dates from prospects is very often neglected, but is surprisingly significant…  There are typically three reasons why a sales opportunity goes to “No Decision”:

  1. Customer agrees there is a problem, but doesn’t perceive it as Critical
  2. Customer doesn’t see the Value
  3. There is no Critical Date by when a solution needs to be in place (from the customer’s viewpoint)

Let’s look at number 3…  Far too often, customers just can’t seem to “pull the trigger” and make the purchase.  Let’s explore…

We ask, “Isn’t the problem important for you to solve?”  Customer responds, “Oh yes…!”

We ask and note, “Don’t you see the value – and that you are losing more and more of that value every day…”  Customer sighs and says, “Oh yes, the value is terrific – and I hate losing that value every day…!”

We then ask, “Then what is holding you back from making the purchase?”  Customer responds, “I don’t know…!”

They agree the problem is huge, they see the value, but they just can’t take that one additional step to make the purchase.  Why?  People are willing to live with the hell that they know – forever – unless they have a Critical Date or Event that forces them to make the change and implement.  (Anyone ever procrastinate writing a college or university paper until juuuuuuust before the deadline?)

Sadly, most sales teams think in terms of their own quarter-ends as the “Critical Date” – and it is a Critical Date, but for the sales team, not the customer!

During Discovery, ask if the customer has a date by when they need to have a solution in place (and why).  Here are a few Critical Dates and Events could serve as examples for discussion:

  • Any major changes in your business expected in the near future – acquisitions, divestitures, new building, a move, reorganization or major new hires or retires?
  • Any compliance or regulatory events on the near horizon – audits, compliance reports, new regulations going into place?
  • End of life or end of support for existing software or equipment?
  • End of your fiscal year or quarter?
  • Does your budget go away if not spent by a date?
  • Project deadline?
  • New project expected?
  • Kickoff or quarterly meeting?
  • Selling season(s) – e.g., Summer Holidays, Halloween, Winter Holidays?
  • Tax season?
  • Board meeting?

Critical Dates can be hard to get if you haven’t made it a habit in your Discovery conversations…  

When speaking with my prospects for Great Demo! Workshops, once a customer sounds like he/she is seriously interested in a session, I’ll ask something like, “Do you have any plans to have the team together in the next few months – for example, for a sales kickoff meeting, quarterly inquisition, or similar event?”  This helps to precipitate the customer’s thinking about when specifically to schedule a session.  I’ll note that “other customers in similar situations added a day or two to their meeting plan – which saved them substantial travel costs, since the flights would already have been in the plan for the original meeting…”

Based on the nature of your customer’s business, you might suggest a few of these and see if there is a reaction.  What you’d like to hear would be, “Oh yeah – I hadn’t thought of this in terms of BLANK – great suggestion!”  At which point you’d gently (but firmly) pursue it…

Any other suggestions?

Stunningly Awful Remote Demos – The Top Ten List of Inflicting Pain at a...

Would you like a horror story? I do a lot of “prep” demos with my customers, asking them to present live demos to me, over...

What Can We Learn by Analyzing 67,439 Software Demos? – Some Surprising New Insights

What can we learn by analyzing 67,439 software demos?  A great deal…! Surprising Insight Number 1:  Traditional linear, end-to-end and overview demos are NOT a...

Stunningly Awful Demos – The Great Demo! Top Ten List of What NOT to...

Here’s a collection of poor tactics, bad errors and faulty steps you can take to increase the likelihood that your demo will be a...

Disasters Neatly Averted – Dealing with “Day-in-the-Life” Demos

A colleague once cynically commented, in response to a request for a “day-in-the-life” demo, “Give me a week and I can show you a...

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Great Demo! Excellence

The following interview transcript offers some intriguing insights into demos, Great Demo! methodology, doing Discovery, and offers some potentially surprising (and highly useful) recommendations...

Some Insights into Challenger…

A number of people have commented that “we don’t need to do Discovery” when using the Challenger sales methodology…  They are wrong! The Challenger and...

Stunningly Awful Demos – Lost in the Weeds

(The Elegant Art of Managing Questions and Time) You are in the midst of delivering a demo and things are going well…  Somebody asks a...

When Was the Last Time YOU Were a Customer?

Great Demo! is all about the customer’s perspective – what is it the customer is looking for in the demo, what do they want...

Stunningly Awful Demos – The Relative Irrelevance of Set-Up Mode

It’s Monday morning and you’ve just arrived in your office – what is the first thing you do?  Build a brand new dashboard or report Set...

Vision Generation Demos – The Crisp Cure for Stunningly Awful Harbor Tours

What is a Vision Generation demo?  It is just enough demo to generate a vision in the customer’s mind that a solution to a...

Unconsciously Incompetent Managers – The Impact of the 4 Stages on Coaching

How many newly-minted managers are promoted into their managerial roles from individual contributor positions?  And how many of these new managers are provided with...

How Does Your CUSTOMER Know When You’ve Done Enough Discovery?

Discovery is done not just for your sake as the vendor, but (even more importantly) for your customer to feel comfortable about your proposed...

Getting Pre-Demo Info from Sales People

Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges faced by presales folks is the lack of information provided by sales before a demo.  “Just give them...

Asking More Questions – Why?

Surprisingly, I often hear the following observation from Great Demo! Workshop alumni:  “Some of our sales people are concerned when we start asking questions...

New Posts