A Demo Horror Story – Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory


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A few years ago, while teaching a Great Demo! Workshop I presented a slide that listed outcomes of showing too many features in a demo. As I revealed a bullet that read, “Too Complicated” I heard a gentleman in the back of the room exclaim, “Oh, S**t!”

I stopped and asked, “What’s up?”

He sighed deeply and then said, “We just negatively converted a $250,000 deal down to a $5,000 1-user order.”

“Ouch!” I said, “What happened?”

He shook his head, as if still in disbelief, and then began his story…

The Discovery Meeting

“This story could be called, ‘The Sales Prevention Team’!” he commented ruefully. The Workshop participants and I all leaned forward to listen…

“I’m a sales manager and was visiting a prospect who had inquired about our offerings. We met to have a discovery conversation and the prospect outlined his need for improved data visualization capabilities. We discussed his situation in depth and then began to describe the kinds of deliverables our tool enabled.

As we developed a vision of a solution, our prospect got more and more excited. So much so, in fact, that he declared, ‘This is terrific! This is exactly the kind of thing we’ve been hoping for!’

He said, ‘I’ve got 50 target end-users for this application and they need it to complete a key project by quarter-end.’

We discussed pricing and he was comfortable with the numbers, as we had explored value aspects during the conversation. He had noted that his current technology was going to cause the project to be late by 6 months or more – he was confident our tool would enable him and his team to finish well within the quarter.

Our tool cost $5,000 per user, so the opportunity totaled $250,000. Our prospect revealed that this was entirely doable; he had the budget and the ability to drive the purchase internally.

‘This is great, this is great…!’ he said, adding ‘Here’s what we need to do: I’ll organize a demo meeting for the 50 users and, assuming they give us a thumbs-up – and they should – we’ll move forward with the order.’

He had essentially turned himself into a champion, promoting our tool and pursuing his internal buying process. He set a date for the demo a few days later, when he could gather all 50 of his folks together.”

The sales manager shook his head again sadly, sighing, before continuing…

The Demo Meeting

“On the day of the demo, our champion had indeed gathered the 50 end-users into a large room. We had agreed on 1 hour for the demo.

I had brought Matt, a seasoned veteran, to deliver the demo and I’d briefed him on the details of the previous discovery conversation. Matt got his laptop set up and was ready to go.

I kicked-off the meeting with brief introductions followed by a crisp review of what we’d learned about the prospect’s visualization needs. Our champion confirmed that the information was correct, with no changes. Matt then took over…

Matt started his demo and in the first 10 minutes he covered everything that had been discussed in discovery. The audience members were excited, nodding their heads and contributing very positive comments. They could see themselves using the tool, at this point, and sounded eager to start.

Matt looked at his watch and said, ‘Oh, it looks like we have another 45 minutes left in our meeting. Why don’t I show you some of the other cool things our software can do?’

[Editor’s note: at this point, dear reader, you are likely making a “Cut, cut” motion like a movie director stopping a failed scene…]

Well, Matt dove in. He showed how you could set up different templates, he showed how you could write scripts, he showed how you could publish visualizations in a variety of ways, he showed how you could customize your preferences and settings, he showed how there was a ‘comprehensive help system available…’ And he consumed all of the remaining 45 minutes of the meeting.

At the close of the meeting, we stepped out of the room so our champion could have a private conversation with his users. He came out a few minutes later and said, ‘What we’ve decided to do is to take a license for a single user, an expert. We’ll have everyone else take the visualization problems to her to do using your tool…’

I spluttered, ‘But, but why?’

Our champion responded, ‘The users said it looked too complicated and too difficult to use.’”

At this point there was a collective, shocked gasp from the Workshop participants and me.

The sales manager sighed again, deeply, and shook his head, saying, “A negative conversion of $245,000 as a result of showing too much…!”

The Morals

Moral 1:

Discovery should uncover the Specific Capabilities desired by your prospects and your demos should focus on presenting exactly what your prospect desires. That’s why they are called Specific Capabilities!

Moral 2:

Stop selling when the prospect is ready to buy.

Moral 3:

It is absolutely OK to end a meeting early. If you are done, be done. And then say to your prospect, “That’s 45 minutes you get back in your day, from us…!”

Moral 4:

Don’t become a member of the “Sales Prevention Team”!

Any others?

Copyright © 2022 The Second Derivative – All Rights Reserved.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Peter Cohan
Have you ever seen a bad software demonstration? Peter Cohan is the founder and principal of Great Demo!, focused on helping software organizations improve the success rates of their demos. He authored Great Demo! - how to prepare and deliver surprisingly compelling software demonstrations. Peter has experience as an individual contributor, manager and senior management in marketing, sales, and business development. He has also been, and continues to be, a customer.


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