Assessing Demonstration Skill Levels – How Does Your Team Rate?


Share on LinkedIn

Many presales and sales practitioners say they are skilled at doing demos – but are they? Organizations that achieve Level 12 enjoy remarkable scaling and amplification results and establish substantial competitive advantages vs. their peers.

Here’s a simple method to assess where you and your team stand, based on twelve levels of increasing proficiency – the Twelve Levels of Demonstration Skills:

Level 1: Follows the “standard” demo script.

Level 2: Customizes based on prospect’s market/industry.

Level 3: Customizes based on discovery information uncovered.

Level 4: Communicates business value.

Level 5: Manages and explores prospect questions.

Level 6: Communicates enhancement and new feature requests to product.

Level 7: Uses Biased Questions to outflank competition and reengineer vision.

Level 8: Applies storytelling techniques to reinforce key ideas.

Level 9: Differentiates Vision Generation from Technical Proof scenarios.

Level 10: Captures and reuses demo success scenarios.

Level 11: Applies these skills to the broad range of demo scenarios required, including demos for prospects occupying different portions of the Technology Adoption Curve, presenting new products, Executive Briefing Centers, transactional sales cycles, expansion opportunities, lunch and learn sessions, tradeshows, demos for analysts and third parties, channel partners, internal demos, and other scenarios.

Level 12: Integrates, aligns, and leverages the skills above into a cohesive demonstration methodology.

Where are you and your team on this spectrum?Let’s explore each level…

Level 1 – Follows the “Standard” Demo Script

Most presales and sales new hires go through basic training on the company’s products and systems, along with introductions to their various go-to-market and sales process steps.For presales and some salespeople, this includes learning the basic demo for each product they will represent.

And many organizations test whether the new team member has mastered the “standard” demo through a certification roleplay.That’s Level 1, which is often focused on ensuring that the employee understands the various capabilities in their software and relevant positioning.

Note that these “standard” demos are often structured in the form of Stunningly Awful Harbor Tours; they not optimized for any specific prospect or demo scenario.There is an expectation (hopefully!) that sales and presales practitioners will only use these “standard” demos as a starting point.Sadly and unfortunately, many people continue to follow these same demo pathways for years…!

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 1:

  • “Certification” by a manager, certification team, mentor, or colleague.

Level 2 – Customizes Based on Prospect’s Market/Industry

The first small step towards customizing demos to meet prospects’ situations is often reflected in the use of market- or industry-specific data sets.This can be as simple as using a pre-built demo environment for each industry – manufacturing, finance, pharma, etc. 

In the absence of pre-built environments, practitioners might modify data themselves and/or apply appropriate terminology on-the-fly in their verbal delivery during the demo.

Another dimension of this level of customization is adapting the demo to meet the specifics of a region, which might range from including regional addresses or phone syntax, job titles and local terminology, to verbal delivery in the prospect’s local language (e.g., like Californian, dude…!).

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 2:

  • Makes appropriate changes to demo data and verbal delivery.

Level 3 – Customizes Based on Discovery Information Uncovered

This requires three steps to complete:

  1. Discovery must be done;
  2. Discovery information must be communicated (if it isn’t the same person doing discovery and the demo);
  3. Discovery information must be incorporated in the demo.

Sound obvious?Sadly, I’ve seen countless demos where:

  1. Discovery was never done or was insufficient to impact what was shown in the demo;
  2. Discovery was done (by someone else) but was never communicated to the demo presenter;
  3. Discovery was done but was ignored in the resulting demo.

Very simply, sufficient discovery provides guidance on which capabilities to include in the demo – and which capabilities to leave out.If your team’s demos follow the same path regardless of what was learned in discovery, then they haven’t achieved Level 3.

An observation:It is incredibly insulting to prospects who have invested in a substantive discovery conversation with a vendor to have that vendor ignore the discovery information provided! 

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 3:

A) Sufficient discovery is complete;

B) Discovery information is communicated;

C) Presents or doesn’t present capabilities in alignment with discovery information collected.

Level 4 – Communicates Business Value

The number 1 complaint from presales and sales managers about their teams’ demos is that “they don’t communicate business value…”And in order to communicate business value, teams need to know what it is for their prospects!

Generic Business Value: 

Case 1:In the simplest case, presales and sales teams should be able to articulate the intangible benefits of their solution.This might be phrased as, “Our software enables you to reduce the time needed to…”Frankly, this is too generic and, accordingly, is nearly meaningless…

Case 2:Slightly better is to communicate the kinds of gains seen in the industry, “Our customers report savings of 2-4 weeks in process time…”But will this resonate with the current prospect?

Case 3:An additional improvement is to be more specific, “Other customers who are very similar to you report process reductions of 2-3 weeks…” This will feel more relevant for the current prospect – but note that the numbers are someone else’s.

Specific Business Value:

Communicating the prospect’s specific business value requires (yes, you guessed it) doing discovery…!During discovery, any time your prospect “admits pain”, your job is to quantify it. 

When the prospect says, “It takes too long…” your response should be in the form of two questions:

1. How long does it take today?

2. How long should it take?

The difference is the Delta – a simple and direct expression of value.A few additional questions will enable you to do the math (“maths”, for you in the UK, etc.) to calculate meaningful business value statements. 

An example:

Prospect states, “It takes too long…”

You ask, “How long does it take today?”Prospect responds, “The full process currently takes 10 business days…”

You enquire, “And what would you like it to be – what does it need to be?”Prospect answers, “We need to cut this down to 2 business days.”

You follow-up with, “And how often do you run this process?”“Every two weeks – 25 times per year…” is the response. 

You then ask, “And how many people are consumed by this process today?”Prospect replies, “10 staff members – it’s their only function.”

So, this prospect could redeploy 80% of this team to other tasks – that’s 8 FTE (Full Time Equivalents) – that’s the tangible and specific value of making the change for this prospect!This information should be communicated and reinforced throughout the demo – it is the driving force for making the change.

Goals, Objectives and Outcomes:

Finally, Level 4 practitioners uncover prospects’ overarching business goals and objectives, in discovery, and align their discussion of business value with these goals and objectives (“Critical Business Issues”).

In the example above, when we identified the specific business value for a particular process – the Level 4 practitioner would also have asked, “Why do you need to improve your process – what is your objective for this project?”The prospect’s response might be something like, “We’ve been tasked to increase our overall productivity by 10% and this process was identified as a key problem area…”So, the Critical Business Issue is “Increasing productivity by 10%” – and we would make sure to include this in our discussion of business value during the demo.

In Great Demo! methodology, we include the prospect’s Critical Business Issue(s) as well as the specific business value on the Situation Slide; we revisit them when we present Illustrations; and we include them in our Summaries.Consistent, precise communication of business value is a critical success factor for demos – and can be a major point of differentiation between vendors!

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 4:

A) Presents generic business value statements;

B) Presents tangible, prospect-specific business value;

C) Ties the business value to the Critical Business Issue(s).

Level 5 – Manages and Explores Prospect Questions

There are two parts to this level.First, assessing and managing the flow of questions and second, exploring the intent behind prospect questions. 

Achieving the first portion is a dynamic process of understanding, “Is this something I need to answer now or should it be deferred until later?”The use of a question Parking Lot is an indicator of successful question management.

Part two is exploring the why behind prospect questions.Is it earnest interest?Is it a “landmine” planted by a competitor?Is it a “KO” criteria or a “nice to have”?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a prospect ask, “Can your software do X?” and the vendor responds “Absolutely!” or “No, but we have a workaround – here, I’ll show you…”

In both cases, the vendor missed an important opportunity to seek clarification…“How important is this to you?”“What prompted your question?”“What is it you need to accomplish with this kind of capability?”“How often would it be used?”

The Level 5 practitioner investigates prospect questions thoughtfully! 

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 5:

A) Applies Parking Lot principles;

B) Asks clarification questions.

Level 6 – Communicates Enhancement and New Feature Requests to Product

Salespeople working a high-value opportunity will often voice an urgent need for a new feature – in order to get the business.Presales folks must communicate prospect needs as well, but with a bit more restraint and circumspection…!

For most software companies, new feature requests need to align with product roadmaps that are designed to embrace specific markets – and if the new feature desired is too far off track, it becomes a costly distraction or worse (pulling developers off of the “mainstream” effort; requiring ongoing support for a single customer rather than meeting the needs of majority). 

Accordingly, presales (and sales) practitioners must log feature requests with additional information on the relative importance of the new capability and a range of other parameters.What are examples of specific use-cases for this?Will this enable a new space for us?Do we need it to achieve competitive parity?Will it outflank our competition?Is the request coming from one prospect or many?Is the request coming from a new-name prospect or a current customer?Did the prospect actually request the capability or did we (in the field) realize this is needed? 

Most software companies have specific new feature logging processes and parameters.The Level 6 practitioner understands these and records requests accordingly.

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 6:

  • New feature requests include use-cases, relative value, importance, and alignment information.

Level 7 – Uses Biased Questions to Outflank Competition and Reengineer Vision

It is a major step to achieve Level 7 practices – most presales and salespeople are unaware of the use of Biased Questions and reengineering vision. 

Biased Question leads the prospect towards a (logical) conclusion, such as the need for your competitively advantageous capability.In these cases, the capability is introduced verbally – and then shown only when the prospect agrees to see it.Note that simply showing capabilities that were not requested by the prospect puts you at risk of “buying it back”.

The Level 7 practitioner has a store of Biased Questions ready to deploy (both in discovery and demos) and introduces them when appropriate. 

Vision reengineering is another advanced topic – it is the process of helping your prospect expand their vision to embrace yours in the form of your offering’s capabilities.An example is the difference between a static report (prospect’s current deliverable) and a dynamic dashboard with live “slicing and dicing” and drill-down capabilities.Biased Questions are frequently used by Level 7 sales and presales people to drive vision reengineering conversations.

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 7:

A) Uses Biased Questions;

B) Establishes reengineered vision.

Level 8 – Applies Storytelling Techniques to Reinforce Key Ideas

Next to “communicating business value”, storytelling is perhaps the next most frequent demo skills improvement sought by sales and presales managers.But “wrapping a story around your demo…” is not a simple or effective solution.Storytelling is about communication stickiness – and the ability for your prospects to remember your key messages.

Accordingly, “A Day in the Life” demo is not an effective story – it is only a framework…Level 8 practitioners use stories when presenting their most important points, critical concepts and key competitive capabilities.Stories help make these ideas memorable – and enable the ideas to be retold with high fidelity within the customer’s organization.

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 8:

  • Uses discrete stories to support key capabilities or concepts.

Level 9 – Differentiates Vision Generation from Technical Proof Scenarios

Presales managers report that that as many as 30% of their team’s demos are wasted – delivering Harbor Tours for unqualified prospects, for example.When prospects click the “Book a Demo” button on vendor websites, they often just want to see “the art of the possible” – not all of the details.

Many vendors say, “We couldn’t possibly present a demo in less than an hour…” Sadly, this is likely 50 minutes too long for what their prospects want to see.They are out of alignment.

Level 9 practitioners recognize this and have mastered the ability to provide just enough demo to generate vision and to enable a discovery conversation to take place.They have learned how to use examples of customer success stories and screens of key deliverables (Informal Success Stories and Illustrations, respectively) to accomplish these objectives.These practitioners gently (but firmly!) satisfy their prospects’ desire to see “the art of the possible” and then move into discovery conversations.

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 9:

Level 10 – Captures and Enables Reuse of Demo Success Scenarios

As presales and salespeople mature, they recognize the importance of altruism and mutual enablement – sharing what has worked (and not worked) with their peers generates a virtuous feedback loop, enabling individuals to tap into the broader experiences of the team.

Informal Success Stories are part of the lifeblood of an organization and are used by seasoned presales and salespeople as integral parts of their processes.They often start with a phrase like, “Let me share how another customer, very similar to you, solved this…”The balance of the story (often a “Hero’s Journey”) describes how the customer’s challenges were overcome using the vendor’s offerings.

These positive feedback loops often start informally with post-demo vendor team discussions of “what went well?”, “what didn’t go well?”, and “what could we have done better or differently?”Formalizing this process to make post-demo reviews a structured, regular habit is a key indicator of Level 10 practices.

Now, imagine a room of 50 presales and salespeople at a January Kickoff meeting…Each has been asked to write down a customer success story that they experienced – just one story each.10 minutes later they send those stories to an enablement person who collects them into a library.Suddenly, everyone has 49 new success stories to draw from and use in their sales and presales efforts – what a delight!

Collecting Informal Success Stories in Great Demo! Situation Slide format along with accompanying Illustrations and successful Menus enables delivery of Vision Generation Demos for the entire team, as well as providing terrific examples of what good, well-qualified prospects look like – prospect “fit”.These templates rapidly amplify and accelerate sales and presales processes while reducing (rather dramatically) the number of wasted demos. 

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 10:

A) Completes regular, structured post-demo reviews;

B) Submits Informal Success Stories and accompanying Illustrations to corporate library;

C) Bonus for submitting Menus.

Level 11 – Applies These Skills to the Broad Range of Demo Scenarios Required

Entry-level presales and salespeople often view “prospects” as the sole audience for their demos.As they gain more experience, they realize that there is a surprisingly broad range of demos requested of them, for prospects, existing customers, internal scenarios, and for 3rd parties.Each of these requires an understanding of the objectives for the demo and the audience’s specific interests.

Some examples:

- Executive Briefing Center Demos:Often presenting to prospect or customer executives who want a high-level understanding of current and future capabilities and deliverables.

- Demos for Third Parties:A clear understanding of “What’s in It for Them?” (“WIIFTs”) is a key to determine what to show…

- Channel Partners and Resellers:Your objective is to make your offerings the preferred products for your Partners to sell – and to make them easy to sell, easy to buy… 

- Internal Demos:Are we training new hires or cross-training existing folks?Working with product folks? Showing our peers a cool new way to present capabilities?

- What do we share with our prospects’ Champions vs. the balance of their teams?

- How should we present our software to Early Adopters vs. Early Majority vs. Late Majority prospects?What level of detail or proof does each group want or need?

- How do we deal with large groups with a variety of job titles in a single demo meeting?

- What about demos for existing customers contemplating expanding their licenses

- How can we use Lunch and Learn demos?

- How do we want to structure our tradeshow demos?

- How do we build automated and recorded demos – what should be included and how should they be produced?

Successful Level 11 practitioners apply a structured approach to their demos, taking into account the objectives for the demo (for both parties), the audience members and their specific interests, as well as the nature of the meeting and venue.They also recognize that each scenario, while unique in principle, can be best addressed with certain reusable demo components.

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 11:

A) Applies the learned skills to the broad range of demo scenarios required, including prospects occupying different portions of the Technology Adoption Curve, new products, Executive Briefing Centers, transactional sales cycles, expansion opportunities, lunch and learn sessions, tradeshows, demos for analysts and third parties, Channel Partners and Resellers, and other scenarios;

B) Recognizes and leverages demo component reusability.

Level 12 – Integrates, Aligns, and Leverages the Skills into a Cohesive Demonstration Methodology

The goals here are amplification and scaling – this where the biggest gains can be achieved…!

Seasoned presales and sales practitioners at Level 11 realize that many of their individual skills and demo assets can be reused, combined and repurposed, providing (potentially enormous) leverage and efficiencies with their processes.This is the essence of demonstration methodology.

A Demonstration Methodology is an integrated, coherent suite of components that interconnect, leverage and support one another, enabling process, playbooks, coordinated motions, consistency, tracking, measurement, and structured coaching.Methodology addresses three key questions:

1. Why – why do things a certain way

2. What – what should be done

3. How – how and when to execute specific skills – explicit instructions

Methodology enables skills to be taught and practiced, both individually and as integrated components.In Great Demo! methodology, for example, Informal Success Stories feed Vision Generation Demos and associated Menus, supporting a variety of demo scenarios (such as “show just me a demo” requests from prospects, Executive Briefing Center demos, demos for 3rd parties and many others).

Interestingly, the VP of Enablement of one of our Great Demo! customers noted that, “Methodology enables enablement…!”An insightful and provocative perspective…!

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 12:

A) Operates as a team or organization as opposed to individuals;

B) Assesses and leverages demo capital that supports and enables amplification and scaling;

C) Establishes objectives and tracks metrics to improve team performance and efficiency;

D) Provides structured coaching for new-hires and ongoing development of existing team members;

E) Actively evolves and tunes methodology in accord with company objectives and culture.

Organizations that achieve Level 12 enjoy remarkable scaling and amplification metrics, and establish substantial competitive advantages vs. their peers.

But Wait – There’s More…!

Note that there is a Zero Level as well, that really should be considered a baseline for all demos and presentations: 

Level 0:Engages and drives interactivity (with both virtual and face-to-face demos, as appropriate). 

Sadly, many presenters never even achieve this level…!Far too many demos start with the phrase, “Can you see my mouse?” followed by 60 minutes of click-and-talk, click-and-talk – and when the presenter asks, “Any questions for far?” the responses are often either “Nope, we’re good…” or “Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp…”

For virtual demos, tools like Gong and Refract provide “speaker-switches” and “talk-to-listen-ratio” metrics to help presenters evaluate their demo delivery.

Measurement(s) for Achieving Level 0:

A) Presenter talk-to-listen ratios are close to 65:45 for demos (46:54 for discovery calls);

B) Speaker-switches occur every 76 seconds, on average.

Twelve+ Levels of Demonstration Skills

Level 0: Engages and drives interactivity.

Level 1: Follows the “standard” demo script.

Level 2: Customizes based on prospect’s market/industry.

Level 3: Customizes based on discovery information uncovered.

Level 4: Communicates business value.

Level 5: Manages and explores prospect questions.

Level 6: Communicates enhancement and new feature requests to product.

Level 7: Uses Biased Questions to outflank competition and reengineer vision.

Level 8: Applies storytelling techniques to reinforce key ideas.

Level 9: Differentiates Vision Generation from Technical Proof scenarios.

Level 10: Captures and reuses demo success scenarios.

Level 11: Applies these skills to the broad range of demo scenarios required

Level 12: Integrates, aligns, and leverages the skills above into a cohesive demonstration methodology.

In the absence of this kind of analysis, most veteran presales and salespeople, when asked, would position themselves as “advanced” or “expert” in preparing and delivering demos.In fact, when I asked one head of presales about her team, she said, “Well, I’d say that only 20% of the veterans are really good – the others think they’re good, but they have a long way to go…!”

Sadly, most individuals and teams are operating today at Levels 2 and 3.Use the Levels in this article to assess where you and your team stands today – and if you aren’t where you should be (or where you want to be), perhaps it is time to up-level your skills set and move towards real methodology adoption.

Copyright © 2021 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.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here