Cognitive Dissonance in Demos


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How does cognitive dissonance apply to delivering demos? Cognitive dissonance can be defined as an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously in mind. Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person perceives a logical inconsistency with his/her thoughts.

This happens when one idea implies the opposite of another. In movies, a great example is when a man and woman initially despise each other, but then fall in love (grudgingly at first, of course!).

Does cognitive dissonance occur with software demos? Yes and no. [Sorry, couldn’t resist the example!] It certainly happens when the vendor says, “Easy to use…” but the demo shows the offering as complex and confusing, from the customer’s perspective.

Equally importantly, cognitive dissonance may occur within the vendor’s team – particularly in discussions between sales and presales players, both before and after the demo:

– “Have we done sufficient qualification and discovery?” ” Yes, but… we don’t really know what they need.”
– “Did we address the customer’s key needs?” “Yes, but… we did the same demo we always do.”
– “Did we achieve our objective for the demo?” “Yes, but… the customer didn’t ask very many questions during the demo – and they didn’t say what their next steps are.”

What do we, as the vendor, remember from a demo vs. what the customer remembers – or what we think the customer remembers?

Interestingly, our first impressions of the relative success of a demo are sometimes the harshest. As a few hours pass, or several days, our memory of the demo tends to slant more towards the positive. [The effect intensifies with the number of beers/drinks at the airport bar, not surprisingly…] This suggests that demo teams should debrief and capture, in writing, their impressions of the demo meeting as soon after the meeting as possible:

– What went well?
– What could have done better/differently?
– What expected/unexpected problems appeared?
– What did the customer say? What didn’t they say?
– What action items/follow-up did we promise? Did they promise?

Most people’s brains work to resolve cognitive dissonance, tending towards a filtered set of perceptions. Those perceptions often mask or causatively ignore the initially dissonant items – resulting in over-positive final impressions, inflated forecasts, and shock when the deals don’t close!

Copyright © 2010 The Second Derivative – All Rights Reserved.

For more tips and articles on demonstration effectiveness skills and methods, email me at [email protected] or visit our website at For demo tips, best practices, tools and techniques, join the DemoGurus Community Website at, or the Great Demo! LinkedIn Group, or explore our blog at

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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