Discovery and Demos for Transactional Sales Cycles – When More Must Be Less (And Less More)


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Is it possible to complete an introduction, engage with a Vision Generation Demo, segue into a Discovery conversation, deliver a brief Technical Proof Demo, and execute a soft close in a 45- or 60-minute call?


Let’s explore the strategy and mechanics to accomplish this…

But First – Some Perspective

Many software vendors have partitioned their sales and presales teams into tiers to address different prospect organizations, typically by prospect size and revenues: 

  • Enterprise – largest prospects; largest revenue opportunities
  • Mid-market – mid-size prospects; mid-sized orders
  • SMB – smallest prospects; smallest deals

Enterprise prospects generally enjoy working with the most seasoned sales and presales teams; Mid-market prospects are aligned with sales and presales folks with somewhat less experience; and the SMB prospects are often the training ground for the vendor’s newest hires into sales and presales.

And while Enterprise and Mid-market segments experience full sales cycles (and buying processes), SMB prospects are often relegated to “transactional” sales processes, based on economics:the smaller revenues of SMB orders can’t justify the time and expense of full sales cycles and veteran vendor teams.

But here is the first potential disconnect:what is small to the vendor may be large to the prospect.

Visualize the owner of a small business – responsible for the livelihoods of 50 employees, struggling to generate $6 million in annual revenues to keep the business growing.Profits may be a few $10,000s, after salaries, benefits, and operating expenses.Investing in a new “core” software system may represent a big chunk of these funds.

Accordingly, an order of $20-25K for the vendor is a drop in the overall revenues bucket – but to the prospect that same amount constitutes the major investment of the year (or next several years)!

Similarly, the SMB owners need to get it right the first time – a failed implementation would be disastrous, and a sub-optimal system could hamstring growth.It’s an important decision!

And here’s another disconnect…

Contemplate our SMB owner – operating the business for 20+ years and 40, 50 or 60 years old – interacting with the vendor’s SMB rep, which one owner described as “a kid, fresh out of college, with no experience in the industry, trying to sell me his software in a 30-minute Zoom call…” 

From the owner’s perspective, there’s no credibility, no trust, no expectation of long-term relationship – these are serious challenges for both parties.Not a good starting point!

Inbound vs. Outbound?Request for Demo?

As a prospect, I’m not a fan of receiving outbound calls from vendors – I don’t like the interruptions or the attempted “gimmicks” to engage.For this article, let’s assume that all leads are inbound or that the vendor rep has already established comparable interest if the call was outbound.

Let’s also assume that our prospect has engaged by requesting a demo from the vendor.Accordingly, there is an expectation in the prospect’s mind that the vendor should be prepared to present a demo, which puts our vendor in the classic (sad) situation of the seller not knowing enough about the prospect and vice versa…!

The following process is a proven cure for this ailment and the disconnects identified above…

The Full Flow

Here’s the outline of the major steps in our 45- to 60-minute call:

  • Intro – About the Prospect
  • Menu and Vision Generation Demo
  • Discovery Conversation
  • Discovery Summary – Go/No Go
  • Technical Proof Demo
  • Q&A – Value and Pricing
  • Soft Close

Let’s examine each step in turn…

Intro – About the Prospect

Once the objectives for the call have been established, one terrific starting point is to ask about the prospect’s personal background or history.For example, “Tell me about your background – how did you arrive at this position of power and authority at xxx?”

People are often most comfortable talking about themselves – it is a question that is easy to ask and easy to answer. 

What you learn in the “About the Prospect” description can be extremely helpful, providing background on your prospect’s experience and insights into their personality.It also begins to establish rapport and a “call and response” dialogue for the conversation.

This initial interchange takes just a few minutes and queues both parties for the next steps in the call.

Important Notes:

  1. Executives may prefer you to get to the point of your call more rapidly.You can give them a choice, accordingly, “Should we discuss your situation directly or start with your background and how you arrived in your current role?”
  2. The “About the Prospect” approach works very well in the Americas and most of Europe; in Asia-Pacific the process varies in accord with local culture, but the general approach is still applicable.

With the Intro complete, where are we in our Flow?

  •  Intro – About the Prospect
  • Menu and Vision Generation Demo
  • Discovery Conversation
  • Discovery Summary – Go/No Go
  • Technical Proof Demo
  • Q&A – Value and Pricing
  • Soft Close

The Menu Approach

Out next step is to deliver on the prospect’s request to see a demo – but of what?This is what typically results in “overview” demos, that consume far too much time and often miss the mark.

Instead we use The Menu Approach to very rapidly identify the prospect’s desired use case.This process is exactly analogous to the waiter-customer interaction in a nice restaurant – the menu enables the customer to see what is possible and then to select the item of highest interest.In our case, each Menu item is the top level of a high-probability use case that can be described in a few words.

We present our Menu and our prospect chooses an item – enabling both parties to focus on what’s most important.This process only takes a minute or two – that’s it.Very simple, very elegant!

Note:For organizations with a single main use case, you can jump directly to a Vision Generation Demo.

Vision Generation Demo

Our objectives at this point are to:

  1. Satisfy our prospect’s desire to “see a demo” and
  2. To move the prospect (gently, yet firmly) into a Discovery conversation.

Vision Generation Demos accomplish both objectives very effectively. 

We present the use case selected above and invite our prospect to comment on how their situation compares.In this template-based approach the prospect reveals much of the key Discovery information needed for qualification of “active buying process” vs. “just browsing”. 

In return, we share one or a few key screens or deliverables from our software, satisfying our prospect’s desire to get a sense of what’s possible.If these screens resonate, we make a mutual decision to continue our Discovery conversation.

Presenting use cases in Vision Generation Demos also establishes us as knowledgeable, with respect to the prospect’s industry, while generating “hope and curiosity” in our prospect.Hope, since other similar customers have been able to solve their business challenges (using our capabilities) and curiosity as to how this could be accomplished for themselves.This drives the conversation forward…

The typical time for the Vision Generation Demo and template-based initial Discovery is 6-10 minutes – we are about 15 minutes into our call overall:

  •  Intro – About the Prospect
  •  Menu and Vision Generation Demo
  • Discovery Conversation
  • Discovery Summary – Go/No Go
  • Technical Proof Demo
  • Q&A – Value and Pricing
  • Soft Close

Discovery Conversation

Our next segment is crucial:we need to complete just enough Discovery to satisfy two objectives:

  1. Collect sufficient information so that we can confidently and clearly propose a precise solution;
  2. Collect sufficient information so that our prospect believes that the we have a sufficient understanding of their situation to be able to propose a precise solution.

Accordingly, here is an outline of question topics that represents Discovery sufficient for both parties (note that this is a subset of the full Great Demo! Discovery outline):

Demographics Questions

  • Team – how many people, backgrounds, skills levels, and related
  • Workflows/processes – description of the major steps, throughput numbers, and related


  • Technical/Infrastructural – systems/software that impacts, enables or limits implementation

Major Pain

  • Do well – what is going well?
  • Do better – what needs to change or be improved?
  • Quantify – what is the tangible value of making the change (using the prospect’s numbers)?
  • Vision Reengineering – what is the prospect’s vision of a solution; can it be changed or expanded?

Extended Environment

  • Impact – who and what else is impacted?


  • Uniqueness – how does the prospect perceive their uniqueness?


  • Getting worse, Do nothing – is the prospect’s situation stable or getting worse?What happens if the prospect chooses to do nothing?
  • Timing and VREs (VRE = Value Realization Event) – Is there a date by when the prospect needs a solution in place and how will the prospect begin to define successful outcomes?
  • Drivers (CBIs = Critical Business Issues) – what overarching goal or objective is at risk?

A few comments on this part of the Flow:

  • Note that we start with Demographics and Environment questions – questions that are easy to ask and easy to answer.This makes the conversation comfortable for both parties.
  • The Major Pain is explored in the middle of the discussion, after you have been able to earn a measure of trust and credibility with your prospect.This enables your prospect to share pain honestly and completely.
  • Use Expansion Questions to reveal deeper aspects of the Major Pain and impact on both the immediate and broader organization, to capture value components, and to reengineer vision. 
  • Vision reengineering, through Biased Questions, provides opportunities to outflank competition and build a more compelling vision of a solution.
  • Importantly, the output of the Major Pain discussion will provide you with the list of Specific Capabilities you’ll need to present (or be ready to present) in your Technical Proof Demo.
  • Questions about the Extended Environment often help prospects realize that their problems impact much more than one specific workflow – and how these problems ripple upstream and downstream throughout the business (along with additional value elements).
  • Every prospect company believes they are unique (even when we know that they aren’t!) – questions about culture and uniqueness go a long way to satisfy our second Discovery objective.
  • “What happens if you do nothing?”The answer to this question will tell you if this opportunity is a candidate for the dreaded No Decision outcome.
  • Similarly, questions about timing and urgency will help you decide whether to pursue the opportunity further or terminate the call with a mutual action plan to “nurture” the prospect.
  • Discussing VREs (Value Realization Events) demonstrates that you are truly interested in your prospect’s success (as opposed to simply getting the sale).VREs are small but significant early “wins” for the prospect that yield small components of the overall desired ROI.
  • Quid pro quo comments from you, such “You are not alone…,” help spur the conversation along.
  • Finally, why do we save questions about the overarching goals or objectives – the drivers – to the end of the conversation?Because that is when most prospects are willing to reveal them!

One further note:Avoid the traditional trap of “Discovery-on-the-Fly”.Many of the most successful practitioners of our methodology use static screen shots (full screen captures) for their Vision Generation Demos to resist the urge to exit Discovery and dive into deeper demos too early.

15 minutes is about right for this conversation for many situations – you should experiment to find the best length for your prospects and offerings.We are now about 30 minutes into our call overall…

What’s next in our Flow?

  •  Intro – About the Prospect
  •  Menu and Vision Generation Demo
  •  Discovery Conversation
  • Discovery Summary – Go/No Go
  • Technical Proof Demo
  • Q&A – Value and Pricing
  • Soft Close

Discovery Summary

This is really, really, really (really!) important…!

It’s time to take a breath and reflect your key learnings back to your prospect.Use Situation Slide format, verbally, to accomplish this:

  • Critical Business Issue: This person’s top-level challenge – often best expressed as a quarterly, annual or project-based goal or objective that is at risk
  • Problems/Reasons: What makes it a problem today – what is making it hard to achieve the goal or objective – how are they doing things today
  • Specific Capabilities: What capabilities the customer needs to solve his/her problem, from the prospect’s perspective
  • Delta: The value associated with making the change (prospect’s numbers)
  • Critical Date / VREs: A date by when the prospect needs to have a solution in place (and why) / Value Realization Events – first small successes using the solution

A crisp review of the prospect’s situation, following this format, confirms your understanding and enables your prospect to correct or tune any of the information. 

Go/No Go Decision

Now is the time for you to decide, mutually with your prospect, if this is an active opportunity or if it should be passed to marketing to “nurture”.A simple “If-Checklist” will provide you with guidance:


  • The Critical Business Issue is known and real, then proceed…
  • The Problems/Reasons can be addressed by your solution, then proceed…
  • The Specific Capabilities are provided in your solution, then proceed…
  • The Delta is sufficiently large to provide an acceptable ROI, then proceed…
  • The Critical Date is real and achievable, then proceed…

If any of the answers above are “No”, then this opportunity is likely a candidate for nurturing and you should close the call with that as the mutual action plan.If all of the answers are “Yes”, then proceed…!

What’s next?

  •  Intro – About the Prospect
  •  Menu and Vision Generation Demo
  •  Discovery Conversation
  •  Discovery Summary – Go/No Go
  • Technical Proof Demo
  • Q&A – Value and Pricing
  • Soft Close

Technical Proof Demo

In the Discovery Summary, your verbal review of the Specific Capabilities defines the scope of your Technical Proof Demo.These are the Specific Capabilities your prospect needs to solve their problems – nothing else needs to be shown in the demo…!

When possible, we (rather strongly) recommend applying Great Demo! principles to your Technical Proof Demo:

  • Your Objective:Prove out the Specific Capabilities to your prospect’s satisfaction.
  • Do the Last Thing First:Start by showing the deliverables desired by your prospect.
  • Do It:Execute all pathways with the fewest number of clicks.
  • Peel Back the Layers:Only go as deep as required to prove each capability.
  • Summarize:And confirm that you have shown/proven each Specific Capability sufficiently.

The length of your Technical Proof Demo will likely be about 10 to 15 minutes – but this can vary greatly depending on the nature of your offering, the list of Specific Capabilities, and the job title of your prospect.Note:“The higher you go, the less you need to show…”

You are now about 45 minutes into your call – time for your next segment… Where are we in our Flow?

  •  Intro – About the Prospect
  •  Menu and Vision Generation Demo
  •  Discovery Conversation
  •  Discovery Summary – Go/No Go
  •  Technical Proof Demo
  • Q&A – Value and Pricing
  • Soft Close

Q&A – Value and Pricing

Address any remaining questions, if any, and move into a brief discussion of implementation – a rough timeline from now through “Go Live” and beyond to when your prospect enjoys their first VREs.

Next, review and summarize the tangible business value you uncovered in Discovery.You may need to do some quick calculations to make the numbers reflect annual gains, reductions and savings.These numbers should be significantly larger than the cost of your software (or you’ll have no deal)!

Now you can present the pricing for your offering.Value first, then price…!

This discussion likely consumed about 5 minutes – it’s time to try your Soft Close…

  •  Intro – About the Prospect
  •  Menu and Vision Generation Demo
  •  Discovery Conversation
  •  Discovery Summary – Go/No Go
  •  Technical Proof Demo
  •  Q&A – Value and Pricing
  • Soft Close

Soft Close

A Soft Close is a gentle method of asking for the order. 

You begin with a brief summary of the full call, then ask if your prospect has any further questions – “Have I addressed everything so far?Are you comfortable with what we’ve covered today?”

If your prospect responds in the affirmative, then reply with, “Then why don’t we get started right away?” 

This is your Soft Close and there are good probabilities that the answer could be “Yes”.Before moving to your mutual action plan, congratulate your new customer on their (clearly excellent) decision – remember, it’s all about them…!

Next, discuss your mutual action plan (execute any necessary documentation, introduce your new customer to your implementation and customer success team, etc.).

Total time for this call?About 55 minutes and you accomplished the full Flow:

  •  Intro – About the Prospect
  •  Menu and Vision Generation Demo
  •  Discovery Conversation
  •  Discovery Summary – Go/No Go
  •  Technical Proof Demo
  •  Q&A – Value and Pricing
  •  Soft Close

Congratulations – you are one step closer to making your quarterly numbers – and your customer is one step closer to implementing a solution to their challenges! 

Now take a few minutes before your next call to document your Discovery notes and Situation Slide information.Additionally, the best practitioners review the call (mentally or using a tool like Gong or Chorus) to assess what they did well and what could have been done better or differently.

A Great Starting Point

Gaining the necessary knowledge and skills to execute this Flow isn’t particularly challenging – but enablement must take place to address the potential age/experience disconnect identified earlier.

Accordingly, you must be sufficiently trained and capable in the following areas:

  • Situational Fluency – equipped to understand typical prospect Critical Business Issues, Problems/Reasons, Specific Capabilities desired or needed, system/environment requirements, business value, Critical Dates, and Value Realization Events.
  • Use Cases – able to articulate a range of high-probability use cases.
  • Menus and Vision Generation Demos – prepared to present these use cases in Vision Generation Demos.
  • Discovery – equipped to guide conversations to explore prospects’ situations to the prospects’ satisfaction, while qualifying opportunities as “active buying process” vs. “nurture”.
  • Technical Proof Demos – able to drive the software sufficiently to address at least 80% of prospects’ Specific Capabilities.
  • Value and Pricing – ready to communicate a compelling value equation in relation to pricing
  • Soft Close – asking for the order (gently, but firmly…!).

But Wait…There’s more! 

Applying this Flow can reduce the number of vendor players required and the number of vendor/prospect meetings needed to close transactional business opportunities. 

Consider:what might have required three vendor individuals and three separate calls (SDR/BDR, Salesperson, Presales person) could be accomplished by a single person in one call.

So:Is it possible to complete an introduction, engage with a Vision Generation Demo, segue into a Discovery conversation, deliver a brief Technical Proof Demo, and execute a soft close in a 45- or 60-minute call?

Yes, indeed!

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.


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