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


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The following interview transcript offers some intriguing insights into demos, Great Demo! methodology, doing Discovery, and offers some potentially surprising (and highly useful) recommendations for coaching to improve demo skills.  Enjoy!
Refract Interviewer:  Tell us a little bit about Second Derivative, Peter, and what Great Demo! is all about…
Peter Cohan, the Great Demo! DemoGuru:  Have you ever seen a bad demo?
If the answer is yes (or a whimper, guffaw, or statement along the lines of, “Yes, I’ve probably done hundreds myself…!”), then you know why I am in business. My purpose in life is to fix that problem.
Great Demo! is a methodology that makes software demos surprisingly crisp, compelling effective. The Second Derivative, my company, delivers Great Demo! training to yearning customers around the world.
Refract Interviewer:  Sounds great – which type of companies do you typically work with?
Cohan:  Mostly B-to-B software organizations – although I’ve also worked with a number of instrumentation companies (for whom software is a key or critical component). My customers range from start-ups with just a few folks to some of the biggest software companies on earth.
My “sweet spot”, however, are software companies that range from 100 employees up to a few thousand. My training is not “cookie-cutter” – each Workshop is specifically tailored to the needs and interests of each set of participants.
One of the most fascinating aspects of my job is encountering and getting to know the enormously broad range of software companies out there… For every vertical, there is a set of software organizations that serve that vertical specifically – ranging from software for the trucking industry, to hotels, to pharma compliance – literally from A to Z!
Refract Interviewer:  You’ve been working in this space for some time, how has the delivery and importance of software demos changed during this period?
Cohan:  Interestingly, the importance of demos in the sales process really hasn’t changed…
Perhaps, however, demos have become more important as vendors have begun to realize that demos don’t have to be long, painful, and boring. Companies more and more are looking to “up their game” specifically with respect to their demos; presales and sales teams are looking to differentiate (in a positive manner) by the way they approach and deliver demos.
Regarding delivery, the major changes are the use of web-delivered demos (e.g., via WebEx and GoToMeeting) and the use of tablets, in particular, and smart phones, to a lesser extent, in the case of enterprise software. iPads and other tablets enable a delightful, refreshing change in the dynamics of face-to-face demos – no longer is the vendor/presenter fixed to that front-left spot in front of the screen… No, using a tablet, you can take the demo right to the customer – and even have them drive. Fabulous!
Web delivery of demos has also changed both the dynamic and the immediacy. It is (frighteningly) easy to “jump on a demo” – as opposed to the bad old days of trains, planes and rental cars. However, web delivery of demos has its own challenges – if you have ever been on the receiving end of a web-delivered demo and realized that you could leave the room, get a cup of coffee, talk with colleagues and come back 15 minutes later to find the presenter still blathering on, with no clue that you weren’t present!
Refract Interviewer:  What do you see as the most common problem that exists within sales people, in delivering great software demos?
Cohan:  The Number One problem is, without question, insufficient Discovery. Far too many demos are delivered with a wholly insufficient understanding of the customer’s needs, interests and situation – how can you possibly present a “solution” if you have an insufficient understanding of the customer’s problem?
Next, is the misconception that “one size fits” all. Far too many organizations inflict the “standard demo” on all customers, under the assumption (incorrect, of course), that all customers are the same.
Third is the overwhelming desire for sales and presales people to teach their customers how the software works, as opposed to presenting what good things – what deliverables – their offering provides.
Sales leaders often articulate this problem by saying, “They aren’t communicating the business value” or “They aren’t connecting to the business needs – they are lost in the technology…”
Refract Interviewer:  Connected with that – what do you see as the number one thing which makes a demo ‘GREAT’?
Cohan:  A poor demo is one that doesn’t get the job done – causing extended sales cycles, “No Decision” results, or losses to competitors. A good demo is one that moves the sales process forward. A Great Demo! is one that completes the technical sale in the shortest amount of time (and fewest clicks).
What makes a Great Demo! happen? The single most important part of preparing a Great Demo! is doing Discovery. When sufficient Discovery is done, it enables a Great Demo! to take place.
The results of Discovery identify the Specific Capabilities the customer is looking for – and the specific deliverables the customer needs for their solution. A Great Demo! presents the customer with these key deliverables right up front, right away – this is what makes a Great Demo! crisp, compelling, and surprisingly effective.
Refract Interviewer:  You famously ask the question – Have you ever seen a bad demo? How many bad demos have you seen versus killer demos’?
Cohan:  Waaaaaaaay too many! It requires very little thought to execute (good choice of words, here) a “standard” demo, over and over and over. Contrariwise, it requires a great deal of thought and preparation to deliver a Great Demo!
I would say that there are three categories, with the following rough percentages, based on my experience:
       “Standard” (poor) demos: 67%
       Good demos (where Discovery is done and an earnest effort is made to “tailor” the resulting demo): 26%
       Great Demos (following Great Demo! methodology to a substantial degree): 7% (a depressingly low number…!)
One might ask, “Haven’t you trained more people than the 7% above in Great Demo! methodology?” Well, yes, most likely. But we are victims of momentum, and without support, feedback and coaching, people tend to fall back into their old habits. I need to add that those 7% are enjoying rather dramatically improved success rates with their demos…!
Refract Interviewer:  In the field of software sales demos – what would you say are the key differences between ‘training’ and ‘coaching’?
Cohan:  Very interesting question…! You can train someone to follow a process; coaching explores how well that process is being executed and makes improvements in performance. Training introduces process; coaching improves the performance of that process.
For example, you can teach someone how to run a 5 kilometer race: you start, pace yourself over the first 4.5 kilometers, and then “kick” the last half a kilometer to finish. The runner listens to the instructions, then runs the course as best he/she understands or interprets the plan. That’s training.
Coaching is what happens next. A Coach, who has watched and timed our athlete during the run, reviews what happened with him/her – and offers corrections and changes. “Start a bit faster; remember to focus on smooth, steady breathing, and when you see the final half kilometer distance sign you can start your ‘kick’ – increase steadily over that half a km so that you are at top speed in the last 100m before the finish line.” That’s coaching – working to improve the performance of the process.
Our athlete (after a bit of a rest), runs the course again, focusing on the guidance from the coach – and sees some significant improvement. Importantly, that’s the positive feedback loop that coaching enables.
Refract Interviewer:  From your experience, what are the top three challenges software companies have, with consistent and effective sales and presales coaching?
Cohan:  I’ll expand this to “sales and presales demo coaching”, if I may… Top three challenges?
1.     Presence: Manager/Coaches are unable to “ride-along” – they don’t have time to join as many as they would like of the face-to-face demos delivered by their team members, and similarly they aren’t available to join web-delivered demos when their team members have them scheduled. Doing the math helps to understand this a bit further…
Let’s say a typical manager has 8 reports, located in several different locations and time zones (very typical in the U.S.). Each staff member does 2 major demos per week; the manager would like to sit-in on (minimally) at least 1 major demo per month per person.
Sounds like this should be easy for the manager – only 8 hours of demos to join per month, in theory (assuming each demo is an hour in length…). But that manager has her own tasks, internal and customer meetings, travel, etc. – and her calendar is already largely full. Physically travelling to join a face-to-face demo at a customer site may consume 1½ to 2 full days. 1½ days invested for 8 people may consume 12 working days each month – and there are only 20 working days in a month…!
She can’t afford this much investment, so she misses a few iterations – and performance improvement stagnates for those players. She has a similar problem joining web-delivered demos. She’s already booked; they take place before or after her normal working hours; customers change dates and timing…
The end result is the same: she sees and is able to coach many fewer demos that she would like – and staff performance suffers accordingly.
2.     Consistency: Manager/Coaches generally have no good way to be consistent in their coaching practices.
Face-to-face demos have “curb-side” reviews, generally exploring “how did we do?” on the way to the airport… Coaching is delivered ad hoc, based on what the manager remembered from the demo, generally consisting of a few highlights and a few areas of improvement – “You should have done this…” The next time coaching takes place for the same team member could be weeks away – and neither our Manager/Coach nor our staff member recall the previous engagement.
Result? Inconsistent coaching for that individual – and with similar inconsistencies on a team-member-by-team-member basis.
A similar challenge is faced with web-delivered demos. Manager/Coach feedback is often delayed (“Sorry, I have to jump on another call…!”), ad hoc because of similar constraints (we can only coach on what we remember…), and sadly fragmented – Manager/Coaches will often “multi-task” while they are watching web-delivered demos and may miss critical elements as they respond to an email message…
3.     Tracking: Manager/Coaches generally have no good way to track the progress of their team members – and this represents a huge problem…!
The inability to track results in a broad range of smaller coaching problems:
o   Hard to tell if staff members are improving or not.
o   Relying on “gut” when making periodic performance assessments – hard to collect sufficient data to support promote, “performance program”, or fire decisions.
o   Very hard to compare one staff member to another.
o   Very hard to establish and compare against a team “norm” – there is typically a lack of consistent, controlled vocabulary and rankings. One Manager/Coach may list everyone as “terrific” while another defines the same behavior as “adequate”.
4.     What Great Looks Like: I’m adding a 4th item to the list. Manager/Coaches often find it extremely hard to show staff members, and new hires in particular, what “good” and “Great” look like.
It is relatively easy to criticize and say, “Don’t do that”; it is much harder to show what should have been done. Forbes recently conducted a survey (, which discovered that nearly 75% of leading companies cited mentoring and coaching of sales reps, as the most important role, front line managers play.
Refract Interviewer:  Why do you think therefore, that so many companies struggle with this?
Cohan:  A (rather broad) range of reasons:
1.     Very (very!) few managers are taught how to coach. Coaching is not an inherent skill for humans; it is something that needs to be learned…
2.     Similarly, managers are often unclear on what to coach.
3.     Some managers are simply unable to coach, even though they have been promoted into a front-line manager position. Many of these people are “intuitives”, who were able to execute their sales or presales roles at a very high level of performance, but simply can’t explain what they did or why they operated as they did…
4.     Difficulty in organizing and executing coaching sessions, due to time and distance constraints.
5.     Compensation drives behavior. Most presales and nearly all front-line sales managers are measured and compensated by achieving target revenues. Coaching and other staff development activities are often relegated to “stretch” objectives.
6.     Perceived lack of time. There is always more on managers’ plates than they can address – coaching activities fall into the “important” category, but not the “urgent” category.
7.     Focus on on-boarding vs. ongoing development. Along the lines of “urgent” vs. “important”, front-line managers find that bringing new hires up-to-speed is an urgent activity, but developing existing employees falls off the plate as being simply “important”.
8.     Some managers are unaware that they need to coach. “I just inherited a great team and they are doing just fine.”
9.     “Squeaky wheel” effect. Managers are generally focused on dealing with underperformers, neglecting their strong performers and tolerating their average performers. I frequently get told that ‘time’ is a big hurdle to sales managers being able to provide sales demo coaching to their reps.
Refract Interviewer:  What would you say to these managers who face this challenge?
Cohan:  Time is the one resource we cannot get any more of (Yes, I know; “dangling prepositions is something up with which I cannot put”). However, we can certainly do a (much) better job of using the time we have. A few suggestions, particularly with respect to ensuring the sufficient coaching takes place:
1.     Understand that coaching your team is an urgent priority and allocate time for it.
2.     By allocate, I mean block specific time slots. Even better, add to your daily schedule 1 hour for coaching activities – and honor this.
3.     Make coaching activities a habit – part of your routine day. We all tend to start our day by reviewing email and browsing certain websites; add to that routine investing 20 minutes (for example) in providing coaching guidance to an employee.
4.     Similarly, or as an alternative, allocate 2 hours each week to coaching activities – at a specific time, on a specific day. Most managers have weekly calls with their teams (often on Monday or Friday); block and devote a similar allocation of time on a specific day and time-of-day to coaching activities.
5.     Track and measure your coaching activities: How many hours did I invest this past week in coaching activities? How many people was I able to coach last week? Assign yourself goals and metrics to measure and track your progress.
6.     Take courses or classes on learning how to coach – doing so will make your time (and your team members’ time with you) much more effective.
7.     Work with your manager or a mentor on coaching – on an ongoing basis – to continuously improve your coaching skills. Think training vs. coaching, for you…!
Refract Interviewer:  Sales enablement software solutions are now the single biggest investment for leading organizations to help boost sales productivity. What are your thoughts on software enablement solutions in improving demos, compared to ‘the human touch’?
Cohan:  Technology can be thought of as enabling; it is how you choose to use the technology that can differentiate.
For example, nearly every software vendor has implemented a CRM system, but how they have managed their implementations and ongoing use differs broadly from company to company.
There is an enormous range of sales enablement software products available today – ranging from content management, to playbooks, to CRM, to compensation management, and on and on. In most (all?) cases, organizations need to be very clear on their specific objectives when bringing in and implementing new tools. That’s where the “human touch” is most important; vague objectives will yield vague (or no) results.
Along those lines, offers technology that enables coaching and feedback to be accomplished asynchronously, without the need for the Manager/Coach to be present during the sales or presales player’s interaction with the customer – and then enables the Manager/Coach to provide coaching feedback and guidance back to the player in an equally asynchronous manner, so that both the Manager/Coach and the staff player can communicate without the need to be face-to-face or voice-to-voice.
That’s what the technology enables, fundamentally (and that is pretty liberating…!). Further, Refract enables a structured approach to coaching and the ability to track progress. So the Refract technology enables a great number of important things and, if an organization is clear about their specific objectives (and matches their implementation to those objectives), great gains can be expected in terms of coaching frequency, consistency, timeliness, and tracking.
To realize substantive improvement in a team’s demos, there needs to be a clear understanding and agreement on what “good” and “Great” look like – and what are the process steps to achieve “good” and “Great”.
These steps – and commensurate coaching attributes – should be included when setting-up Refract. [I can provide a set of Great Demo! Coaching Attributes and Weightings to those who are interested – send me an email at [email protected].]
Further, a clear definition of a scale of progress or skill level needs to implemented (and agreed upon) so that Manager/Coaches can establish baselines and track progress over time. These definitions and agreements represent the “human touch”. If these are lacking and Manager/Coaches simply enter an unstructured, inconsistent set of comments when reviewing a demo, and do this once in a while, the team as a whole will have nothing but a pile of non-useful opinions. (“Great job, Sally, you really scored with this demo” or “Bob, they were falling asleep; you’ve got to get better…” – not particularly helpful).
Refract Interviewer:  You are a big advocate of Refract, Peter. Can you tell us what you believe are the top three ways in which Refract can help software companies with their sales demo coaching?
Cohan:  Here is a list, from which you can choose 3 (or more…!):
       Providing “good” or “Great” examples of the core (“standard”, “bronze”, etc.) demo.
       Certifying, asynchronously, that the new-hire has achieved a sufficient level of practice in delivering that demo.
       Establishing a baseline for new-hires with respect to their demo skills set.
       Discovery Skills (part of Great Demo! Methodology):
o   Establishing a baseline for staff members’ Discovery Skills.
o   Providing recordings of what “good” and “Great” sound (and look) like.
o   Providing Coaching to improve.
o   Identifying and distributing new Discovery elements, questions, and methods as they are found by existing team members, and broadcasting examples to the balance of the team.
       Pre-Great Demo! Training:
o   Establishing a baseline for the current level of practice.
       Post-Great Demo! Training:
o   Establishing a new baseline, immediately post Great Demo! Workshop (highly recommended).
o   Providing Coaching to improve.
o   Providing example of what “good” and “Great” look like.
o   Avoiding return by participants to their old ways.
       Ongoing Improvement:
o   Establishing a positive feedback loop for continuing improvement (multiple iterations version a single instance).
o   Establishing a set of controlled vocabulary and ratings for coaching.
o   Tracking and comparing individual and team results over time.
o   Clear identification of areas of strength and weakness.
o   Identifying and distributing new “best practices”.
o   Identifying potential mentors in the team.
       Teaching Coaching and Mentoring:
o   Providing examples of what to look for when coaching and how to provide feedback.
o   Providing examples of what “good” and “Great” coaching looks like.
       3rd Parties and Partners:
o   Providing examples of “good” and “Great” Discovery, demos, and coaching.
       Sales (who are not doing demos, but rely on presales for their demos to customers):
o   Training on the role of the salesperson in demo meetings.
o   Providing examples of “good” and “Great” sales/presales teamwork.
o   Capturing examples where the salesperson really needs to improve…
       Avoiding/Reducing Stagnation:
o   In the absence of coaching, staff members tend to continue their existing habits (it is the comparatively rare person who can drive his or her own continuous improvement).
o   Provide tangible evidence for promotion (progress over time, mentoring others, sales successes through specific demos).
o   Provide tangible evidence for probation programs or firing (lack of progress, decay, repeating disasters, etc.).
       Tangible Evidence:
o   In face-to-face demo reviews, evidence of what was presented, audience reactions, etc. is both subjective and subject to memory loss (or migration…). With a recording, the evidence is documented and (relatively) undisputable.
Netting it out, I’d say the top three are:
1.     Timeliness/Frequency.
2.     Consistency.
3.     Ability to Track.
Refract Interviewer:  For any company who feels they are not performing as well as they could be with their software demos, what would be your key advice?
Cohan:  Hire a Great Demo! trainer…! (And then follow up with ongoing coaching, of course.)
Well, perhaps. The first step should be to identify the heart of the problem, the root cause. Is it the demos? Or is it a lack of Discovery information from sales? Is it poor presentation skills?
Next is to decide how important it is to improve (let’s say in this case the team feels its demos are causing ongoing losses to competitors). At this point, the company’s presales/sales leadership should have a conversation with me (or other Great Demo! Certified Affiliate) to investigate and understand their situation clearly (our turn to do Discovery), from which we should be able to make a considered recommendation for a course of action. Thanks for the plug!

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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