Rescue – From the Tyranny of Traditional Demos


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Ask yourself:

  • Have you ever felt like you have far too much to show in a demo – and insufficient time to show it? 
  • Have you ever said, “I’d like this to be interactive…” but you don’t get many questions?
  • And when you ask, “Any questions so far?” you hear, “Nope, we’re good…”
  • Have you even run out of time before you got to the best stuff?
  • Have you ever felt like your audience just didn’t “get it”?

You are likely suffering from the tyranny, the terror, and the trap of traditional demos.

The Tyranny

Traditional demos force us to present as much as we can in the allotted time. We talk rapidly, mouse vigorously and cover as much demo territory as we can. There is so much to show and an hour is simply not enough time…

And it gets worse with each new release – all of those additional capabilities to highlight!

The Terror

Has this ever happened to you?

“I promised them an overview demo…” reports the salesperson, “…and it’s a huge opportunity!”

We respond, “What do we know about the prospect?”

“They are really interested…” replies the salesperson, “and they need to see a demo right away!”

We jump into a web session and start our demo, only to realize that the prospect is completely unfamiliar with our offerings and we know very little about them. We pump up the energy in our delivery to try to connect with the audience, but they aren’t very responsive…

It feels like the more we show, the less they respond. We’ve entered terrifying territory – a place without time or dimension – we’ve entered The Traditional Demo Zone…!

The Traditional Trap

When a demo is first created for a new product, it is typically short and well-focused – there’s simply not that much to show. With each successive release, however, demos get longer as new capabilities and workflows are added. 

Don’t we want to show the new stuff that’s just been released? Don’t we want to show the latest and greatest? Oh, and the slightly older stuff is also good, and the earlier stuff has some really cool capabilities and…

Release after release, year after year, our demos grow inexorably longer…! And what used to fit nicely into an hour has now expanded dramatically. It couldn’t possibly be done in an hour any longer, so now we’ll do an hour-long “overview” and then schedule another demo, a deep dive.

But wait, there’s more terror in this traditional demo trap…

When we’ve heard the same question asked by several different prospects, what do we do? We add the answer to our growing talk-track. We pre-answer the question, even when it is not asked.

Now, not only do we need to cover more features and functions, but we also need to address all the questions we’ve heard more than once. It’s like rolling a snowball that grows and grows, accumulating more and more snow until it is too heavy to move.

We’re trapped! There’s just too much to demo to do it well…!

And Our Prospect’s Perceptions?

What about our prospects – what are they thinking during these demos? 

“Wow – this looks really complicated…”

“This is way more than we need…”

“Where is this going…?”

“I just got lost – what are they talking about now?”

“Hmmm – just got a text I need to respond to…”

“And might as well check email…”

“Did they just ask us something? Must have missed it…”

“Is this an hour meeting?”

“I wonder what I’ll have for lunch…”

Uh-oh… And what are they saying after the demo, when we (the vendor) are gone?

“Well, that’s an hour I’ll never get back…”

“They don’t understand our business at all…”

“I got completely lost…”

“It looked really complicated and confusing…”

“Who invited those guys in…?”

Not good. How did we get into this predicament? We built and presented traditional demos, that’s how.

The Traditional Approach to Building the Traditional Demo

One customary approach for creating demos is to outline a long story – an “end-to-end” or “a day in the life” – designed to cover all of the workflows and capabilities, using a handful of fictional characters to tie things together. Demos become training sessions, describing how to navigate the interface, how to customize for specific user types, how to set up forms and dashboards, create and edit records, enter and update supplementary data, walk through multiple interrelated workflows and (eventually) customize and run reports.

Very little is left out. Management directs us that “we need to communicate the full value of our offering…”

It gets worse, as we use intricate interdependencies seeking to link disparate parts of the demo together:

We say, “Remember the record that we created for ‘Jane’ an hour ago?” 

Prospect thinks, “Nope…”

We plunge on, “Now we’ll show how to take that information and edit it as Jane’s manager Jack and then pass it on to John and Janine in marketing and accounting…”

Prospect is checking phone…

We say, “There are several ways you can do this…”

Prospect wonders, “Is there a way out of this room?”

These demos often show multiple ways to accomplish individual tasks (why would a user want to see anything but the fastest possible way?). Traditional demos attempt to show way too much – and strangely, not enough of what the prospect actually wants to see.

Sadly, traditional demos focus on “how” things work, as opposed to “what” good things the offering delivers. Traditional demos often completely ignore the reports, dashboards, alerts, and other deliverables desired by the prospect.

Furthermore, traditional demos assume that all prospect players want to see the same capabilities. Traditional demos ignore the essential nuances of needs: that executives have one set of desired deliverables and outcomes; middle managers have another, different set; staff members have yet another; and system administrators have their own dimensions of wants, needs and deliverables.

The traditional approach yields demos that are like a huge bowl of spaghetti with tightly intertwined threads, difficult to serve and difficult to consume. We all know that prospects prefer “bite-size” pieces, but most presenters fail to apply these practices. Even the old, slight improvement of “tell them, show them, tell them” (thanks, Aristotle, for the original idea) doesn’t even begin to solve the problem. Highlighting non-relevant capabilities doesn’t help the cause!

Wasted Time, Wasted Demos

And it gets worse…! In theory, the more demos we do, the bigger the pipeline, correct? Well, in theory…

But let’s examine. How many demos do we deliver that we know were simply a waste of time? 25%? 33%? 50%? (Please don’t say more than 50%, that’s simply too painful.)

So, we do more and more and more demos to try to fill the pipeline. And the faster we go, the behinder we get (to paraphrase Lewis Carroll). Our true productivity is frankly pretty poor – but it is not our fault! (Or is it, at least partly, for agreeing to deliver these wasted demos?)

We are caught in the terrible, tyrannical trap of traditional demos. There must be a way out…!

A Refreshing Approach – and Rescue

First, let’s invest a few healthy minutes in doing discovery, before offering any substantive demo. That alone would be a huge improvement…

But our sales colleague said they want a demo right away…! We understand that – but let’s push back, gently but firmly, and use part of that “overview demo” meeting to do enough discovery to enable a focused, prospect-centric demo to be put together.

Let’s stop guessing. Let’s stop assuming that one demo fits all users.

Let’s use the Menu Approach to help our prospect understand what high-level solutions are possible and enable them to self-qualify by letting them choose the Menu items of most interest to them.

Once they’ve selected a topic or two, we’ll share brief Vision Generation Demos to provide our prospect with a vision of what is possible – and to enable a discovery conversation to take place.

And during our discovery conversation, we’ll provide some intriguing insights that lead to capabilities competitively biased in our favor. Now we’ve got what we need to put together a truly Great Demo!

With sufficient discovery completed, we’ll know what Specific Capabilities we need to show in the demo, so we can leave out everything else that is not of interest to the prospect. How refreshing!

We’ll know what key deliverables the prospect wants to consume, so we show those deliverables right up front to engage our prospect and begin a real conversation, making our demo truly interactive. How wonderful!

By knowing what is important for the various players, we can manage questions to avoid being dragged down rabbit holes or getting lost in the weeds. How delightful!

And we can organize our demo in accord with the relative importance and availability of the key players, engaging executives first, then middle managers, followed by staffers/users and ultimately by system administrators and super-users. How elegant!

Now our demos are crisp, prospects’ needs are clearly addressed, and the sales and buying processes move forward productively. And we’ve reduced the number of wasted demos substantially. How productive!

Our lives take a pleasant turn for the better. Since we do many fewer wasted demos, we have more time to prepare for the demos that really matter. Rescue is at hand!

Excelsior! Forward! Banish the Traditional Demo Tyranny!

If you seek liberation from the tyranny of traditional demos, consider making a change. And not a small, incremental, get-a-little-bit-better-but-still-do-largely-the-same-things change.

Make a real change. A step change. A substantive change that will likely change your life for the better (and for your prospects, as well).

Throw off the shackles of the old traditional approach. Embrace this new, delightfully effective approach to creating and delivering demos.

When you do, you’ll hear your prospects say to you, “Wow – that was a Great Demo!”

Copyright © 2018-2022 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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