Seven Habits for Stunningly Successful Demos

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Here are seven demo success factors that lead to closed business. We’ll discuss each of these briefly and, for current Great Demo! practitioners, we’ll note where they align with Great Demo! principles.

The fine folks at Gong.io analyzed thousands millions of demos to uncover these seven success factors:

1. Pre-Demo Discovery

2. A crisp review of the Customer’s Situation

3. Do the Last Thing First

4. Inverted Pyramid

5. Peel Back the Layers

6. Peel Back the Layers (reprised)

7. Transition Vision

A Bit of Background

In their original study, the Gong team analyzed 67,149 demo recordings and matched the results to closed or progressed business. More recent studies now include data from over 3 million demos across a broad range of B-to-B software companies, offerings and verticals – that’s a LOT of data!

Their analysis identified four “acts” in the most successful demos:

Act 1: The Contextual Overview

Act 2: The Upside Down Demo

Act 3: Accelerated Interaction

Act 4: The Wrap Up

Let’s examine each in order, along the associated key success factors.

The “[GD]” paragraphs provide notes for existing Great Demo! practitioners on how the success factors map to Great Demo! principles (which also represent terrific starting points for those who are interested in learning or exploring the Great Demo! methodology).

Pre-Gong Act 1: Doing Discovery

Gong found that the most successful demos focused on what was learned in substantive Discovery conversations – not “on-the-fly” Discovery, but effective pre-demo interactions:

Key Success Factor Number 1

Presales and sales teams need to actually execute Discovery (not just qualification or “BANT”) to uncover the situational information needed to deliver successful demos. This is absolutely key!

The Gong studies further provide a simple guideline – map your demo to what you learned in Discovery. Sounds obvious, but you need to do sufficient Discovery in order to accomplish this.

And not surprisingly, the studies also suggest that showing capabilities that were not discussed in Discovery puts you at risk of “buying it back” and making your demo look too complicated.

Sadly, many sales and presales folks believe they do a good job doing Discovery – when they actually do not (or could certainly do much better). This is an important opportunity for improvement – and represents a fabulous opportunity to differentiate from competition!

[GD] In Great Demo! Workshops, we teach what specific Discovery information is needed to enable a vendor to prepare and deliver a highly successful demo – and how to execute Discovery to achieve this.

Gong Act 1: The Contextual Overview

Most traditional, comparatively unsuccessful demos consume the first Act with corporate overviews, logo slides, product and architecture presentations – often referred to as “first-call decks”.

Conversely, the Gong studies showed that the most successful demos began with a “contextual overview” that ran no longer than two minutes. No corporate overview. No product intro. No architecture slides. And especially no review of “our customers’ logos”. Just a crisp review of the customer’s specific situation – no longer than two minutes.

Key Success Factor Number 2

The Gong studies confirm what we logically already realize (but often fail to put into practice), that the demo meeting should be all about the customer. Unfortunately, far too many demo meetings start with corporate overview presentations – often riddled with inappropriate logo slides – followed by product and related presentations.

All of these are all about the vendor. That’s the problem!

The most successful demos started with a review that is customer focused. In the best cases, these demos started with a summary of what was learned in Discovery – that’s a critical success factor and another major opportunity to differentiate.

[GD] In Great Demo! we use a Situation Slide to begin the demo, aligning delightfully with the findings. Situation Slides concisely summarize the vendor’s understanding of the customer’s situation – their overarching goals, their current situation, pain and problems, the specific capabilities the customer is looking for, the value desired, and the required timeline. And the typical time to present a Situation Slide is – you guessed it – about 1-2 minutes.

Gong Act 2: The Upside Down Demo

Traditional demos typically follow a seemingly logical linear pathway, from set-up, through a series of workflows, to finally getting to end results and reporting – a “Day-in-the-Life” demo is the classic form.

The Gong data shows that this is an unsuccessful approach. Why?

– High ranking people often leave the meeting before the vendor gets to the “best stuff”.

– Those who remain find their brains have turned to mush after the 20, 30, 40 (or more!) minutes of talk-and-mouse, mouse-and-talk…

– Vendors often run out of time before they get to the “best stuff”…!

Key Success Factor Number 3

The Gong results clearly show that beginning Act 2 with the most valuable part of your offering yields the highest demo success rates. As the Gong folks said, “They start with the conclusion…”:


[GD] Hey – note my blue highlights on the Gong slide – and I didn’t even know this study was underway until it was published…! In Great Demo! we teach how to “Do the Last Thing First” – a critical success factor specifically validated in the studies.

Key Success Factor Number 4

But wait, there’s more…! Gong observed:

Gong’s findings showed that demos that followed stepwise workflows failed to incorporate this key success factor. Further, the study noted that demos that mapped the order of presentation to the relative importance of capabilities were the most successful:

– Most important topics first

– Next most important

– Less important

– Least important

An additional bonus of this technique is that you are at risk of sacrificing the least important topics if you run out of time.

[GD] This maps directly to Great Demo! methodology – and specifically to the use of the “Inverted Pyramid” approach for demos (borrowed from newspapers and journalism). This technique is a core Great Demo! concept and teams learn how to put it into practice in our Workshops.

Gong Act 3: Accelerated Interaction

In spite of vendors saying, “Please ask questions along the way – we want this to be very interactive…” most demonstrators talk and click for 6, 8, or 10 minutes (or longer!) before checking-in and asking the inevitable “Any questions so far?”

Sadly, “Nope, we’re good…” is the response often heard from customers – or the sound of crickets in an empty room (chirp! chirp! chirp!)…

This is not a good sign! Real interactivity is key. Gong found the following results:

“We didn’t find a single demo that lead to a closed deal in the analysis that involved more than 76 seconds of uninterrupted pitching.”

An average of 76 seconds. Wow. That should cause some vendors some concern…!

Key Success Factor Number 5

The most successful demos encouraged a two-way, bi-directional conversation between the customer and the vendor.

Intriguingly, traditional demos “pre-answer” most of the questions that audiences might ask – eliminating the possibility of a conversation. The Gong results show that vendors should have the answers to customer questions ready – but hold them “behind your back” in a virtual sense. Let the customers ask the questions – this is what enables the conversation to take place.

You will know your demo is going perfectly when the customer is asking the questions you expect them to ask at that point!

[GD] In Great Demo! we teach how to encourage and enable a conversation to take place, yielding the frequent “speaker switches” that Gong’s studies show result in more successful demos. We call it “Peeling Back the Layers” – in accord with each individual customer’s depth and level of interest.

Key Success Factor Number 6

The Gong studies found that the most successful vendor presenters enjoyed receiving 28% more questions from their customers than their less successful peers:

For example, most executives only want the 30,000 foot (9,114 meter) view; middle managers typically want to go a bit deeper; staffers want the workflow details; system administrators desire a different set of specifics.

Gong found that:

[GD] Hey look – they referenced Great Demo! again…!

Peel Back the Layers – and explore as deeply as the individual customer players have interest.

In Great Demo! training, participants practice this critical skill in coached role-play exercises. We help them learn how to break up their traditional monolithic talk tracks into bite-size components (peeling back layers of the onion, to continue the analogy…).

Additionally, Great Demo! Workshop participants learn exactly how deep to go to satisfy the various members of the customer team – and to “stop selling when the customer is ready to buy”.

After all, what happens if you peel an onion too far? You cry…!

Gong Act 4: The Wrap Up

Gong identifies the final part of the demo as the Wrap Up and comments that this is the most appropriate time for pricing and next steps discussions. Makes sense:

However, the concept of “next steps” is broad and is an excellent opportunity to differentiate. In traditional demos, vendors focus on “next steps” that proceed solely to the sale. This is adequate behavior, but not exceptional.

Key Success Factor Number 7

Truly great sales teams interpret part of “next steps” to include a discussion of how the customer can move from their current painful state, through go-live and deployment, all the way to the point in time where the customer begins to get tangible value from the offering – a Value Realization Event.

This establishes a “Transition Vision” in the customer’s mind – and the vendor that includes this discussion in the Wrap Up will be in a competitively advantageous position vs. traditional vendors.

[GD] We teach this process in Great Demo! Workshops and identify (at least) two key entities:

1. A Critical Date that drives the customer’s go-live date, and

2. A Value Realization Event that defines an early win or small ROI, post go-live.

This demonstrates to the customer that the vendor is not just interested in getting the order, it also shows that the vendor has a genuine and tangible interest in the customer’s success.

Four “Acts” – Seven Key Success Factors

The Gong studies show conclusively what specific tactics result in successful demos – and progressed business. If you or your team are ignoring these findings, you are likely at a disadvantage compared to vendors that adopt and apply these practices.

Fundamentally, traditional demos are less successful than their rephrased counterparts. Perhaps it is time to embrace change…!

[GD] It’s one thing to know in your heart that an approach is particularly effective – it’s quite another to have a methodology validated by millions of data points! If you are already a Great Demo! practitioner – congratulations – this article may help you convince your colleagues to join your approach to preparing and delivering demos.

If you are not (yet) applying Great Demo! principles – well, maybe it is time to explore…!

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