Staff vs. Manager vs. Exec Perspective – Avoiding the “Spaghetti Bowl” Demo


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Most traditional demos seek to engage all customer job titles in the audience – rightfully so!  But timing is the question…
Here’s a traditional demo recording I watched a few months ago:
The presenter started by showing how to set up a few forms and “connectors” in the system, followed by modeling a customer staff member starting a workflow, passing information to his manager for approval, over to another staffer to analyze, then out to another middle manager (to show escalation when someone is on vacation), then to a power-user to build more connectors for new functions, then back to the original staffer, then over to another staffer…  The demo pathway wove back and forth, over and under, around and around…
A big bowl of spaghetti.
Each strand is a person, a workflow, a task, etc. – and when you weave them all together, what do you get?  Yep – a bowl of spaghetti.  Confusing, complicated, complex – and very difficult to consume…!
This was a 90-minute demo.  I counted no fewer than 30 changes of role in the recording – from system admin to staffer to middle manager to exec.  Afterwards, I called and asked the customer for their perspective.  Their response?  “No way we could use this – waaaay too complicated…!”
Flash forward in time – our presenter has graduated from a 1.75-Day Great Demo! Workshop.  And here is what he reported, after a more recent (post Workshop) demo of the same software:
He had the same time as before (90 minutes) for the demo meeting.  In the room was an executive, two middle managers, a handful of staffers and a person who would likely be the system admin.  He started by sharing an agenda that organized the demo in accord with these four sets of job titles to provide a plan for the entire group.
With agreement on the agenda from the customer team, he reviewed the exec’s situation, presented the key end-results for that executive and asked, “Would you like to see these in action?”  The executive’s response was, “No – this is sufficient – this looks exactly like what we need.  Let’s continue….”
Next, he addressed the middle managers, sharing slides that summarized their situation, followed by Illustrations of the key deliverables for them, and then two crisp pathways to show how the managers would use the software.  A few questions from the managers were answered – and the managers were nodding their heads in approval.
With agreement to continue, our presenter reviewed the staffers’ situations, then presented the deliverables they were looking for.  The staffers asked to see the workflows in moderate detail – and were lead through the fewest number of steps to complete each task using the software.  A number of questions from them were addressed, with two “parked” for post-demo follow-up.
With the exec, middle managers and staffers satisfied, the presenter provided a summary, then offered a choice – they could stay or go, in accord with their interest, while the presenter addressed specific questions from the system administrator.  Most of the audience left, with the exception of one staff member who identified herself as a “super-user”, saying she expected to do some of the periodic admin-level activities (e.g., building and editing “connectors”). 
While our presenter did a final, admin-specific demo for these two remaining audience members, the sales person met with the champion to discuss next steps.  The champion informed her that “We are ready to get going right away – this is a great fit and everyone is on board.”
The sales person and champion then rejoined our presenter, the system admin and super-user for the final few questions.  At that point, our presenter suggested discussing a rough implementation plan – and identifying a few “early wins” for the customer team.  All agreed – and they lived (reasonably) happily ever after (with respect to that software offering). 
Elapsed time for this demo meeting?  105 minutes overall, including the implementation discussion – a bit longer than the first demo.  But what a different result!
Summary?  Same software, different approach to demos.  And very different outcome:  No sale vs. closed business (and a lifetime customer, so far). 
What are the morals of our story?
  1. Deconvolute your demos.  Instead of weaving a tangled bowl of spaghetti, address the strands individually, in rank order of importance.
  2. Consider the experience of our presenter – you can learn how to re-structure your demos yourself over a period of years (or decades), or you can join a Great Demo! Workshop and compress years into 1.75 days.  Seems like a pretty compelling value equation…!
And there is a PS to this story:  Prior to the first demo, our presenter had taken a Demo2Win course and was “certified”.  Our presenter noted that “While I learned some good tips, it didn’t really impact the structure of our demos.  The Great Demo! approach didn’t just make the needle quiver, it pegged the needle in the green…!”
Additional note:  you can run the spaghetti experiment yourself…!  Prepare spaghetti according to the package instructions, drain and pour half into a large bowl.  Take the remainder, while still wet, and lay each strand out on a cutting board, side by side, separated by a few millimeters.  Once the spaghetti has stopped steaming, pick one strand from the bowl and pull on it.  What happens…?  Now pick one strand from your cutting board and compare…!

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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