How to do an effective demo for presales ?

As a solution architect, I need to present solutions to my customers and convince them of the value of the offering. One of the most powerful tools to persuade customers are demonstrations. They help show the customer how the product works in reality and helps them discover all the faces of what they may buy.
Of course, Murphy ’s Law often kicks in. Mark Gibbs put it well:

“No matter how slick the demo is in rehearsal, when you do it in front of a live audience the probability of a flawless presentation is inversely proportional to the number of people watching, raised to the power of the amount of money involved.”

But here are a few do’s and don’ts that I think make sense to make the most out of your demo time with your customer :

1) Know your audience

First thing to do : research who is going to attend your demonstration. First, because the technical level of the session may differ completely, depending on who is attending.  An administrator will be interested in bits and bytes stories, a CIO won’t. To make a good use of your (and the audience’s) time, figure out first if they will understand what you will be saying.

Second, goals, priorities and interests differ completely between, for instance, CIOs and administrators. If your solution can help reduce the administration time needed, you don’t want to tell an administrator he is going to be useless. He may see his job jeopardized. In this case, I always emphasize the fact that admins can focus on interesting projects instead of routine kind of work. However, a CIO may be interested in other sort of advantages, such as headcount reductions.

Use one card or the other depending on who you are talking to.

2) Explain the main advantage of the solution

Don’t just dive right into the demo if the audience has no background on the technology. When the customer is in front of you, describe the demo environment and briefly explain the basic concepts of the technology, so that everyone in the audience is on the same page. You may want to use PowerPoint slides, a whiteboard, or even a simple speech to carry the message over. End by linking the capabilities of the technology with the advantages this solution brings to the customer. Make sure that these advantages are then clearly highlighted during your demo to make it even more powerful.

3) Explain the overall goal of the demo

One day, I was doing a demo when the customer told me after ten minutes “I am sorry, what are you doing right now?”. I had obviously got it wrong. I hadn’t explained the overall goal of the demo and the customer was completely lost by the actions I was showing.
Tell the customer before you start what the outcome of the demonstration will be. For instance, if demonstrating the capabilities of the HP BladeSystem Matrix, you can say “This demo will show you the automated deployment of a complete IT service – servers, storage, networking, OS and application”. If there are intermediary goals, don’t hesitate to explain them too. Again, here, you can use a PowerPoint slide or a flip chart to list all the important actions you will make and tick them off as you go along, so that the customer understands at which step we are at.

4) Explain each relevant step of the demo

Referring back to point 1), highlight the points which will be interesting for your audience. The administrators may be interested in knowing how things work, hence, don’t hesitate to give the exact description of what you are doing. When I have high-level customers, such as CxOs, I do not explain every technical action I take: they are, in general, not really interested in knowing the technical details. However, if there is anything that brings a business value, such as the capability to charge business users for the IT services they request, I try to emphasize that to them as much as possible.

5) Regularly ask if the audience is following

Regularly ask your customers if everything you are showing is clear. First, it will keep them engaged, and second, it will help you to answer their questions much more easily . It is simpler to
answer a question about e.g. “What happens to the IP address now?” than “What happened to the IP address ten minutes ago when you clicked on the IP button” .  Ask the customer regularly if they are following you.

6) Finish with an acknowledgement from the customer

When you are done with the demo, conclude by summing up what you just did. Refer to the previous points by stating the overall goals of the demo and how they relate to the main advantages of the solution. For example, if you mentioned that your servers could save money to the customer, state the points to the customer that you showed him that will, for example, lower his energy bill.

Finally, try to get an idea of the customer’s enthusiasm level after you are done.  For the solution I presented, I like to ask a question like “how do you see this fitting into your environment?”. Since it is an open ended question, it forces them to think about the current state of their environment and visualize how what you demonstrated would fit in. This can make a big impact on how likely they are to invest in your solution. It’s like when you go to a furniture store to buy a new recliner. The sales guy runs through all the features – the different vibration settings, seat warmer, built in refrigerator etc. but unless you can see it in front of the TV in your living room with you in it, you are less likely to buy it.

All in all, I think that these six steps are key to do an effective demonstration to customers. If it helped you make your customers happy, or if you have your own tips, do let me know in the comments below!

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