4 Best Practices for Sales Demonstration Success

September 13, 2019

Follow these four guidelines to improve sales effectiveness during a product demonstration

The original version of this article, authored by Craig Rosenberg, was published by TOPO, now Gartner. 

The sales or product demonstration is a critical piece of the sales process—and it’s easier than ever to deliver via a variety of channels, such as video or a web conference. A demonstration can mean the difference between losing a prospect and closing a deal.

In a buyer survey in the financial applications market, we asked respondents what the most valuable content was in the buying process. The overwhelming response was “the demonstration.”

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What makes a demonstration effective?

An effective demonstration is customized to the prospect’s business process, including their data. It achieves two major objectives:

  • The prospect sees how they would use the solution.
  • The prospect sees how the solution would solve their problems.

4 best practices for demonstrations

To meet these objectives, follow these best practices.

1. Gather insights from prospects

Discovery is the practice of using questions, insights and messaging to understand the prospect and their situation. During discovery, gather six insights from prospects:

  • The account and specific area of the organization
  • The prospect’s role
  • Business processes and technical environment
  • One to three strategic objectives
  • Challenges and roadblocks
  • Implications if they don’t solve these challenges  

Discovery is fundamental to all sales. Discrete discovery calls allow for dedicated discovery time, and they yield best results.

2. Customize the demonstration to make it relevant

The first goal of the demonstration is to provide an opportunity to help the prospect see themselves in the solution. The most effective way to achieve this goal is to customize it as fully as possible.

There are different levels of customization:

  • Full-custom: The demonstration is built specifically for the prospect to reflect their unique business processes. It includes real prospect data and often their branding. For example, a material requirements planning company might build the presentation to support the prospect’s supply chain and load their data in advance. Since resources are required, full-custom demonstrations are often reserved for enterprise prospects.
  • Semi-custom: Some demos have light customization. This can mean a logo or maybe a feature or two are customized on the homepage. Sales reps still plan to present specific areas of the application against a prospect’s challenges, but it’s not a customized presentation. Before the call, a sales rep might ask what they want to know most and then mock up a dashboard for the prospect.  
  • Non-custom but relevant: For volume and velocity sales processes, customization might not be an option. Even if a sales rep or sales engineer is doing multiple demonstrations per day and doesn’t have the time or resources to customize, they can still deliver a relevant experience to the prospect. They need to be trained on identifying three to five issues and addressing them. Sales can also have different workflows based on the prospect processes. For example, a software development company would have different workflows for agile, scrum and waterfall developers.

3. Prove the product can solve their problems

The second goal is to show people how your solution will solve their problems. With proper discovery, sales can understand what the prospect is trying to achieve, and the entire focus of the demonstration is to prove sales understand those challenges — and has the solution.

Every demonstration should start with the following elements:

  • “Last time we spoke, you said that your main objective is to _________.”
  • “Your main challenges to achieving this goal are _____________.”
  • “If you don’t fix these issues, you will ______________.”
  • “Lastly, I understand that you currently manage your operation by doing this ____________  and you support the operation with ___________ technology.”
  • “Do I have this right?”
  • "At the end of the demonstration, my goal is for you to agree that our solution can solve your specific challenges and allow you to achieve your objectives.”

Resist the urge to show prospects everything. Focus on three to five areas that resonate most with them.

4. Leave time for feedback

Another big issue is that many demonstrations ends with only 30 seconds left in the call. A meeting should be structured as follows:

  • Introduction: 5 minutes
  • Recap findings: 5 minutes
  • Demonstration: 30 minutes
  • Feedback (confirm that we can meet their challenges): 10 minutes
  • Next steps: 5 minutes

Demonstrations make a difference. Practice. Get trained, certified and coached. It can be the most powerful play when sales engages thoughtfully with the prospect, responds to their questions and objections, and positions the product as a prospect’s best solution.

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