Public Enemy #1: The product demo

Enterprise software is an enormous marketplace chock full of good, bad and ugly ways to buy and sell. It isn’t easy to be on either side, but it can be very rewarding for those who get it right. I’m invested in making sure it is done right.

A constant challenge? The product demonstration.

The ‘demo’ is a legacy of the early days of Big Software. It dates to a time when we were moving from paper to digital and the wow factor was important. As we move from digital to digital, the stakes are different but some of the habits haven’t changed…especially the product demo.

Here are the five reasons you should think long and hard before firing up the demo or asking the “demo dolly” to do it for you.

5. The logical leap – There’s a problem with showing anything on a screen, especially infrastructure software, and having that resonate with the audience. Some of the most fascinating technology doesn’t ‘come across’ from simply putting it through generic paces. You’ve asked the audience to make the logical leap from what they’re seeing to what they need to solve. It just isn’t logical. Now, there may be a time,  place and audience, but that needs to be established.

4. The handoff – The easiest way to get a pushy (or really nice) salesperson out of your grill is to suggest they set up a demo for your team. You’ve just thrown your team under the bus, but maybe you’re not good at saying, “No.” If you’re sales and you’ve been asked, time to go back to defining the problem before you waste everyone’s time.

3. The bait and switch – Too many products demo really well but hide the hamsters running on the hamster wheel under the covers. It’s simply too easy to make things seem magical when the situation is prescribed. Anyone who isn’t skeptical of how easy it all looks from a demo should probably never shop alone.

2. The wrong focus – If you’ve never sold your product before or you’re buying something brand new, maybe a demo is necessary. Otherwise, you should be looking at where it works in the marketplace. An example can be far more valuable than a demo. The focus should be on a solution that’s tangible…a reference implementation.

1. The single product problem – The best solutions on the market are nearly always a combination of technologies, AKA a platform. If you’re the seller, getting the combination right is hit or miss and having a demo that includes everything is unwieldy and impossible to maintain.

The obvious alternative to a demo is to sell your company’s vision, use a whiteboard for interactive conversation, and demo as necessary only. Have that reference implementation in your hip pocket, or if the buyer, insist on getting the details and arranging a meeting.

Is an up front demo always a bad idea? Maybe not, but it should be a limited, very selective, and not the go-to option. If you go the demo route, it should be only for specific environments as a way to draw attention and get engaged, like at conferences and trade shows. It should be highly visual and interactive. And it should involve mobile devices and the Cloud, as necessary.


Tags: ,

Categories: Selling

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

Subscribe to the blog

Subscribe and receive an email when new articles are published

7 Comments on “Public Enemy #1: The product demo”

  1. October 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    Chris ….you were doing fine until the last few words: Mobile Devices and Cloud. Problem toda is that the Customer Needs (CN) and Functional Requirements (FR) are not yet in order so don’t move yet into Design Parameters (DP) and Process Variables (PV).

    To get this right first understand Axiomatic Design.

    Regards from Sweden,
    Alias Sir george the Dragon Slayer
    Knighted in Canadian Dragons’ Den 2009

  2. October 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    Good analysis and sound advice.
    What Brian says appears to be very scholarly but quite advanced.

  3. October 3, 2012 at 12:33 am #

    Increasingly it is a business buyer not an IT buyer making the decisions. They want to understand business benefits, ROI way before seeing the product demo. You need to wait until they ask to see it. SO to achieve that you need to hook them with the business justification which can be achieved through LISTENING, discussion, education, case study videos and whiteboards. These are consultatitive skills, but can be learnt

  4. October 3, 2012 at 1:48 am #

    Apple has turned demonstration and presentation into an artform. If you could condense and translate this style for software vendors you’d be onto a winner.

    However, having been on the receiving end of many a demo I have to say my biggest annoyance is that the demo rarely is played to the attending audience and the level of maturity they have. More often than not it’s tailored to the CTO/ CIO with messaging to suit and not to the business people who have the problem to address.

    I agree that the company’s vision should form a core part of the pitch, after all the client is looking to form a relationship and partnership with the seller not just an exchange of purchase orders.

    Turn software demos into The Prestige. Put a bit of magic back into it.

  5. October 3, 2012 at 7:14 am #


    Great topic. I loved it when a customer asked us to do a scripted demo. Just as you said, the opportunity to align everything perfectly is the reason they looked like magic. We’ve stopped doing demonstrations of our software and instead focus on Design Workshops. As Ian said, it is the business buyer that has the need. By listening to the customers business we can workshop a solution for their prototype use that day. The first point of discussion is always value…why are you doing this? The customer needs to be able to quantify the business value in measurable terms. The six hours we invest, 90 minutes with the customer, is still less than preparing for a large demonstration AND we establish value immediately!

  6. October 3, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Great comments from everyone. The Prestige, the script (how would you solve MY problem), the business buyer. These are key things to consider.


  1. Quora - October 2, 2012

    Are we beyond the age of the software demo?…

    Is the demo a relic of the past? I have my write up at:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: