Archive for April, 2009

6 Worst Demo Mistakes

There are lots of mistakes that a Sales Engineer can make in a demo, but these, in my opinion, are the worst:

  1. Show up and throw up:
  2. This is a common mistake of experienced Sales Engineers. If you have done a lot of demos of your product you may be tempted to just show up at the demo without knowing much about what the prospect is looking for in your product. You may not have been given the chance to do proper discovery (see below). You might just be in too much of a hurry to slam out the demo and get on to more important things. But if you don’t customize your presentation and demo to each prospect then you might as well not do the demo to start with. I have also heard this called the “Stop me when you see something you like” approach to demonstrations and I know Sales Engineers that have made a career of it. You can win deals with this approach, but you will win more if you know exactly what the prospect values and can demonstrate your product’s ability to meet their needs.

  3. Prepare too much
  4. Lots of Sales Engineers seem to think that it is impossible to prepare too much for a demo, but I disagree. You can definitely go overboard when it comes to preparation, especially if you either focus too much on one feature/function or try to meet ALL the prospects stated needs. A demonstration should be proof of your applications ability to meet the needs of the prospect. If you try to cover all the requirements outlined in an RFP or demo script rather than focusing on some key items first, you will probably spend way too much time preparing. And if you do an equally mediocre job on all the sections of a demo script you will be judged much more harshly than if you knock it out of the park on several and miss entirely on a couple. Focus your attention to limit the required preparation.

  5. Fail to dry run
  6. I already have a post on the importance of dry runs, but I am always amazed at how often sales teams skip them. They win demos and you should do them!

  7. Get too little sleep
  8. This goes along with “prepare too much”. Being well rested and ready to present on demo day is more important than tweaking that last slide or changing the color of that button. Know when to say when and get a full night of sleep before your demo.

  9. Skip discovery
  10. Although this is often not under the control of the Sales Engineer, experienced pre-sales people know how to push for discovery. Preparing your presentation based on what you hear from a sales rep, or worse, from your educated guesses based on previous customers, is a mistake. Good discovery reduces the amount of preparation required (see above) AND often results in fewer demos because you show them just the stuff they are interested in (avoiding the “show up and throw up” problem).

  11. Take too long to show product
  12. This ties in with my post on the 30 second demo. People who come do a demo want to see product. If the sales rep stands up and talks about your company for 1/2 an hour and then you get up and discuss the demo scenarios, requirements, etc.. for another 1/2 hour, then the prospect is left squirming in their seats for an hour. Do yourself a favor and show something, anything, in your product as early in the demo as possible.

Demo Prep, Selling , , , , ,

What is a Sales Engineer?

I use the term “Sales Engineer” on this blog and thought that a clearer definition of the job would be in order. There are many names for Sales Engineers (more on that in a minute) but the basic job definition is (from wikipedia):

The role serves to bridge the gap between sales acumen and engineering expertise.

Software and hardware are often complex products that often require a great deal of technical knowledge to understand. Sales Engineers have the technical knowledge to explain technology while still helping to sell the product.

An analogy might help. Imagine you are going into a purchase a new set of speakers for your stereo. You walk into a retail store and tell one of the sales representatives that you are looking for some bookshelf speakers to put up in your living room. He shows you several options but it quickly becomes clear as you ask more technical questions (how big are the drivers? What is the average max watts these can take?) that the sales rep is fairly new and does not know how to answer your questions. Instead, he turns to one of the more experienced reps and she is able to answer all your technical questions in detail. At the same time she subtly sells the benefits of one system based on the needs you have stated. When it comes time to make the purchase she hands it back over to the first sales rep who takes care of getting your equipment, trying to sign you up for a warranty and getting your checked out.

The role of the Sales Engineer is similar to the second, more knowledgeable sales rep (although they don’t actually have a division of roles in retail sales). She did not “make the sale” but she assisted by providing technical knowledge applied to describe the benefits of the speakers. I don’t mean to imply that all sales reps are inexperienced (they are not) but they often don’t have the technical knowledge to deal with many of the questions that come up in high-tech sales.

There are many varieties of Sales Engineers and the role is often defined by the types of products being sold. Most of my work has been in what is known as “Enterprise Software Sales” (bullspeak for selling software used by big companies) which has several roles in Sales. My titles have included:

  • Sales Consultant
  • Solution Consultant
  • Pre-Sales Consultant
  • Technical Evangelist
  • Technical Sales Consultant
  • Functional Sales Consultant

These titles (also a form of bullspeak, IMO) are just a small sample of the job titles that fall loosely under Sales Engineering. I would say that “Pre-Sales” is the term that is the best umbrella for the work of Sales Engineers. The term “consultant” is often used when selling business software (such as ERP, CRM, and other “Back Office” software) while “Engineer” is more common when selling IT-based hardware or software.

There is another division of labor amongst Sales Consultants in particular: Functional vs. Technical. I have worked as both in my career (which is a little unusual), but the jobs are very different in the background required. A “Functional” or “Business” Sales Consultant is responsible for describing what the product does, while a “Technical” Sales Consultant describes how it does it.

An example: when selling Human Resources (ugh, more bullspeak) software, there might be people from HR wondering how they can screen job applicants using the software. The Functional Sales Consultant would show the HR staff how applicants would enter their information and what the results would be for HR (i.e. online application results in screened applicant based on keywords). But if the IT staff at the prospect wanted to know how that screening was accomplished, they would probably turn to the Technical Sales Consultant for the answer (i.e. “we use google’s search algorithm to find your specified search terms”).

On a really complex sale you can get a lot of different sales consultants. Companies selling ERP software (like Oracle and SAP) are often described as “pulling up in a bus” when they show up for a sales call because of the number of people required to explain their products. Often there are many sales consultants on these deals, each with a different specialization.

Sales Engineering requires a unique blend of technical (or product) knowledge along with the “soft skills” to help in making a sale. Like many other Sales Engineers I love how the job requires both technical aptitude and sales ability.


The 30 Second Demo

One of my signatures in product demonstrations is to start with a “30 second demo”. In most cases this is a demonstration of a key feature of the software, such as a simple configuration, that I do right at the start of my presentation. There are a lot of good reasons to start a presentation in this way.
When I say, “the start of my presentation”, I really mean at the very beginning, even before I introduce myself. Studies have shown that people are most focused at the start and end of an activity, including a presentation. The first few minutes of a presentation are critical, and often wasted on introductions of both individuals and companies. To take advantage of this phenomena, the first words out of my mouth once I am introduced are:

“Hi, before I get started, I wanted to show you something quickly”

Then I dive right into the application and show a 30-second demo of one key feature that I want to highlight. Immediately after that, without pausing to allow for questions:

“My name is Dave Sohigian, and that is just one quick example of the power of our applications. We’ll refer back to what you just saw in that demo as we go through these topics…”

Here is an example (actually about 45 seconds) showing how to add a plugin to WordPress:

Where you go from here is up to you, but the point is to get the product in front of the prospect as early as possible. In the example above I could refer back to this quick “demo” whenever there were gaps in WordPress functionality that required a plugin (“you already saw how easy it would be to add a plugin…”).

The 30-second demo accomplishes many things:

  • Shows them product while their attention is very high at the start of the presentation
  • Gives them comfort that they will see your product before the end of the demonstration
  • Many people that attend a demo are itching to see how the product performs. Although it is very useful to give them a context for your demonstration and you need to build your credibility with an effective introduction, there will be people in the audience getting impatient right from the start. “Would you just do the demo?” you can almost hear them saying during the obligatory company introduction and list of key features. By doing a demo, even a ridiculously short one, you can put these people at ease so that they are more likely to hear your initial message.
  • Ensures that everyone sees the product, at least a little.
  • Often people come and go during a demonstration, but most try to at least make it to the beginning. By doing a quick and effective demo you can ensure that everyone will have a chance to see something powerful about the application.
  • Avoids starting at the beginning This post from Kathy Sierra at Passionate Users outlines how you should start “after chapter one” in your presentation, and doing a quick demo does just that. You get to the compelling stuff first and add a bit of mystery about where you are going right from the start.

So instead of making your audience squirm in their seats while they “wait” through your introduction and setup slides, why not just give them a quick taste of what is to come. Try it in your next demo!

Demo Skills, Demo Tips, Selling , ,

Presentation Tip: The Ready Position

The “Ready Position” which is standing poised and relaxed with your hands at your sides. It may not sound that difficult or complicated, but the idea is that whenever you are not gesturing or moving around, you should move back to this position. It is particularly important when someone else is speaking (such as a question from the audience) or the attention is focused on some other media (such as a video).

I believe it is called the “Ready Position” because you are relaxed but ready to move when you are called upon to speak again. The reason it is so difficult is that most people tend to fidget and/or shift their weight from side to side when standing in front of an audience and those behaviors are very distracting. The Ready Position gives you a stance that is neutral – you are ready to listen or speak depending on the circumstances.

Like most of the presentation skills, it is difficult to master the Ready Position because we all have so many habits built up over time. But simple things like the Ready Position signal your audience that you are calm and attentive and this makes it more likely that they will listen to what you have to say. It’s the little things that matter most.


7 Ways to Make Online/Live Demos Successful

I like to deliver live (face-to-face) demonstrations of software. Being able to look into peoples eyes and read body language is extremely useful in a presentation or demo. I also enjoy online demonstrations because they don’t require travel and can be set up  quickly and easily. But one thing I have never enjoyed is the concurrent live/online demonstration. Most of the time these employ some online presenting software like Webex or GotoMeeting as well as a speakerphone. Sometimes they only involve a speakerphone, which is arguably even worse. The problem with meetings like this is that they split your attention between the people in the room and the people who are remote. Most often the result is a poor presentation for both parties.

My first suggestion for these sorts of demos is don’t do them! If at all possible try to schedule separate meetings for the online and live versions of the demo. It may require a little extra time but if the prospect is willing it is worth the effort. But if you are forced to conduct a split demo, there are a few suggestions I can offer that might help it not turn into a train wreck.

  1. Find out exactly who will be remote and who will be live. Determine where you should direct which portions of your presentation based on the nature of the audience. For example if the technical people are on the phone and the business people are in the room, then you should focus your attention appropriately depending on your material.
  2. Find out where the decision-makers are located. If your live audience is just the folks from the local office and the remote group are the people who will regularly use and implement your software, then you need to find a way to really give that remote group what they are looking for. In instances like this it might be worth treating the demo as if it were entirely online.
  3. Don’t demo to the speakerphone. Nothing is more annoying than a presenter talking into the spreakerphone when there are people in the room. Make sure to position the speakerphone as close to the presenter as possible and as far away from the projector (or other noisy equipment) as you can.
  4. Pause often for questions. If you have a group on a speakerphone they may have burning questions that they are uncomfortable asking without being able to raise their hand. By pausing regularly you can make sure that any issues they have are addressed.
  5. Ask the remote group for feedback during any breaks. This may seem awkward, but I often see breaks as the most important time during a demo to do selling. By getting more casual comments from the prospect during a break you can redirect your material or speed of presentation based on what you hear. One way to approach this before a break is to say “We’re going to break in 3 minutes, but I have a question or two for those of you on the phone that I would like to ask at the start of the break”. What’s the best question to ask? How about, “What do you think so far?” followed by “Is there anything you saw from our competition that you would like to see addressed?”
  6. Don’t apologize for using visual aids. Just because remote audience members may not be able to see your white board and flip chart drawings does not mean you should avoid them entirely. If you are going to use visual aids, you should do so with commitment, and not focus much on whether the remote group “gets it” right away. You can offer to take photos of the visuals which you can send onto the remote group if they are interested.
  7. Do a dry run with the live/remote setup. Check out my post about why dry runs are so important.

Demo Skills , ,

9 Things You Can Do For A Great “Dry Run”

The Dry Run. I have yet to meet a Sales Engineer who really enjoys them. The idea is that you practice your demo and presentation in front of an audience of your peers before you do the real thing. They are both time-consuming and often embarrassing. It’s hard enough to prepare for a demonstration without the added pressure of being criticized by your peers. And since you often need to do them days before the actual demo, they require you to prepare well ahead of time. And to get an entire sales team together for a dry run can be expensive if they are geographically distributed.

In 7 years as a Sales Engineer I cannot think of a single dry run that went particularly well. Often the participants are not ready completely ready to present or the material they have prepared misses the mark. I have seen presenters stumble through a dry run and watched the morale of the sales team drop. You can sometimes hear the audience thinking,”This is terrible. There is no way we are winning this deal if we demo like that!”

But that pain and discomfort is exactly the reason that you should do dry runs as often as possible. By making sure that the entire team (even at an added cost) has a chance to try out their material and get feedback is invaluable. There are a few rules you should follow to make dry runs as productive and pain-free as possible:

  1. Set them up at least 2 days before the demonstration. Otherwise you won’t have time to change your material if the team decides that something is wrong. A dry run the night before the demo does not accomplish much (except to make everyone more nervous because their dry run sucked).
  2. Require at least one team member (probably the sales rep) to attend the entire dry run for consistency.
  3. Find a good space to conduct the dry run with a setup that mimics what you will have in the actual presentation. This includes projectors, white boards, flip charts, online meeting (i.e. Webex) and speakerphones as required. Using a “real-world” setup will ensure you will catch problems with your setup before the actual demo.
  4. Bring plenty of snacks and drinks for presenters to enjoy. Anything to make a dry run more enjoyable is worth doing.
  5. Give honest feedback in front of the group, but save anything that would really bite for a 1:1 discussion. People are uncomfortable in front of their peers, so try to go easy on them in front of the group. Whenever possible try to direct your comments at the product or the speaking material rather than at the person. I like to give feedback following this rule of thumb: give three positive pieces of feedback for each negative. People tend to focus on the negative, so you need to tip the scales in the other direction to keep confidence up.
  6. Have audience members take notes on presentation style and content, but only discuss the items that need explanation when debriefing. You may have a long list of little things that the presenter should change, but rattling them off will just confuse the presenter. Tell them just a couple during the feedback session and then give them your notes afterwords for them to study further.
  7. Let the presenters get through their presentations without questions, unless you feel that you absolutely need to make a point. If you see the presenter falls into a competitive trap you might ask a pointed question to make them realize their mistake. But most of the time you should save your questions for the end so that the presenter can get comfortable with the pace of the presentation.
  8. Ask some typical competitive questions as well as one or two really screwball ones at the end. Seeing how well a presenter can reframe a question is important, but you also need to give them a softball or two to warm up with.
  9. Depending on the culture of your company, you may want some sort of “grading sheet” for the audience to fill out. Some groups like to leave feedback fairly free-form, but if you want to add structure you could create a sheet that includes things like “eye contact”, “posture”, “question handling” and gives the audience a chance to grade. This can add some pressure but can also be useful to get a (somewhat) objective view for the presenter.

As I already mentioned I have never seen a dry run during which the presenters did a great job. But I have seen many demo’s where we had great presentations because of a lousy dry run. It’s a great way to harness the intelligence of the entire sales team and get the bugs out at the same time. Sales teams that consistently dry run have consistently great demos.

Demo Prep, Demo Skills , ,

Why you should never demo if you don’t have to…

Developers love to write code. Testers love to break stuff. And Sales Engineers love to demo. But sometimes more code is not the answer, further testing won’t help and a demo can be a bad idea. In fact, avoiding a demo of your product is probably the best thing you could ever do in a sales cycle.
Coming from a Sales Engineer this probably sounds like heresy. Don’t demo’s make or break a sale? Aren’t Sales Engineers heavily trained and well paid so that they can perform this critical duty? Yes, and yes, but the fact remains that demos are more often a liability than an asset in the sales cycle. In 7 years of watching and doing demonstrations, I have been to only a small handful where I feel that they had a dramatically positive effect on the sale. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen some great demos, and even done one or two that I am proud of myself. But a great demo will NEVER get a prospect to sign a contract. And, unfortunately, a bad demo can definitely get them to change their mind about a product. That is probably the best reason to get highly-trained Sales Engineers and pay them well: bad ones can sink a lot of deals.
In my career I can only think of one deal where a demo I delivered got the prospect to the point of wanting to sign a contract. I was showing integration of PeopleSoft to a VB application using Microsoft .NET. Sounds boring, but since the prospect was Microsoft, and they were stunned that we could do such a thing at the time, it had an amazing effect on the audience. I was told that one of the architects from Microsoft was literally bouncing in his seat during the demo. Before that demo we were an also-ran in the deal. After we were moving quickly towards contract negotiations.
But here is why I say that demo’s don’t win deals: even after delivering an incredible demo, we did not end up closing the deal. Things got hung up in contract negotiations and we ended up walking away from the deal. There are so many factors that go into a successful sales cycle, and the demo is often just a footnote that takes a lot of preparation and work.
One of the best salesman I ever worked with came from Sales Engineering. He had risen through the ranks of Pre-Sales and eventually decided he wanted to carry a bag. You might think that he would tend to focus on the demo, since that was his background. But he took the opposite approach, using his knowledge of the product to fully describe its benefits during client meetings. During his first 6 months as a sales rep, he didn’t set up a single demo but closed enough business to be the Rookie of the Year at the company.
That salesman realized an important reality about demos: they carry high risk and little upside. Although they are often required during a sales cycle (like RFP’s) salespeople who make them the focus are taking unnecessary risks. It can be tempting to push the customer to see a demo, especially when you have great Sales Engineers, but the best sales people avoid them whenever possible. The only thing riskier than a demo is a “conference-room pilot”, which I will talk about in another post.

Selling, Uncategorized

Should I Present First or Last?

Often during a competitive sales cycle there is the opportunity to decide whether you want to go before or after your competition. Although I have heard no end of theories from sales reps on this one, my experience is that you need to answer some questions before you decide which position you want to be in.

Does your prospect understand the functionality/technology of your application space?

If they don’t, then letting the competition do the hard work of educating the prospect up front is a good idea.

Are there specific traps you can set up for your competition?

These need to be more than just things you can talk about, they need to be things you can show. If you can say to the prospect after a demonstration: “Ask our competitors to show you how they handle that…” then it is probably a good trap. If you have lots of these, then going first is a good idea. If you are forced to go first, then make sure you have some.

Is the prospect open to talking about the competition?

Some customers, as you know, are rigorous about their selection process and won’t talk about the competition at all during the sales cycle, while others are an open book. If they are willing to talk, then going later is a good choice because you can get the dirt on what your competition blew. This is the opposite of setting traps: overcoming the obstacles that thwarted your competition.

Are they using a rating scale?

If they are the type of prospect using a strict rating scale (“rate the vendor’s functionality for x on a scale of 1-10″) you should consider going last because of the natural tendency for people to “conserve” their ratings early in the game. How likely is someone to give you a “10″ when they know there are 5 more vendors they will need to score afterwords?

Do you need more time?

This may seem basic, but if you need more time, consider going last because being prepared will trump any of the other factors.

Is the time of day of the presentation affected by your decision?

Again, it may seem basic, but if they are having all the sessions in one day, you probably don’t want to be last. The time of day is important and if choosing a different slot makes a difference, it is worth considering. 2PM is typically the worst time of day to present because it is the natural low in people’s daily cycles. In civilized countries they take a siesta at that time.

Is your product better than the competition?

If not, then throwing around FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) is probably going to be a big part of your strategy, so going first help.

Are there LOTS of other vendors?

If there are more than 3 other vendors, then going last is probably a wise move because people can only hold so much information in their memory. We often forget just how much information that prospects have to absorb during a sales cycle and they can get the vendors mixed up. I was recently on the other end of an evaluation and I was surprised at how often I would get the vendors confused. Going last can help with people’s memories, and often if you do a great job they will ascribe qualities to you that they actually were brought up by your competition. If there are lots of other vendors then you definitely don’t want to go in the middle.
Of course, deciding where in the lineup your presentation or demo will fall is not nearly as import as doing a great job during the sales cycle. But every little edge helps.

Selling , , ,

PowerPoint Shortcut Keys

Concise listing of some useful PowerPoint shortcuts:

PowerPoint has a bunch of shortcut keys you can use while presenting in slideshow mode. A few of my favorites:

  • B blacks out the screen and W turns the screen white. Hit the key again to go back to your slides. I find this useful for hiding slides during breaks in the middle of a presentation.
  • Type a number then hit Enter to jump to a particular slide. For example, typing 5 and Enter jumps to slide number 5. Or, if you’re not so secretive, hit Ctrl-S to display a dialog that lets you jump to any slide.
  • Ctrl-A makes the cursor visible so you can use the mouse to point to something.
  • Hold both mouse buttons down for 2 seconds and you’ll jump back to the first slide.

Hit F1 while you’re in slideshow to see a more complete list.

[Via Microsoft WebBlogs]

Applications, Demo Skills, PowerPoint

Clean up your Word Docs to send to Customers

It is surprising how often that Word versions of White Papers and other marketing documents may have hidden information (that may range from everyone who worked on the document to all of the changes they have made) so it is always best to send the PDF versions to customers (not to mention they can’t edit PDF’s). There is a way to remove that tracking information from Word docs that you plan on sending out – go to Tools>Options>Security and select both “Warn before printing, saving or sending a file that contains tracking changes or comments” and “Remove personal information from this file on save”.

There is also a Microsoft addin for Office XP or 2003 that can strip even more personal data (just what you need, something else to slow down your machine).

Applications, Collateral