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

April 9th, 2009

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

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