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5 Strategies for Success in “Demo Marathons”

In one of my earlier posts I talked about one reason why you should consider presenting first in a sales cycle: so that the audience will pay attention to you during a long day of demonstrations. This is just one of the strategies that you can apply in a “Demo Marathon”.

If you have never been on the buying side of a corporate purchase, you probably don’t have a sense of just how tiring an evaluation can be. It takes you away from your normal activities, and that may be exciting for a bit, but writing RFP questions, grading the responses, talking to vendors and attending endless meetings can quickly become a drag. It’s no wonder that many prospects choose to cram all the vendor presentations into one day: it allows for easier scheduling and gets everything over at once. But demo marathons can be a disaster for vendors because the audience is often burned out after the first or second demonstration.

That is the argument for going first: you want to avoid presenting when your audience is getting tired. But if you can’t present first (often you are not in control of the order) there are a few other things you can do to be successful during a demo marathon

  1. Wow them in the first 2 minutes.
  2. This is a good rule for any presentation, but it applies particularly well when you are trying to deal with an overloaded audience. Studies have shown that people pay the most attention at the start and end of a presentation, so you want to make a powerful first impression. The critical factor here is to deliver your most important message first thing and make it memorable. Don’t waste time introducing your company, your team, etc… Instead, just tell them the one (or two, or three, if you can make it short) things that will matter most about your product. You can even say “If you forget everything else you see today, I want to be sure you remember these three things about our product…”

  3. Make coffee or caffeine containing soft drinks available
  4. I have mentioned this before, but if you want your audience to be more receptive, you should make it available before your demo. Studies have shown that caffeine puts people in a more receptive mood. It has been suggested that this factor is more important than any other in a presentation. So bring that Starbucks coffee-in-a-box with you!

  5. Nail your follow-ups
  6. Almost every presentation I have given ends up with follow-up questions that could not be answered on the day of the presentation. Often these can drag on for a while and prospects or vendors will forget about them. If a prospect has just been through a demo marathon they will probably be getting the vendors mixed up in their heads after the demo. If you can follow up on any questions quickly, you will have an opportunity to stay top of mind. Instead of researching the answers to every question, get as many answers together as you can in 24 hours or less and send them to the prospect. Make sure to include the reasons why they should purchase your product along with your follow-up answers.

  7. Change presenters several times
  8. The rule about the start and end of the presentations commanding the most attention applies for each presenter. So that means if you change presenters often you have additional chances to deliver your message. Even if it is just the Salesperson standing up for 5 minutes to discuss company financials, breaking up the presenters can have a positive effect. Of course this needs to be choreographed well to avoid confusion, but it can increase the impact when you have an important message to deliver.

  9. Give them a rating sheet
  10. Although prospects often have some sort of rating sheets (I will have a post about that soon), you might consider giving them one for your product if they don’t. This is particularly effective if there is a large scripted demonstration. If you give them a grading sheet that follows their script and has a check box or rating box after each item you will encourage them to follow along with your demonstration. And if you are the only vendor that gave them a rating sheet it will make a very personal leave-behind that will be brought up in further discussions. Either way it will help keep their attention during a long demo day.

Those are just a few examples of ways to keep attention focused on your products during a demo marathon. I welcome other suggestions for readers in the comments.

Demo Prep, Demo Skills, Demo Tips, Selling

7 Tips for a Killer Demo

I have been asked by the folks at SoftwareCEO to put together a seminar to help smaller software companies with their demonstrations. I thought it might be good to start by outlining what I believe are seven important tips for having a killer demo. Follow these suggestions and you well on your way.

  1. Start your presentation with a demo
  2. This ties in with my post on the 30 second demo. People who come do a demo want to see product and you should do everything possible to show them what you can do as quickly as you can. It does not need to be long or involved, but it will calm down those “show me” types at the start.

  3. Get enough sleep
  4. It may seem strange to put this in as #2, but it really is important to be well rested before any sort of presentation. Demonstrations can be particularly taxing, both mentally and physically, so being well rested is critical. If you have to choose between doing final preparations and getting enough sleep, choose getting enough sleep.

  5. Make sure you have a few things nailed and show them first
  6. First impressions go a long way in a demo. If you show a few relevant and powerful things in your demo right up front, you will have the audience on your side. If, instead, you do a “B-minus” job on a bunch of things, you will lose credibility fast. So prioritize the items you know you can knock out of the park and put them up front. Even if they have a script for the entire demo, suggest that you want to show a couple things up front to orient the group to your applications.

  7. Use a day-in-the-life approach rather than feature dumps
  8. Whenever you can show a prospect/customer how they will use the application rather than the features you provide you will be at an advantage. “A Day in the Life” scenarios are good for this approach as you can guide them through what how the application will apply to the work they do. This works best if you have the chance to do some discovery with the prospect beforehand, but it is still effective if you are going in blind. I will probably do a longer post on this topic in the future.

  9. Make coffee or caffeine containing soft drinks available
  10. I don’t drink coffee or anything else containing caffeine, but if you want your audience to be more receptive, you should make it available before your demo. Studies have shown that caffeine puts people in a more receptive mood. It has been suggested that this factor is more important than any other in a presentation. So bring that Starbucks coffee-in-a-box with you!

  11. Do a dry run
  12. I already have a post on the importance of dry runs and you should absolutely do at least one dry run with the entire team at least 2 days before your demonstration. It is worth the time and effort.

  13. Bring a backup computer
  14. Murphy’s Law definitely applies in demonstrations. Bring a backup computer (or at least a backup hard drive) and be ready to switch over quickly if needed. You can blame your problems on Microsoft Windows all you like, but the customer is still going to judge any problems you have in your demo on your software.

There are lots of other ways to give a killer demo. What are your suggestions?

Demo Prep, Demo Skills, Demo Tips

Proof of Concepts: Kiss of Death?

The Proof of Concept (POC) or conference room pilot. In the four years I worked at PeopleSoft I never won a deal that included a POC. They were the kiss of death to a deal. Later, when I worked at Guidewire Software we had several deals that were won decisively by the POC. So it is possible to win deals with a great POC. Here are some guidelines that should be followed.

  1. Make sure you have the right product for a POC.
  2. There was a reason that POC were troublesome at PeopleSoft: the software. Although PeopleSoft was excellent software, it was difficult to install and had a steep learning curve for new users. This meant that we needed multiple experts on site to do a POC (both functional and technical) and often very specific hardware to run the applications. The other issue was that we had one version of the software from development and another version for sales. This may seem deceptive, but the sales version was a stable build of the software with a bunch of demo data loaded (and some mods like integrations and things to support smooth demo scripts). For a POC we would be expected to load the base software and it would come off looking much plainer than the demo version. All this meant that when competing against startup or niche vendors we came off looking pretty difficult to use.

  3. Set clear boundaries for the POC
  4. Although Guidewire’s software was much better suited to POC (simpler and much easier to install), that was not the only reason we had success. The POC I participated in at Guidewire had very clear boundaries about what the prospect could and could not ask for. We called the a “test drive” and we installed the software on their site (or brought a laptop with our version loaded). Users then went through very specific scripts that showed them how to use the functionality that we had developed (often with the help of their IT staff). The key to success was having clear boundaries and goals for the POC.

  5. Set realistic expectations and goals
  6. This is different than boundaries. Setting expectations and goals should include creating a specific scoring sheet (if they prospect does not supply one) for what you will accomplish in the POC. Are you going to import their customer list and complete a couple transactions? Are you going to measure ease-of-use with experienced users? Making it clear what should be accomplished and the measure of success is critical. For enterprise class software (meaning software that companies pay big bucks for and is core to their business) you can’t just hand over a copy and say “Go for it”.

  7. Make sure you have access to both technical and business people at the prospect
  8. To pull off a successful POC you are going to need help from both the busienss and IT people at the prospect. If they can’t commit, you are not likely to do well.

  9. Watch for competitive traps
  10. If your competitor suggested a POC then you should watch out: they probably feel it is a competitive advantage for them. If you have not dealt with POC before with this competitor you should be wary and do everything possible to focus the POC on your strengths. Not many software vendors use POC consistenly in their sales cycles, so if they do, they have a reason.

POC are a lot of work but they can definitely be effective in winning deals. A prospect who gets a chance to see your product perform under close to real conditions is much more willing to believe the results.

Demo Prep, Selling

7 Rules for Getting the Best out of Sales Engineers

Why is it that Sales Engineers do a great job for some Salespeople and not for others? What can a Salesperson do to get the best possible performance out of their Sales Engineers. Although the talent of the Sales Engineers you work with will vary (I will do another post on how to get the best Sales Engineers assigned to your deals) you can follow these tips to get the most out of what you have:

  1. Treat them like they are special.
  2. There are times when you may need a stellar performance in the demo to seal the deal. Or you may need a Sales Engineer to complete a long (but important) RFP. But even when the Sales Engineer is not critical to the deal (e.g. a deal where political connections are more important than product functionality) you still need to treat them as if they are special. Most Sales Engineers see themselves as the “talent” with a special set of skills and a role that requires ability to sell AND deep technical/product knowledge. They are typically well-connected in the company they work for (because they deal with so many different departments) and since they are on display at customers on a regular basis they are sensitive to their reputation. It may be annoying to ask them politely to take on work that you feel is just part of their job, but it will pay back dividends when you really need their help on a difficult deal.

  3. Learn how to brief them before a demo
  4. I have only encountered a handful of Salespeople who have mastered this skill; you will be among the very best if you can do it consistently. Briefing a Sales Engineer (or any team member) before a demonstration or presentation is a critical role for the Salesperson. You are the quarterback as well as the coach on the deal, and the team members will be looking to you to call the plays. A great briefing outlines the roles for every individual, what you need the Sales Engineer to accomplish, and what topics should be avoided during the demo or presentation. A briefing should also determine who takes on what questions and identify any key individuals that will be present from the prospect side.

  5. Tell them what outcome you want, not what they should show
  6. Although, as a Salesperson, you may think you know what the Sales Engineer should show in their demo, you should focus more on what you want to impress on the prospect and pass that advice on to the Sales Engineer (as part of your briefing). For example, rather than saying, “Let’s make sure to show them the scheduling administration screens” you could say, “There will be a couple of managers in the room that are going to want to know how easy it is to manage staff schedules. Let’s make sure they come away convinced it is easy and powerful”. This gives the Sales Engineer the information they need without boxing them in too much. This is part of the trust mentioned earlier: tell them the desired outcome and let them figure out how to get there.

  7. Help them get set up for the demo or presentation
  8. When a Sales Engineer arrives at a prospect site they often have a lot to deal with: setting up projectors, getting their demonstration equipment prepared, teleconference setup and arranging the room all require focus from the Sales Engineer. The more of these tasks you can handle, the better. Even if you can’t help with the task at hand, you can assist by keeping the prospect off of the Sales Engineer until they are completely set up. Getting them water, snacks or just asking what they need during this often stressful time will score you points for Rule #1.

  9. Handle all non-technical tasks during the demo
  10. Whether it is documenting the list of follow-up items, keeping track of time or writing down the names of attendees, if there is something you can do as a Salesperson that does not require the skills of the Sales Engineer, then you should do it. Although they may be menial tasks, they will free up the Sales Engineer to focus more on the thing that they do best: impressing the prospect with the value of your solutions.

  11. Make sure they can work the room at the breaks
  12. A good Sales Engineer will want to get feedback and inside information from the prospect during the breaks. As soon as there is a break you should ask the Sales Engineer if there is anything they need. Short of going to the bathroom for them, you should handle calls, water, taking notes, etc.. so that they can focus on interacting with the prospect. A good Sales Engineer can quickly build credibility with the prospect and they will want to talk honestly with them 1:1. Don’t let this great selling opportunity go by just because the Sales Engineer had to make a call that you could have handled for them.

  13. Give them direct, honest feedback, but only after you have won them over.
  14. My favorite Salespeople were those that gave me clear and direct feedback on how things went after a demonstration. They did not pull punches and gave me their perspective on what they saw in the presentation. But to accept that feedback I first had to have a sense of trust with the Salesperson, and understanding that the feedback was meant to be constructive and was about winning more deals. If the Salesperson was new (or new to me) and hammered me after a demo, I was unlikely to want to work with them in the future. So building that trust (by following rule #1) first allows you to give criticisms that will be heeded.

Demo Prep, Demo Skills, Selling , , , ,

Selling During the Break

The most obvious selling opportunity for a Sales Engineer is during a demonstration. But I have consistently found that talking to individuals during the breaks of a demonstration day is the most effective time to sell your product. Although we spend a tremendous amount of time preparing for demos, we often miss this real selling opportunity.
How can you use the breaks more effectively for selling? First off make sure to plan for several breaks during a demonstration, making sure to have one especially early in the schedule. For example if you have a 3 hour demonstration, plan to take at least two breaks of 10 minutes, one after an hour and another after two hours. Always plan to have a break (even a short one) within the first hour, no matter how long or short your presentation might be (okay, if you have a 1/2 hour presentation, you might not get a break into it).
Secondly you should use that break to get feedback from audience members. Ask your sales representative or other team members to do the same. The first question I always ask once I introduce myself during a break is:

“What do you think so far?”

This typically does not elicit much of a response unless they have a really strong opinion. Next you can move on with:

“Is there anything you saw that surprised you?”

This is a fairly neutral question because you are leaving open to whether it was a positive or negative surprise. A third question for the first break can be:

“What else do you want to be sure to see before the end of the day?”

This can help the presenter understand what areas they should focus on in the rest of the presentation. This certainly is not a replacement for doing good discovery, but often audience members may want to see specific things on the day of the demo.
Before the end of the break the sales team should regroup and deliver any critical feedback to the presenter. The presenter should then use that feedback to address the concerns of the audience members.
I often start up after the break with:

“During the break I heard something interesting from X that I would like to show you now in our product”

This shows that you were engaging with the prospect and want to incorporate their concerns. You should also take into account any other comments that you heard during the break, such as “it’s going too fast”. Rather than just slowing down, you might ask the audience whether they agree:
“I heard from a couple of you during the break that things were going a little fast. Do we all agree that I should slow things down a little?”
Remember that you don’t want to take just one person’s opinion as representing the group (unless you have identified that person as the key influencer). Always validate what you heard during the break with the entire audience if at all possible.
During later breaks you can be more forward in your discussions. For example during later breaks I would often ask:

“Was there something you saw from our competitor that you really liked/did not like?”

Talking about the competition is always a little risky, so doing it during the break limits the risks.
Another important use of later breaks is to understand the divisions and politics in the prospect. For instance, you could ask a business user:

“The IT Manager seemed concerned that we did not support Unix. Do you think that is a critical factor in deciding what software to buy?”

Although the obvious answer for a business user would be “I have no idea”, but it is more likely that they will give you some insights into the politics of the company (“Unix would be nice, but IT is going to support whatever we decide will meet our business needs”).
The other major benefit of using the breaks in this way is that it “humanizes” the Sales Engineer. Because we are often focused on building credibility and being seen as an authority (rather than a salesperson) SE’s can sometimes come off as matter-of-fact or aloof. By taking the time to talk to individuals during the break you can create a one-to-one contact that will be beneficial during the demonstration.
Later breaks can be used to validate next steps and identify key players. You can also use later breaks (once you have built up some credibility) to set traps for the competition.
The next time that you are preparing for a demonstration, make sure you strategize on how to handle the breaks. I always say that it’s the time when the real selling occurs.

Demo Prep, Demo Skills, Selling , ,

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 , , , , ,

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 , ,

Finding company logos

I often have to find company logos for powerpoints or branding of servers – finding a nice logo can be difficult for both small and large customers. Although you can always find a small logo on the company website it often does not scale (for PowerPoint). I have several strategies for finding logos:

Image search on Google. This is far and away my most common method of finding logos – go to http://images.google.com/ type in the name of the company and the keyword ‘logo’ and you can often come up with several. If that does not work, go with the keyword ‘site:’ and put in the domain name of the company – this will search their entire site for images (although some sites that are dynamically generated won’t work with this technique). And finally, you can do an advanced search where you specify the size of the image. Some example queries for HP:

“logo site:hp.com”
“HP logo”
“HP logo” with large images only (selected by hand in advanced search)

All these produce some decent results, but often a company may be too small (or too protective of their logo) for these Google searches to work. For example, try the above queries on “Dell” and you won’t get much back – I have a feeling that someone in their marketing department does the same thing and sends cease and desist letters to any that they find out on the Web.

Annual Reports. This is where I go for large companies that are protective of their logo or public companies that just don’t have any clean logos on the Web. If you can find their annual reports in PDF format you can often get a logo that will scale. For example if you go to Dell’s 1997 Annual Report, you will see a logo on the first page (turned sideways) that you can zoom in on infinitely. Zoom that thing up to a nice size, screenshot it and turn it around and Viola you have a nice big, clean logo (scaled down her to fit in the blog)

A question that might come up is whether hacking a logo like this is “fair use”. I have a feeling that if you get a question like this from a prospect because you put a nice logo in your PowerPoint or on the Portal, you might need to work on your relationship with the customer. That said, I have had “proper usage” come up in demo’s with the Web heads in companies – if I hack a logo to fit into our application I have gotten comments about how the logo should and should not be used or that it is an old logo. I still think they appreciate the effort over having a nasty pixelated logo kludged from their home page…

Collateral, Demo Prep, PowerPoint