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:
- 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).
- Require at least one team member (probably the sales rep) to attend the entire dry run for consistency.
- 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.
- Bring plenty of snacks and drinks for presenters to enjoy. Anything to make a dry run more enjoyable is worth doing.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.