A Surprising Stance on Demos and Some Startling Data - Great Demo

A Surprising Stance on Demos and Some Startling Data

By Steve Kraner, Guest Blogger

Where does the demo fit in a software or SaaS sales cycle?

As a sales coach, you might be surprised, but I am all for product-led growth – I am also all for dropping salespeople out of the process.

All friction and cost should be removed.

If your software can be sold with a standard demo, you should create a slick demo and put it on your website.

But, why would you ever have salespeople do a standard, one-size-fits-nobody demo?

The only reason to have salespeople or SE’s do a demo is to tailor it to the customer.

However, most demos I see in my baseline observation of customers are the same long, generic demo, given up front for every customer. These demos are really training in how to use the software, accompanied with unconvincing assertions about results attained with other customers. The customer response is apathetic and the calls end with no traction.

In a few short weeks, we can turn that around by doing a proper discovery call prior to a demo. As a result, the demos are short and to the point. In fact, there is often nothing that resembles a traditional “demo.” These calls end with one of these outcomes:

  1. Respectful disqualification and appreciation by surprised buyers who are thankful for a refreshing dose of disarming honesty.
  2. A Mutual Action Plan that is truly mutual.

But the that belief that we need to lead with presentations and demos is strong and has resulted in some intentional and accidental experiments in my work with clients.

Black Duck

In 2019 at Black Duck Software, we gave buyers the choice of starting with:

  1. An overview of the solution
  2. Questions to get a deeper understating of the buyer and their goals

94.2% of buyers in the study chose #2.

Accidental Experiment

In 2019 an accidental experiment resulted from a sales manager who was so committed to leading with demos that he instructed his team to offer a demo at the beginning of the call. I was surprised to hear this modification to the methodology we were deploying, as I reviewed the call recordings.

Interestingly, the recordings proved that when offered a demo, buyers declined in all cases except one, in which the response was unintelligible. In this team’s fervor to offer (force) demos, they still sometimes did the demo even after buyers declined. Forcing demos into discovery calls resulted in:

  1. The buyer’s needs were not fully understood
  2. Salespeople missed needs that buyers, in an attempt to be heard, stated clearly
  3. The buyer’s subjective preferences were not revealed
  4. Cost/benefit was not discussed
  5. No business case was developed
  6. The decision process was not understood
  7. The demo was a generic, one-way delivery that was rushed
  8. It caused the conversation to move away from the buyer’s need, toward the seller’s solution, before their need was fully understood.
  9. Buyers were confused by fast-paced screen changes that were not synched with the talk track
  10. Buyers pushed back on assertions made about results with other customers as ‘not relevant to our situation’
  11. These demos resulted in buyers who said, “We’ll call you.” And sellers who said, “If I don’t hear back in a week, I’ll ping you!”

Since this was one team of two, we were able to compare with the other team who adhered more closely to the suggested methodology. Their calls were not perfect, as they were mastering the process. But they did not include suggesting or forcing a demo in the discovery call. Given greater focus on discovery and more time, these calls resulted in:

  1. The buyer’s unique needs were more fully understood
  2. Salespeople were less likely to miss needs that buyers stated
  3. The buyer’s subjective preferences were stated in a description of the Utopian Vision
  4. Cost/benefit was discussed
  5. A business case was developed
  6. The decision process was understood, often in great detail
  7. There was no demo during that call, unless a customer specifically asked for one, which was rare
  8. The call ended up with clear next steps outlined in a Mutual Action Plan (MAP).

That plan included a future demo if it was a part of the buyer’s due diligence process. Many MAP’s did not include a demo, in favor of other forms of proof the buyer found more compelling.

These MAP’s were truly mutual. For example, in one case the buyer asked for a demo, but he wanted a private demo so he could help tailor it to the other decision makers. He explained that he feared the result that so often results from a standard demo.

2020 Progress with Another Client

At the start of this engagement with a new client of mine, the team was in the habit of presenting and doing the same generic presentation over and over. 100% of the initial call recordings included the same generic slide deck and talk-track for every customer.

However, at week five, one of the reps had progressed in his mastery of the diagnostic process. He did the first presentation that was truly tailored to the customer.

By week 10 of the mastery process half the team had done diagnostics followed by a tailored presentation/demo. The week 10 call recordings make it clear that the level of engagement from these customers stands in stark contrast to those upon whom a standard pitch was inflicted. It also became clear to the team that it was not unusual to find the buyer’s real, immediate and entirely unique need 30 minutes into a call. In these cases, the opportunity would clearly have been lost had the need not been revealed.

30 years of recorded sales calls

Buyers do not bring up demos. Salespeople do. If you search 1,000’s of call recordings, you will find only a small fraction in which the buyers say the word “demo” first.

I have said that to tens of thousands of salespeople, and no-one believes it applies to them. So, when it happens, I point it out in the call notes. An analysis of 1,435 calls for three clients who applied the methodology in 2019 and 2020 reveals:

  • 269 in which the seller said “demo” first
  • 44 in which the buyer said “demo” first
  • 1,122 in which “demo” was not mentioned

That’s 3% in which the buyer said “demo” first…

These results are unlikely to be typical, since all of these recordings are done by salespeople at some point in one of my mastery programs, in which we do not push demos. We co-build Mutual Action Plans.

30 years of call recordings lead me to suggest that salespeople are better off not forcing a demo into a discovery call.

Buyers are better off, too. It comes as no surprise to me (as someone who has been a government buyer and one who sold to the government) that a recent Government Services Administration study shows:

  • 83% of IT projects are late
  • 74% are over budget
  • 67% never produce the desired goal

Gartner provides similar sad statistics for commercial projects.

Prescription without proper diagnosis is malpractice.


Steve Kraner is NOT a natural salesman.

He describes himself as an engineer who crossed over to the dark side.  Steve’s delivery is generously spiced with humorous and relevant stories garnered during a colorful, 23-year sales and sales management career. He invites audiences to challenge him and the highlight of his programs is the “no-holds-barred” interaction.

Learn more about Steve and his program at https://softwaresalesgurus.com/

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