Remarkable Demos: What Makes a Demo Truly Memorable?
A Never Stop Learning! Article
“I get paid to point, click, and talk…”
– A senior presales practitioner ruefully describing his traditional demos…
What’s in This Article for You?
- Why being boring is bad (as if this even needs to be said!)
- A SAD true story (SAD = Stunningly Awful Demo)
- Some basic practices for improved results
- A better baseline
- What about personality?
- Moving towards remarkable
- A collection of remarkable examples
Reading note: The ideas get more remarkable as you go deeper into this article…!
When was the last time you saw a demo that was really engaging, thought-provoking, or memorable?
As a vendor, how many times do you find that you are bored by your own demos (or your team’s demos)? After all, you’ve seen them over and over and over, with basically the same talk track and sequence of steps.
Be honest: How many of us, in the midst of a colleague’s demo, are exploring something on the web or on our phones?
Even worse, contemplate your prospects’ perceptions as they listen to these same cookie-cutter demos, watching as the presenter methodically clacks the same clicks and plods the same paths they’ve followed dozens of times before!
Now contemplate what your prospect remembers about your demo after they’ve seen two, three, or more demos from your competition that show similar capabilities. It’s hard for them to differentiate between you and
the alternatives. All of the demos consist of the same traditional flows with little or nothing that appears particularly novel or intriguing: Just “point, click, and talk!”
No wonder you have to repeat demos for the same audience. No wonder your prospects request a POC. No wonder your prospects can’t make a decision and “kick the can down the road.”
A SAD True Story
A few years ago, I was watching a partner vendor present a face-to-face demo to an important prospect in Switzerland, and it was not going well!
A couple of days before the demo meeting, I provided the vendor with a rich set of discovery information, which we discussed in detail. This was a key customer and we wanted to be properly prepared. Sadly, we were unable to organize a dry run before the event: This was a major mistake!
About fifteen minutes into the demo, the partner started a Terrible Tabs Death March. You know, where the presenter works through the details of each and every tab, one after another (after another, after another…).
By the third tab, the audience realized what was going on, indicated by shifting chairs and squirming bodies. A few prospect participants began to doodle on their notepads. Well, this was bad, but it got worse…
As the vendor clicked on the fourth tab, the head of the prospect team stood up, walked to the side of the conference room, and slowly but steadily banged his head on the wall: thunk, thunk, thunk!
Clearly, this demo was memorable, but not in a positive way (people still talk about this meeting today)!
Some Better Basics
If you want to sound like most other vendors, go ahead and inflict a 20-minute corporate overview/product overview presentation on your prospect. That should have them browsing online in no time!
It’s all about your prospect. Start with a crisp summary of the discovery information you’ve collected. A Great Demo! Situation Slide is perfect for this. Stay in “You Mode” as you review this summary.
Ensure that you understand and have confirmed your prospect’s Critical Business Issue, Delta elements, and Critical Date to avoid a No Decision outcome.
Start with Set-up Mode items and present a long, linear flow that consumes the allotted time. This will also keep you from presenting the reports, dashboards, and other deliverables that your prospect really wants to see!
Start with a “Wow!” by showing the deliverables that your prospect desires: “Do the Last Thing First!” These should solve your prospect’s Problems/Reasons (“pain”) and enable them to address their Critical Business Issues.
A “before and after” method of illustrating deliverables can be very effective. The “before” shows your prospect’s current, painful process or inadequate deliverable; the “after” demonstrates the glorious wonders of your solution (presented with the sound of angels singing!).
DO (BONUS BONUS)
When you follow the Do the Last Thing First approach and apply the Inverted Pyramid structure, you may actually finish the demo well before the allocated time is consumed. Imagine how happy your prospect will be to get that time back in their day: Now that’s remarkable!
Show demo data that doesn’t align with your prospect’s business or scenarios that don’t reflect reality. Presenting a manufacturing example to a group of finance folks will get you laughed out of the room (or virtual room).
Invest a bit of time (or in a tool) to show relevant data and visuals that reflect realistic use cases.
Make sure your demo environment includes representative problems that can be solved, exceptions that can be investigated, and opportunities that can be explored. Make the data interesting!
Explore all of the possible options for each function or pursue every “if” and “or” case. Keep in mind that your audience will remember the first couple of ideas and the last thing that you present. Everything in the middle is at risk of sounding like crickets in an empty room, “chirp chirp chirp chirp…!”
Organize and present your demo segments applying the Inverted Pyramid method. This technique delivers the most important ideas right up front and enables your prospect to explore in as much detail as they have interest!
Point, click, and talk, and point, click, and talk (and point, click, and talk) for ten minutes, and then ask, “Any questions so far?” What do you think your prospect’s response will be? Yup, you guessed it: “Nope, we’re good…!”
Similarly, avoid the phrase, “Does that make sense?” You may not want to hear your prospect’s real answers!
Invite your prospect to engage by using frequent summaries (after each segment, at minimum). The act of Peeling Back the Layers actually drives questions and comments from your prospect.
Here are several alternatives to the banal and boring, “Any questions so far?” and “Does that make sense?”:
- “Questions or comments?”
- “Your thoughts?”
- “What do you think so far?”
- “Comments, questions, observations?”
- “Does that resonate?”
- “How does that resonate?”
- “What are your thoughts on this?”
- “How does this look to you?”
- “How does this compare with your current system?”
- “Is this the kind of capability you have in mind?”
Pre-answer all the questions you’ve heard multiple times before. Doing so is a terrific way to kill any reasonable possibility of a dialogue. (Pre-answering is also known as “premature elaboration…!”)
Be prepared to respond to the questions you’ve heard multiple times before, but don’t provide answers until your prospect actually asks the questions! This is the essence of Peeling Back the Layers, enabling a real conversation to take place while letting your prospect explore your capabilities in as much depth as they have interest.
Practice superior question-handling skills (see Chapter 8 “Managing Time and Questions” in Great Demo!). Show genuine interest, explore the “why” behind prospect questions, and be curious about anything usual! Use a Parking Lot to capture any questions or topics that need to be addressed after the demo.
Make sure you’ve adequately closed prospect questions. Here are a few phrases to draw from:
- “Does that sufficiently answer your question?”
- “Is that sufficient?”
- “Have I adequately addressed your question?”
- “Is that what you wanted to know?”
- “Is that sufficient or do we need to go deeper?”
You can also precipitate prospect questions by offering an interim summary:
- “So, to summarize…”
- “To recap…”
- “So, what you’ve seen so far…”
- “In conclusion (on this point)…”
- “To sum up…”
DO (BONUS BONUS)
A simple “yes” may be a sufficient response to many prospect questions!
When you have situations with multiple solutions or multiple players (or both!), don’t force everyone in the audience to stay through the entire meeting, wondering when they’ll see the portions of the demo that are relevant to them.
Use The Menu Approach and let your prospect define the agenda. Not only will they be more engaged, you’ll learn what is most important to them!
Organize the time to ensure that the highest-ranking prospect players are addressed early in the meeting. Getting a “yes” on your solution from them will reduce the potential for objections from the balance of the prospect team.
DO (BONUS BONUS)
Be prepared to release prospect players once their segments are complete. “Thanks for joining the demo today. Looks like that covers your areas of interest. You are welcome to stay, but you’re also welcome to leave if you’d prefer: That’s an hour you get back in your day!”
End your demo with a slide that says, “Thank You” or “Questions”, and no verbal summary. Your audience will remember the last element of your demo surprisingly well. Don’t squander this opportunity!
True story: At the end of a demo a few years ago, a vendor shared a PowerPoint slide that contained a large, golden, slowly rotating 3D question mark as they asked, “Any questions?” Those of us in the meeting all remember that rotating image, but sadly little else!
Provide a crisp summary of what you’ve shown, what questions were asked, the responses provided, and any topics or questions that were parked along the way. This recap takes advantage of prospects’ typical retention curves where the last topic is remembered quite well.
As you begin your final summary, redisplay the most compelling visual (Illustration) from your software. Linger lovingly over this screen as you deliver your summary and take any final questions.
End the meeting without a mutual plan of action or “next steps” discussion. Even worse, don’t succumb to the temptation to offer a “free POC”…! (Remember: Our objective is to secure the order with the least expensive form of proof!)
Discuss a Mutual Action Plan that, in the best cases, includes tasks for both you and your prospect.
Discuss prospect-specific Value Realization Events: what these are, how to measure them, and how and when they can be achieved. Doing this proves to your prospect that you are truly interested in their success and not simply getting the order! (Doing Discovery provides details on this highly effective differentiating process.)
The DO and BONUS practices above will make your demos much more memorable than traditional approaches. Before we move on to some remarkably marvelous methods, do you have any questions, comments, or observations on what we’ve covered so far? Is there anything that stands out for you, in particular?
(See what I did there?)
A Better Baseline
Training is a rational starting point, of course. Presentation skills classes help presenters improve their level of practice. Sales methodology courses provide processes to help salespeople progress and secure business faster. Discovery and demonstration skills training enable customer-facing teams to improve these processes, similarly.
All of these help people get better at what they do and enable improved baselines of practice.
Some training involves making small, incremental improvements. This tends to be lower risk but also yields smaller gains. In the world of software demos, helping people to improve existing talk tracks or eliminate unneeded features is good, but it is not going to result in a demo that is perceived as particularly remarkable. You simply achieve a marginally better baseline.
More sophisticated and “rip and replace” training methods enable major step-changes: new ways of doing things that go well beyond the status quo. Great Demo! methodology is an example of doing things quite differently: a significant step-change. This type of training often requires changing or replacing ingrained habits, but the payoffs are commensurately much more rewarding!
Starting demos with Great Demo! Situation Slides is surprisingly refreshing for audiences who are expecting to suffer through vendor corporate overviews. Applying the Do the Last Thing First concept rescues prospects from the tyranny of traditional demos that seem to take forever to get to the desired deliverables. Peeling Back the Layers turns demos from boring monologues into engaging, bidirectional conversations.
The mental investment to successfully apply Great Demo! practices are more challenging, but the yield is a huge multiple of that effort! Question: Do you want to be perceived as average, slightly above average, much better than average, or truly remarkable?
What About Personality?
I once saw a face-to-face demo where the presenter recited a script in a dead monotone, punctuating delivery with what became a sadly predictable use of the keyboard space bar to advance the screen (it was a recorded demo driven from the keyboard). People in the audience were texting one another with increasingly derisive comments about how incredibly, painfully boring the demo was.
Unfortunately, while this demo was remarkable, it wasn’t remarkable in a good way!
Personality differences can have a major impact on the retention of information. But being bubbly and upbeat is just a part of the solution, and relying on your delightful personality alone is insufficient to achieve remarkability. In fact, being perceived as overly positive can be a negative in many cultures and situations.
Presales folks are frequently (and often inaccurately) described as being introverted, while salespeople are generally classified as extroverts (again, a poor generalization). Some people are “natural” presenters; others need to learn skills to make their communication more effective.
Adapting your personality for demos can be a bit like acting: You are taking on the role of a different person or manifesting different personality attributes for your demos. In any case, you may need to perform with personality characteristics that are different from your non-business or non-customer-facing self.
Leveraging or adapting your personality to improve demo delivery is part of the expected baseline, accordingly. So, let’s move on to more interesting ideas!
Moving Towards Remarkable
What makes prospects and customers say, “Remember the time that vendor did that really amazing demo?” What is the difference between a good demo and something that people still talk about?
They’re remarkable. They’re memorable. They stand out from all of the other demos and presentations because they really are different. They depart from the expected norms, they “push the envelope,” and they set new boundaries. In many cases they have a surprising twist:
“…Remember the time the SC brought in that huge stack of papers to search through like we were doing at the time? That really reflected our then-current situation!”
“…It was so great when they had our VP of Sales drive a portion of the demo. If he could do it, anyone could!”
“… Remember when that salesperson showed an analysis of our situation? It was uncanny how accurate it was!”
“…I loved it when they let me search their database. I found answers that I didn’t know existed, then emailed them to myself and completed my project earlier and much better than I’d expected!”
These demos were so remarkable that they not only secured the order but also stayed in these customers’ minds long afterward. Let’s explore what makes certain demos truly remarkable and how to implement these practices within your organization.
A Collection of Remarkable Examples
Stand-up comedians constantly test and improve their material, providing a wonderful example for demo practitioners.
Comedians introduce new ideas, explore audience reactions, and change, add, or delete material in their “routines” accordingly. Their expectation is that each subsequent performance will be better than the previous show. Evolution at its best: survival of the fittest jokes…!
Comedians need to have material that is consistently remarkable. Should demos be any different? Nope! Here are some examples of applying this same idea to the fabulous world of demos:
- When you use a prop or visual aid in a demo that really engages the audience and makes them light up, repeat it for the next relevant group. Explore showing it vs passing it around (for face-to-face scenarios) and compare the results.
I’ve seen wonderful props used in both face-to-face and web demos, from huge stacks of paper (representing current manual processes) to machine parts that were just about to fail (showing how predictive maintenance works), and software driving robots for special functions (in one case, the software instructed a liquid-handling robot to create the perfect martini!).
Pro Tip: Props and visual aids for face-to-face demos should be easily transportable or locally procurable. I frequently use a newspaper as a prop to illustrate the use of the Inverted Pyramid concept in demo delivery. When I’m on the road, I still look for a stack of newspapers in the hotel lobby to use in that day’s training!
Pro Tip: Props and visual aids aren’t limited to face-to-face demos. You can present props via your webcam, for example. I’ve even modeled handing things to the audience through my webcam and have audience members pretend to take them from me!
True Story: I was delivering a Great Demo! Workshop and during the final roleplay exercise one of the participants rounded up a large cup and two sealed water bottles before he began. He presented his Situation Slide, followed by a nice-looking dashboard as his Illustration.
He then grabbed both of the water bottles, banged them together, and said, “If I understand correctly, your current situation has silos that can’t be connected, like these two sealed water bottles.” He banged them together again. He then opened both bottles and poured portions from each into the cup and announced, “We are enabling you to combine your data in ways you’ve never been able to do before and…” He brought the cup to his lips and took a big sip, followed by a refreshing “Ahhhh…! And enable you to consume that data in ways you’ve never been able to do before!”
Thunderous round of applause!
- Let your prospect drive a portion of the demo. This really wakes up the audience!
Demos are often a form of proof, particularly for “ease of use.” Having an audience member drive a portion of the demo is a remarkable way to confirm ease of use and may avoid a costly POC!
Pro Tip: Use your champion for a “Do It” pathway or similar brief segment and have them practice the pathway before the actual demo.
- Tell stories! It’s amazing to watch your audience’s reaction when you ask, “Would you like to hear the true story of…?” They will literally lean forward in their seats! (Check out the chapter on Storytelling in the Third Edition of Great Demo! for more details on storytelling practices for demos.)
Pro Tip: When you tell a story that really resonates, keep it in the act, and work continuously to make it even better in subsequent demos. When you see consistent success with that story, share it with your colleagues!
- When you present a terrific payoff screen or key report (an Illustration) that really resonates with a prospect player, do it again the next time you demo to someone with the same job title.
Pro Tip: Prospect executives may only need to see a relevant Situation Slide and one or a few compelling Illustrations, without any need to go deeper. I cannot tell you how many times we had completed this portion of the meeting and heard the executive say to their team, “Folks, I’m comfortable with this as a solution. I have another meeting I’m going to join, but you can stay and continue the demo as long as you need.” Congratulations: The order is now yours!
- For multiple-solution or multiple-player demos, use The Menu Approach. This fabulous practice puts the agenda in the prospect’s hands, engaging your audience right from the beginning of the meeting.
Pro Tip: Include more items on your Menu than the allotted time allows. In addition to this being a very effective method of Vision Expansion, this tactic also gives you a reason to reengage later on. (You can find details on Vision Expansion and Vision Reengineering in Doing Discovery.)
- One of the strongest versions of “You Mode” is to use your audience’s specific names. There are few things as attention-grabbing as when you use someone’s name in a demo meeting.
A colleague told me a fabulous story about his “Names Superpower.” During the meeting introductions, he would carefully memorize the names of all of the prospect players to a surprisingly deep level. How deep? During one face-to-face meeting, while he was drawing on a whiteboard, a prospect participant asked a question and, without turning around, my colleague provided the answer using the correct name for that person. Wow!
- Power of the Pause: In music, a short period of time with no sound can be extremely dramatic, and the same principle also applies to demos. When you describe a key screen or idea, pause for a moment to give your audience time to absorb the concept, think about it, and provide a comfortable opening for questions or comments. There is no requirement to constantly fill “dead air”!
Interestingly, even the use of alliteration and careful selection of words can impact your audience’s attention. Hard consonants and sibilants serve as percussion to the melody of your sentences, for example. Explore this for yourself: Listen to some of your favorite music and note the dynamics, pauses, crescendos, fermatas, and other hooks designed to engage and stimulate the listener.
- When you are doing online demos, use the annotation tools. (Zoom has a terrific set of annotation capabilities. As of this writing Teams does not, so consider a third-party tool such as ZoomIt). The act of a new, unanticipated graphic appearing on the screen refreshes the audience. Sadly, the huge majority of vendor staff rarely employ these tools. This is an opportunity to differentiate!
Pro Tip story: We were working with a prospect over the web and needed to get clarification about some elements of their workflow. We opened up a whiteboard in Zoom, drew the main workflow elements on the screen, and then worked collaboratively with our prospect to refine it. When it was complete, our prospect asked, “Can you please save this and send it to me? This is the best representation we’ve yet seen of this workflow!”
- A crisp, meaningful quote or verbal sound bite can often make your demo more memorable, partly through association with the quote itself. Great Demo! Workshop participants from years ago will often regale me with their recollections of specific phrases we used in those Workshops, such as:
“Do the Last Thing First!”
“Fewest number of clicks” (with the commensurate hand motion)
“We are victims of momentum!”
“Thunderous sound of applause!”
- Give your prospect something of real value from the demo (other than just pleasant memories). Most demos involve fake data or model scenarios. If your offering can actually solve a real problem during the demo, do so!
A few years back, I used to present our “Available Chemicals Directory” database to our prospects. This was a chemistry structure-searchable electronic collection of the world’s hundreds of chemical catalogs. Prior to our database, scientists had to search each catalog manually, often taking hours and even more often missing good candidate compounds, due to the intrinsic limitations of chemical names (In chemistry, one picture is truly worth one thousand words!).
I would execute an example search in the database and then ask, “Anyone want to look for a compound you’re interested in?” I’d pick a volunteer and guide them through the search process and, more often than not, they’d find what they were looking for! I’d then email the results to the prospect after the demo, often saving them, not just hours in searching but weeks that would otherwise have been spent in wasted laboratory synthesis efforts.
A customer who purchased the product immediately after the demo told me, “Cohan, you just showed us how three weeks in the lab can save seven minutes in the database!” (I love the clever twist of the wording…)
- Pro Tip: Apply two or more of these approaches in parallel!
Demo elements that were memorable, that were particularly remarkable, are the elements to harvest, refine, and reuse. Demos should evolve to incorporate the best material for each prospect situation.
Share and Leverage
Now you have your own personal stock of remarkable demo ideas. Consider tapping into other examples from your colleagues, competitors, and third parties as well.
- With your own team, organize a “Demo Day” where team members present demo components and ideas that worked extraordinarily well.
- Watch recorded demos from your colleagues and assess: What caused the most positive responses from the audiences? What props or visual aids were used that really resonated? What stories had the audience on the edge of their seats? What additional ideas can you harvest?
- Watch demos from other companies: online, at conferences, or as a prospect when vendors present at your company. Collect ideas to incorporate into your own demos. What did you like? What didn’t resonate? What was remarkable?
- Watch non-demo presentations (www.TED.com, for example) to harvest novel and remarkable ideas that could be applied to the wonderful world of demos.
Where else can you find other remarkable ideas?
From Traditional to Better to Truly Remarkable
A traditional demo is typically what you were taught when you first joined the customer-facing team: “Here’s the demo for product X…”
Substantially better demos result from applying Great Demo! principles, such as Do the Last Thing First, Fewest Number of Clicks, Inverted Pyramid, Peel Back the Layers, and the appropriate use of question management Parking Lots.
Truly remarkable demos harvest the best, most memorable elements of your or your team’s demos and replay them on a consistently improving, ongoing basis. The payoff? Truly remarkable demos have the highest success rates of all in securing the business!
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To learn the methods introduced above, consider enrolling in a Great Demo! Doing Discovery or Demonstration Skills Workshop. For more demo and discovery tips, best practices, tools and techniques, explore our books, blog and articles on the Resources pages of our website at GreatDemo.com and join the Great Demo! & Doing Discovery LinkedIn Group to learn from others and share your experiences.