The Significant Failure of Traditional Demos in Modern Selling - Great Demo

The Significant Failure of Traditional Demos in Modern Selling

Previous methods of demos and connecting with clients are no longer working! Shifts in the Business to Business (B2B) buying cycles have rendered traditional demo practices obsolete and ineffective!

Gartner’s research emphasizes that customers discount the perceived value of sellers. “Customers perceive little distinct value (beyond their own learning) from sales interactions, (including demos) resulting in only necessary access being granted. Only 17% of the total purchase journey is spent in meeting with a vendor. Considering that the average deal involves multiple vendors, any given sales team has roughly 5% of a customer’s total purchase time. Sales leaders lament decreased customer access, but it should come as little surprise considering the improved quality (not to mention quantity) of information available through more objective digital channels.[1]” 

While this information does not signal the demise of the seller’s role, it does require that we use more advanced and effective techniques to influence and impact buyers’ decisions, especially when providing a demonstration. Fortunately, demonstration skills improvement courses have existed for years, yet many traditional training practices originated in the early 2000s.

As an example, you may have heard of one demo approach brilliantly illustrated as Tell, Show, Tell (T-S-T). Tell the client what you are going to show them, Show them the demo, and then Tell them what you showed with a strong summary of features and value. The Tell, Show, Tell approach has served the industry well for years and has helped many presales consultants improve their ability to tell stories and connect with buyers.

However, when we consider new research from the world’s leading sales methodologies, we find that some methodologies need elaboration to ensure they are adapting to today’s best practice sales methods. Using traditional methodologies may be a significant failure in modern selling when they are not modified to include the latest research and best practices.

Traditional Models

Let me explain. You have likely heard of the Challenger Sales Model. “The Challenger Sales methodology is a transition from pitch-based selling to educational selling. Rather than pitching a specific product, a Challenger will respond to client needs, then analyze those needs, and finally present a solution the client may not have considered.[2]”  To do so the Challenger sales model references an effective approach simply described as Teach, Tailor, and Take Control.

Here is another example. Recently, I attended a Value Selling clinic hosted by a trainer from the Vista Consulting Group. “Value Selling encourages sales professionals to ask the right questions, articulate the value of a product to the customer’s business, and demonstrate flexibility in formulating a mutually beneficial solution. It’s all about making sure that you’re adding value to the customer, at every stage of the process.[3]

The trainer in this session introduced a complementary and effective concept positioned as Tell, Ask, Listen! This is a big idea. Tell the client a compelling story, Ask about their business, and Listen to their feedback. It’s a perfect way to understand their business objectives and challenges. The methodology is dramatically enhanced when coupled with the Challenger concepts mentioned above: Tailor and Teach.

Identifying needs and challenges, tailoring your demonstration to specifically address the highest priorities of your client, and then teaching new information to change the customer’s buying direction is different from what is being practiced by most sales professionals. And research shows that teaching something new about a customer’s business need, or challenge has a statistically significant improvement in changing a customer’s buying direction when they already have preconceived notions about a solution, product, and/or company.

ALT Approach

Combining the research, wisdom, and best practices above from Value Selling and the Challenger Sales Methodology I want you to consider additional yet vital steps and an improved model over the traditional Tell, Show, Tell approach.  I call it the ALT Approach and here it is: Tell, Ask, Listen, Tailor, Teach, Tell!  (T-ALT²–T) I know it sounds simple, yet I’ll illustrate why it is so powerful.

As a person who has been attending and leading demo methodology training sessions since 2004, I quickly realized the similarities and near-perfect correlation between the Tell, Ask, Listen, Tailor, Teach, Tell approach to that of the Great Demo! methodology. While the Great Demo! methodology teaches us to ‘Do the Last Thing First’ it also highlights the importance of setting up each segment of a demo with a Situation Slide. This is a significant concept we should quickly explore more.

The Situation Slide is a highly effective mechanism that highlights how to teach clients something within the first two minutes of a demonstration. This is similar to the first Tell in the T-S-T method in the way it sets the context for the audience. The practice within Great Demo!’s methodology is called ‘Vision Generation.’ A Vision Generation demo is one of two ways a demonstration should be performed and is perfect for situations where you want to challenge your client and offer new information into a demonstration.

Tell – Ask

The Vision Generation concept is simple. It starts with a Tell statement that illustrates a story about another similar customer highlighting key objectives, the challenges the other client had, and how it was solved while presenting the value the other client received. The approach sets the context, yet generates hope and curiosity while challenging the client’s current train of thought. Delivering a Vision Generation demo and Situation Slide then moves into the Ask phase, where the seller can ask a few questions like “How does that compare with your situation and research?” “Can you see how similar features could help you solve the described problems and issues? If so, how?” This step is critical to the success of your ongoing demo.


The next part of the process is simple…Listen! Listen to the client’s response, needs, and biases, which moves this part of the demo into another key Great Demo! philosophy. Take a moment to ask follow-up questions and dive into your client’s situation more deeply. Turn your demonstration into a conversation about the true needs of your client and how your solution can specifically help them.


The next phase is to Tailor your demonstration based on the needs of the client.  Your traditional demo stops and your Great Demo! begins solely focused on what your client needs while highlighting the unique aspects of your solution that can help them achieve their key objectives.  In this enhanced demo step, you should not be merely ‘Showing’ your clients your demo, you should be consulting with them on ways you can help them achieve their objectives with your solution yet in a conversational way.


Your demonstration should be conducted in a conversational way continuing to ask questions about features and processes to ensure you are highlighting the right features of your solution as you uncover and relay the value each capability can provide.  When you introduce new capabilities and/or processes your client was not aware of you are teaching them something that has the ability to change their buying perceptions.  According to the models above, this is critical.  One of your goals should be to provide a sales demo and experience so valuable that the client would have paid for it.


Lastly, Tell and conclude with the value your solution will provide the prospect and summarize the steps and benefits you showed that mapped to their specific needs.  Remember to save time at the end of your demonstration to discuss the next steps needed to move the sales opportunity along.

It has been proven that skills training that is not supported with proper implementation and change management practices leads to marginal improvements.  If you have been attending training that teaches Tell, Show, Tell you may be overlooking modern best practices, and undermining the value of your training dollar.  That was certainly the situation I found when entering into my last assignment as VP of Global Solution Consulting at Ellucian.


I hope you will consider the ALT Approach to your Tell-Show-Tell (Tell, Ask, Listen, Tailor, Teach, Tell) when delivering your next demonstration. The research is clear that when we enhance the buying process for our prospects, challenge, and educate their own research we become trust advisors and create sales experiences that add value.


About the author

Paul H. Pearce has over 20 years of technical sales leadership and experience in Sales, Presales, Field Enablement, and Business Development. As the first certified Great Demo! training partner, he has mastered the methodology and today contributes to its ongoing success, having recently authored the industry’s newest Presales -Sales Methodology called the “Great Demo! 5 Imperatives.” Paul has consulted and trained dozens of organizations and hundreds of Presales Consultants and recommends ways to increase sales through proven methodologies and real-world experience.

[1] 5 Ways the Future of B2B Buying Will Rewrite the Rules of Effective Selling, Gartner



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