What’s the Value of Better Demos? (A Never Stop Learning! Article) - Great Demo

What’s the Value of Better Demos? (A Never Stop Learning! Article)

the value of better demos

What’s the Value of Better Demos?

A Never Stop Learning! Article

What’s in this article for you?

🗸 Your own estimates…!
🗸 The value of better demos summarized
🗸 Three dimensions of demo delivery
🗸 Understand when to deliver demos (and when not)
🗸 Discover what to include (and what to leave out)
🗸 Learn how to present effectively (beyond personal style)
🗸 Change: needle twitch vs. major swing

Your Thoughts

Before reading onward, grab a piece of paper (virtual or physical) and write down a handful of advantages that you would expect to enjoy by improving your demos. Go ahead, I’ll wait…!

OK, now put that aside and, once you’ve finished this article, compare your thoughts with mine.


What’s the value of better demos?

For the clueless, not a thing. (Yes, there are those who believe their demos are just fine, no reason to change or improve. Let them continue with that belief…!)

But for those who are awake and aware, better demos are exceptionally valuable!

On a per-prospect basis:

🗸 Getting the initial business (vs a competitor) and then enjoying the lifetime value from that customer
🗸 Getting the order with the least expensive form of proof
🗸 Securing the renewal (vs churn)
🗸 Upselling, cross-selling, and expansion
🗸 Improving sales-stage conversion rates
🗸 Avoiding POCs/POVs and other evaluations
🗸 Avoiding No Decision Outcomes

With respect to your metrics and KPIs:

🗸 Improving sales-stage conversion rates
🗸 Improving win rates
🗸 Reducing No Decision outcomes
🗸 Reducing rates of “wasted demos”
🗸 Increasing ARR numbers
🗸 Reducing cost-of-sales and cost-of-renewals
🗸 Reducing churn

With respect to a market, vertical, or channel:

🗸 Establishing market presence and expansion into new verticals
🗸 Increasing one’s market share and blocking competition
🗸 Enabling market dominance
🗸 Gaining rapid traction with a newly launched product
🗸 Leveraging the investment made in new releases
🗸 Enabling an effective channel strategy
🗸 Amplifying sales overall

For sales, presales, and customer success leadership:

🗸 Achieving your quarterly objectives
🗸 Achieving your annual objectives
🗸 Increasing your team’s efficiency and effectiveness
🗸 Investing in your team’s growth and development
🗸 Reducing onboarding and time-to-competency/time-to-readiness

For the individual presales, sales, and customer success practitioner:

🗸 The joy of knowing that it was your demo that got it done!
🗸 Acclamation from your colleagues
🗸 The associated commission or bonus from that order
🗸 Winning just one or two more opportunities – to make quota
🗸 Winning just one or two more opportunities – to move to the next commission level
🗸 Winning just one or two more opportunities – to go to “President’s Club”
🗸 Achieving personal growth and development milestones
🗸 Becoming a mentor to others
🗸 Progressing toward promotion or moving toward management

So, how could we not pursue getting better with our demos? (OK, now see how your list matches these ideas above. How do they compare?)

Three Dimensions of Better

What does “better demos” really mean? In what ways can demos get better? There are three dimensions to consider:

  1. How we show the content: personal style and verbal delivery
  2. What we present: the script or content of the demo
  3. When we should (or should not) deliver demos: timing

Most teams focus on Number 1, but it has the smallest impact, so we’ll start with Number 3 instead.

Part 1: When – Opportunity Cost

A wise colleague commented, “Just because you could show a demo doesn’t mean that you should…!”

There are only 225 (ish) selling days per year (do the math for your situation). Clearly, any time consumed by demos that does not yield reasonable progress is wasted. That same time could have been invested in sales opportunities with better likelihoods of success, so the loss of that time is doubly hurtful!

Ask yourself, “What sales opportunities could I/we have pursued if I/we had not been consumed by demos that went nowhere…?”

Consensus, in their annual Sales Engineering Compensation and Benchmark Surveys, found that ~30% of all demos delivered were considered a “waste” by presales teams. These are often “overview” demos presented with little or no discovery. How much of your team’s time is consumed annually by these fruitless pursuits?

Even worse, the average No Decision (or “Do Nothing”) outcomes for B2B software vendors is ~45%. That means that nearly half of the sales opportunities you chase go nowhere. These are the forecasted opportunities that never close, in spite of consuming an astounding amount of time in many cases. How many opportunities did you pursue during the last year that never closed, that included one or more overview demos, qualification discussions, discovery conversations, deeper demos, POCs, POVs, proposals, etc.?

(Extra Credit: Count the number of No Decision outcomes from the past year. Estimate how many hours were consumed by the activities above. Cry.)

Time is the one resource that we cannot get any more of. (Sadly, there are only 28 hours in a day…!) What else could have been done with the resources squandered in wasted demos and No Decision projects?

Think of your use of time as either “investing” or “wasting”. Investing implies a positive outcome; wasting time is pointless!

When – Waste Avoidance

What constitutes a “wasted” demo? (Again, I invite you to make your own list and then compare…!)

  1. Overview” demos that go nowhere
  2. Demos that result in No Decision outcomes
  3. Unnecessary repeated demos
  4. Traditional demos delivered to large, unqualified audiences
  5. Any “deep dive” demo presented to an executive
  6. Demos that should have been sufficient to close the business that ended up in a POC or POV
  7. Nearly all “end-to-end”, “show-them-the-full-range-of-our-offerings” demos

It is interesting, but not surprising, to note that this list is largely comprised of demos delivered without sufficient discovery. This suggests that one practical solution is to invest in improving the team’s discovery skills.

Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” This could be rephrased for sales as, “Give me superior discovery skills, and a few good leads, and I will move the SaaS world!”

If you can avoid wasted demos, you’ll enjoy some terrific gains. That means, of course, determining ahead of time which sales opportunities are poor candidates for a demo. Here are a few ideas:

1. “Overview Demos”: Far too many overview demos are delivered too early in a sales process, without sufficient discovery. The classic (and sad) starting point is a salesperson saying, “It’s a huge opportunity – show them an overview and get them all excited…!”

Some vendors attempt to use an overview demo to start the dialog with a prospect and may try to use these “disco-demos” to do discovery along the way. This is a difficult starting point because once you start to move your mouse, you typically stay in your offering, losing the opportunity to do true discovery.

If you ask presales managers how many of these “overview” demos actually lead to productive sales projects, the answers can be painfully low: Wasted overview demos in many organizations range from 10-20% to as high as 75%. The 2022 Consensus survey revealed that on average, “Unqualified” (wasted) demos averaged 30% overall, and “26% of respondents say that more than 50% of demos are unqualified”. Ick. That’s a lot of waste.

Traditional overview and disco-demos show way too much, yet still miss the mark for prospects. Instead, consider crisp, extremely effective Vision Generation Demos (see Chapter 11 on page 258 of the Third Edition of Great Demo!) to satisfy prospects’ desires to “see what’s possible”, stimulate interest, and move the prospect gently (but firmly!) into a discovery conversation. That’s a huge improvement!

To repeat, “Just because you could show them a demo doesn’t mean that you should…!”

2. Avoiding No Decision Outcomes: B2B software sales teams suffer from a surprisingly large number of No Decision endings (where your prospect doesn’t purchase your offering, they don’t go with a competitor, they choose to do nothing and remain with the status quo).

How large? The best B2B software companies report ~20-25% of their forecasted opportunities ending as No Decision, the worst are around 75-85%, with most running around 45-50%

This is frightening…! Why?

It means that about half the sales projects that you pursue end up going nowhere! (Would you like some of that time back in your life? Say, “Yes”, with passion…!)

There are typically three reasons why sales opportunities end as No Decision outcomes:

  1. Is there a Critical Business Issue or is it just a problem the prospect is willing to live with?
  2. Is the value clear and sufficiently large to drive the purchase (The “Delta” in Doing Discovery and Great Demo! methodologies)?
  3. Is there a date by when the prospect needs a solution in place (A “Critical Date” in Doing Discovery and Great Demo! methodologies)?

Doing Discovery and Great Demo! practices help qualify-in or qualify-out deals before investing time in any substantive demo. Far too many sales projects languish, “Living in the Land of Hope…” How many of your organization’s opportunities suffer this fate?

3. Unnecessary Repeated Demos: Very frequently, vendors present multiple demos per opportunity and per prospect stakeholder. This is commonly due to the above, where vendors offer overview demos followed by one or more deep dive demos for various players on the prospect team.

One needs to ask, “Was the overview demo necessary…?” and “Was the deep dive demo also necessary?”

  • Or would your prospect have been satisfied by a Vision Generation Demo (since they were “Just Browsing” and not yet in an Active Buying Process)?
  • Or would your prospect have been willing to invest in a discovery conversation directly and avoid that overview demo?
  • Or would a Vision Generation Demo have compressed two calls into one, by replacing the overview-demo-plus-discovery-call with a Vision Generation Demo that included substantial discovery?
  • And would a few minutes of intelligent discovery rule the prospect out as a qualified lead, avoiding that overview demo and possibly many subsequent deep dive demos and POCs, potentially avoiding a No Decision outcome? Hmmmm…

Next, we need to ask, “In addition to overview demos, why did we need to present deep dive demos twice (or more) to the same people? Could it have been that…

  • We didn’t do sufficient discovery and, in spite of delivering two hours of demo, the prospect said, “I didn’t see what I was looking for…”?
  • The prospect said the first demo(s) looked too complicated and confusing?
  • We ran out of time in our first demos (by spending too much time in Set-up Mode and workflow options before we got to the “best stuff”)

Living in the Land of Hope is an extremely wasteful sales strategy!

What about the others on our “When” list?

4. Traditional demos delivered to large, unqualified audiences
5. Any “deep dive” demo presented to an executive
6. Demos that should have been sufficient to close the business that ended up in a POC or POV
7. Nearly all “end-to-end”, “show-them-the-full-range-of-our-offerings” demos

If you are guilty of any of the above, shame on you or your team for what some people call, “Premature Elaboration”! Why? Because each results from the lack of sufficient discovery. The good news is, that these all represent opportunities for you to enjoy rapid and productive improvement!

When – Do Your Own Math


  • How many demos do you present per week or month?
  • How much time is consumed in demo preparation, delivery, and follow-up (and travel)?
  • What percent would you say is pure waste?
  • What percent end up as No Decision outcomes?

Multiply accordingly, then ask yourself, “Is this acceptable?” (The correct answer is “No!”)

If you feel you should make changes, note that the Great Demo! methodology and training courses provide clear definitions of when to say “yes” to delivering a substantive demo and when (and how) to push back gently. They also include self-rescue techniques to successfully deal with challenging real-life situations, such as the delightfully effective Menu Approach.

Part 2: What – the Content

Traditional demos attempt to present as many features and capabilities as possible in the time allotted, often without ever covering what the prospect wants to see. The resulting demos are perceived as confusing and complicated, and the product appears bloated with more features than the prospect needs. There is little interaction between prospect and vendor and little communication of the business value.

Presales and sales leaders lament that the lack of communicating business value in demos is the number one area for improvement. While some demos may have a small amount of broad-brush value statements, “We don’t articulate tangible business value” is a common complaint.

Great Demo! emphasizes completing sufficient discovery prior to a Technical Proof Demo to enable a sharp focus on the Specific Capabilities, key deliverables, and the value associated with your solution. The methodology details communicating specific value elements throughout the demo:

🗸 When presenting Situation Slides (reviewing the prospect’s situation and discovery information)
🗸 When presenting Illustrations (key deliverables)
🗸 As part of each interim Summary
🗸 As part of the Final Summary

The “Do the Last Thing First” approach assures that the most important elements (from the prospects’ perspective) are presented right up front, enabling prospects to see exactly what the software will do for them, how it can solve their business problems, and how much value can be gained.

Great Demo! applies the fabulously simple concept of “Fewest Number of Clicks” to reduce the perception of complexity and to build a vision in your prospects’ minds that they can see themselves using the software! This strategy encourages productive questions from prospects, turning monologue demos into engaged, bidirectional demo conversations.

The Inverted Pyramid strategy enables vendor teams to organize and deliver demos in accordance with prospects’ depth and level of interest, presenting just enough to satisfy and complete the technical sale, without the risk of product bloat.

Multiple-player and multiple-solution scenarios are elegantly “chunked”, transforming painful sagas (“day-in-the-life-multiple-hats-do-you-remember-when-I-showed-you-this-now-we’ll-go-back-and…”) into well-structured, consumable segments mapped specifically to executives, middle-managers, staffers, and administrators. (See Chapter 10 on page 238 of the Third Edition of Great Demo! for specific guidance.) What a delight!

Best of all, these production-hardened methods have been fully validated in recent studies. It’s one thing to know in your heart that these practices are advantageous, it is truly wonderful to have them proven!

Part 3: How – the Delivery

New hires in software firms are told to “learn the demo” and often need to prove proficiency by showing each of the steps in a traditional overview demo. Their delivery style is generally dry and wooden as they struggle to simply follow the prescribed pathway.

As practitioners grow more seasoned, they become comfortable with the software and develop their own personal delivery style, generally defined by (and generally limited to) word choice, presence, energy, pace, and a few personal experiences.

This is partly relevant in our equation, but not sufficient.

Far too many seasoned veterans (as well as new hires) show screen after screen after screen without actually presenting the screens. Prospects struggle to take in what they are seeing while the presenter works through their “talk track”: A net zero in terms of successful communication.

Similarly, traditional demos emphasize showing as much as possible in the time allowed, severely reducing or eliminating any chance for interactivity. Prospects perceive these demos as firehose deliveries, furiously flinging features and functions, frantically overfilling prospects’ craniums with a copious cornucopia of confusing capabilities. (Yes, I had fun with this sentence and hope you did too…!)

Great Demo! practitioners learn how to clearly, crisply, and compellingly communicate what the audience is seeing on the screen, how prospects can solve their business problems using your tool, and how much value can be enjoyed by making the change.

The methodology enables a real conversation to take place by “Peeling Back the Layers”, encouraging interactivity by chunking, avoiding “pre-answering” questions, and the use of frequent summaries to stimulate dialog. Demos are perceived by prospects as engaging and focused on their interests, yielding a true dialog, resulting in fewer demos to move the process forward and secure the order.

Mousing and pointing are often taken for granted by vendor teams, but prospects are frequently frustrated by Zippy Mouse Syndrome, imprecise pointing, and the failure of vendors to communicate what their prospects are actually seeing. Vendors have seen their own software screens hundreds of times, but they forget that this is the first time their prospect has seen them!

As an exercise, review a few of your recorded demos. Are you clearly communicating what the audience is seeing, how it helps them solve their problems, and the value associated with your solution? Is your mousing smooth, deliberate, and precise, or are you another victim of Zippy Mouse Syndrome?

Great Demo! teaches specifically how to point in both face-to-face and over-the-web delivery scenarios, as well as what needs to be communicated. This results in audiences “getting it” the first time, improving conversion rates and reducing the need for POCs and other expensive forms for proof.

Great Demo! Workshop participants learn to apply advanced techniques to make their demos truly remarkable, through the use of props and visual aids, whiteboard techniques, structured movement, real storytelling, and other skills (see Chapter 14 of page 332 of Great Demo! Third Edition for a rich discussion of storytelling in demos).

What You Don’t Know Does Hurt You

Here’s a truly frightening realization: Many seasoned demonstrators don’t know how much they could improve! They have reached a point where they believe they are “at the top of their game”. That’s a dangerous mindset: It precludes getting better!

Most presales and sales managers similarly have a limited idea of what improvements are possible within their teams. They know they want more effective, more compelling demos, but generally only see small, incremental improvements in their teams’ practices: just a tiny twitch of the needle.

How many times have you heard managers implore:

“Wrap a story around your demo…”
“Remember to communicate the value…”
“Show more passion…!”

The needle vibrates but doesn’t advance.

Great Demo! methodology enables large, substantive improvements to demonstration practices: a major swing of the needle! Training is not simply “polishing the pathway” but rethinking the entire process, from qualification and discovery through final proof.

Intriguingly, Great Demo! and Doing Discovery methodologies are not for everyone! If you are comfortable with your current practices and the results, don’t change. If you seek a few “tips”, but have no desire to reengineer your practices, stay where you are.

However, if you want to embrace major improvement and enjoy the rewards of substantially upgraded practices, consider starting the conversation. This is the pathway to recognizing the value of better demos!


So, what’s the value of better demos?

For those who are happy with their current results, not a thing. But for those of you who seek major advancement in your skills and outcomes, better demos are exceptionally valuable!

Most practitioners and managers focus on style in demo delivery, seeking small improvements in word choice, energy, and related, but they ignore the larger, higher-impact topics:

🗸 When demos should be presented, and
🗸 What content should be presented

And, frankly, these two themes represent the real opportunity. Perhaps it’s time to get better…!


Copyright © 2019-2023 The Second Derivative – All Rights Reserved.

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 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.

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