Have you ever went to purchase something from a store and had such a bad experience that you left without buying anything? I’ve done this on a few occasions and if I analyze the situation it usually comes down to the customer service experience. Customers today expect to be treated with respect and professionalism. If this doesn’t happen, they know there are other stores that can go to for a better experience.
The surprising thing I have found is that many sales organizations don’t recognize this simple principle when they are selling a product over the phone or at a customer site. For some reason many of these sales representatives think that their product is the best and only thing on the market that can help a customer and they have no choice but to sit back and listen to the sales pitch. Ok, so no sales person thinks exactly that way but sadly they ACT very much so as I described. They have a canned slide deck, a lot of “market differentiators”, and a product that will meet your needs (even if that means selling you something you definitely don’t need or want). Let’s break that routine. I want to provide some tools and strategies that will make any demonstration you present great.
Don’t Withhold Information
Let’s start with a customer named Jim. He needs to find a product that will make his life better. Jim makes an initial call to the sales representative to discuss a product my company provides. The sales representative has few jobs at this point: one of which is to find out what Jim’s pain points are and what Jim needs to make his life better. Jim and the sales representative determine this product sounds like a good fit and Jim wants to see a demonstration. A time is set and Jim, a couple of his colleagues, the sales representative, and a sales engineer (me) have all accepted the meeting invite. Now is the time where this spirals into a bad joke, right? They all walk into a bar… and we know the rest.
So far, this all sounds positive. Jim has performed initial research, the sales representative has qualified the lead, and a demonstration has been setup. However, there is still a lot to be completed before the actual demonstration. Before the meeting, I would expect that the sales representative and the sales engineer (me again) to have an information exchange. DO NOT rely on an email for this information. Sadly, I usually receive just an email and it goes something like this, “Customer has X number of people, they need to see our product Core Feature 1, Core Feature 3, and Core Feature 7. The demonstration is Friday at 3PM.” Ok… Let’s put that in simpler terms that everyone might be familiar with. They sent me a picture of an empty piece of land and told me they want a house with three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Sure, I can build that house, but I’m quite confident that the customer had more requirements than a roof over their head. Sure, the sales representative narrowed the scope from “everything to a few things”, but they didn’t provide me with enough information to help win this deal.
If I want to win Jim’s business, I expect more than just an email. What do I expect? A phone call from the sales representative with detailed information: Jim has these pain points, they are spending a lot of time doing these things and they’d like to reduce that, and they also want to have reporting mechanisms they can give to the auditors, etc. I expect that when the sales engineer and representative are talking, it is in an effort to set up a stunning demonstration for the customer. It is one thing to have a canned demonstration that is delivered to everyone. What’s really impressive is when the sales representative and engineer work together to arrive at the demonstration with a strong, unified message that is tailored to Jim and his business.” If you’re really lucky, the sales representative has also done some research on Jim’s company and colleagues. This information is extremely helpful because it lets you know who is going to be in the room when you deliver the demo.
Know your Audience
Maybe you don’t run into the scenario where you don’t receive enough information before the demonstration. That’s ok too because we’re not done yet. The next big hurdle is when you arrive to the demonstration and make introductions. If you didn’t have the opportunity to research the people in attendance, the introduction phase is a great way to learn about your audience. If you have been equipped with the proper information about the people in the room, you can speak to their backgrounds. It’s always a good idea to know the background of your audience and how your product is going to affect their lives. All new products require some type of learning curve or change in day-to-day operations.
After introductions, you have the chance to set the stage and pace for the rest of the demonstration. However, you must also coordinate with your team, in this case the sales representative. Unfortunately, this is where you’ll lose a lot of momentum if you haven’t prepared well. Almost without fail, you will find a slide deck immediately following introductions. I’m not saying that slide decks are bad, just that the tendency for these to be done poorly is at an all-time high. What happens when the generic slide deck is pulled out and for the next 25 minutes (out of a one-hour presentation) Jim and his team listen to slides about the company history, awards, and the standard sales pitch? I can assure you that after the first 10 minutes, they’re very close to tuning out and at 15 minutes they’ve made some strong decisions about the product and company. DON’T make your audience listen to every single thing YOU think is important. This demonstration is for them!
Again, this isn’t every situation. Jim could be a CEO or CTO and very interested in a full breakdown. If this is the case, then you’ll definitely want to go deeper into the company history and reasons your company is the best and why they’ll be around in the future. However, I said that Jim was the person who called in to analyze needs and find a solution. This traditionally means that Jim is more technical in nature and will benefit from someone who talks on his level. Jim isn’t there for the slides, he’s there for the active portion of the demonstration.
If you present the standard sales deck, half of your demonstration has been taken up with content that your audience doesn’t really want to see. Everyone expects to see company slides and some “we’re awesome” content, but they don’t expect to have half their time taken up by static slides. It goes back to the point of what you “DON’T” do. You DON’T bore the audience by giving them canned content. The demonstration should have a clear start/finish and key points, but the path should be dynamic enough to cover the audience’s interest levels and the pain points they asked to see.
When you are talking to a technical audience, like we see with Jim and his team, the focus should be on content that matters the most to them. Jim and his team may ask how much the product costs, but usually that’s not the most important part of their day. Jim and his team want a product that makes their lives so much better, they can’t live without it. The goal in our demonstration here is to keep their focus, to show them exactly what they asked to see, and to allow for some deviation based on their active feedback.
Making a Connection
The best demonstrations I have been involved with include active audience members. When the audience starts asking questions or making comments that lead into your next points, it makes for a great demo. These are the demonstrations I live for. Sometimes I’m on the purchasing side, and when the demonstration is over, I end up lobbying for the product. Other times, I’m on the selling side. I know that, by the end, those people will be advocates for my product because I’ve engaged them and shown them exactly what they wanted.
I would call this active engagement style “making a connection.” I will try to find common ground with the people I am talking to. I’m not giving them a “by the books” presentation and that’s ok. Do you enjoy a “by the books” sale? Probably not. You and I both enjoy a warm, welcoming conversation with someone who understands what we’re going through. As crazy as it sounds, we aren’t “selling a product” as much as we are “working together to find a solution that meets your needs.” Read that over again, and you’ll notice it fits with the theme, “It’s not what you DO, it’s what you DON’T do.” We’re not forcing the customer to adapt to our canned model, we’re opening up and providing them an experience.
I have been in situations where the demonstration was bland, but the product was incredible. I’ve also been in a demonstration where the product was horrible, but you never would have known it because the presentation was fantastic. While I have regretted the decision to buy inferior products, it’s hard to argue with the tactics used. People buy from people, at least that’s something I’ve heard many times before. Make sure you take the time to focus on making a connection with the people on the other side.
There was a lot of information here today. I want to present things in a new way, to get you thinking in a way that differs from your regular routine. By opening up different neural pathways, we will start to make more connections in our minds. These extra connections allow us to approach problems, people, or situations with confidence. And, the more confidence we have, the better we can make our demonstrations.
This week’s task is to study people. I just came up with a random way to test this, and it may not work at all, but bear with me. Go to lunch a few times with different people. With the first group of people, I just want you to suggest places to go eat. Meet up, don’t make small talk, and just toss out food options. Watch how the group reacts to these suggestions and ideas. With the second group, I want you to make some connections, find out what kind of food people like, maybe talk about how you read some good reviews about “this one place”. In both instances, suggest the same restaurants.
I’m going to make a wild guess that with the second group you will see warmer reactions to the restaurants and suggestions you make. This is the same with sales: you’ll always have the same “restaurants” to go eat at, but the path to get there varies wildly. Keep an open mind, be dynamic, and always demo like a pro!