Don’t Let a Premature Product Demo Ruin Your Sale

Award-winning author and B2B sales execution specialist Tibor Shanto explains why “demo” can sometimes be a four-letter word, and offers his tips to help you avoid setting your sale to self-destruct.

don't demo your way out of a sale

There’s no doubt a good sales demo — when used correctly — can shorten your sales cycle, increase your close ratio, and lead to considerable growth. But as Tibor Shanto points out, while well-intentioned, far too often demos can do more harm than good. When used at the wrong time or in the wrong way, they can even cost you the sale.

In this Q&A (adapted from a previously recorded Labcast), the B2B sales veteran, co-author of Shift! Harness the Trigger Events that Turn Prospects into Customers, shares his advice for what mistakes to avoid and what approaches to take to get sales demos right.

You’ve called “demo” a four-letter word. Why the negative connotation?

What I mean by that is that in some ways demos are something that are often used the wrong way. Often, they not only slow down a sale, but they can perhaps even cost the salesperson a sale.

Generally, what I think is that too many people selling “solutions” tend to demo too early, and it’s generally to the detriment of the sale, both from the customer’s point of view and the seller’s point of view.

What makes a good demo and at what point should it come in to play during the sales process?

The demo should be one of the last, if not the last, steps before coming to an agreement with a buyer. That’s because the demo is really there to simply validate everything you and the buyer have agreed on — what it is they’re looking to achieve and how you both agree your product or application helps them achieve those objectives.

A good demo should therefore clearly accomplish those things, but in order for it to be truly effective you need to develop a solid understanding of what those things are. If it does, then it should be the last piece of the puzzle that pulls the deal together, and the only thing left to do is to move forward.

What are some ways salespeople should not be using demos?

The sale should never be dependent on the product or the demo. There’s a tendency for salespeople to utilize a demo as the ultimate feature benefit dump. Rather than doing their job as a salesperson, they sort of bring out the demo and hope it’s shiny and wows the buyer into taking action.

An unproductive approach is thinking, “All I have to do is get them to a point where I can do a demo.”

Some salespeople even do a premature demo without actually realizing it. As soon as they get into a selling situation, once they do the small talk and introduction, they pull out their PowerPoint deck and put everybody to sleep in the process. In a sense, they’ve just demo-ed the deal to death.

In order to use a demo effectively, salespeople should walk through the following steps:

  1. Make sure you’re engaging with the right people (keep in mind that could be multiple people in the company).
  2. Go through a full and thorough discovery process: Make sure you understand not only what their objectives are, but what the impact is for them individually and as a company if they achieve those objectives. Find out why they’re in the market to begin with, what’s precipitated the current exploration or potential purchase.
  3. Come to an agreed understanding of how your application can help: Get specific about this and make sure you also clarify whether there any elements of what they’re looking for that your product will not address.

Only after you have all of those elements in place, then the demo is there to demonstrate that your product does in fact have those capabilities.

We want to hear your product demo stories:

Have you had a demo experience that’s clinched — or ruined — a sale?

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