Selling is theater. And that’s never more true than during a sales demo.

Like the rest of the sales process, product demonstrations aren’t always easy to perfect. These three mistakes are some of the most common I've seen both new and experienced salespeople make and might lead to a painful delay or even lost deal.

1) Demoing Before You’re Ready

So you’ve just gotten a call from a prospect. They’ve looked through your website and read your blog, and now have specifically requested a demo of your product.

This is exciting news, and many reps will say, “Sure! Let’s do it now!” without any investigation, evaluation, or understanding of the prospect’s needs. There are three reasons reps might do this:

  1. They’re acting emotionally rather than logically. They’re excited to make a sale, and haven’t considered the work that goes into running a successful product demo.
  2. They want to be helpful. A potential customer has just asked them for something -- isn’t a salesperson’s job to help their prospects?
  3. It’s good for their job performance. Some salespeople are measured on the number of demos they run as a factor in performance reviews, so they’ll jump at the opportunity to book and deliver one.

Yes, you should always be helping, but that doesn’t mean saying yes to everything your prospect wants. 

Before you run a demo, you should thoroughly understand your prospect’s pain and earn their trust. You also need to make sure your product and your prospect are a mutual fit, and understand what aspects of your product your customer needs before you even think about scheduling a demo.

Start every sales demo with an overview of what you've learned, and how your product can address your prospect’s pain. Your preparation completely changes the dynamics of the demo, and will more frequently lead you to a better outcome.

2) Demoing Every Feature of Your Product

Imagine you’re a prospect, and you’re about to see a product for the first time. Your sales rep arrives, and he says:

“Hi. I’m Adam. This is my offering, and in the next hour we’re going to cover all 35 of its features.”

Oh baby. How long do you think it’s going to take for your eyes to glaze over? 

This “show up and throw up” approach is flawed for three reasons:

  1. It’s irrational. Salespeople who try to show everything haven’t taken the time to identify which features are most important to their prospect, and they also don’t understand that running through a feature list is going to be overwhelming for most people.
  2. It’s self-serving. Great salespeople know a ton about their product. They’re experts. But sometimes they forget that this demo isn’t about them -- it’s about their prospect’s needs.
  3. It’s counterproductive. By the time you get to a demo, your prospect is rarely concerned about the nitty-gritty of specific features -- they are interested in the solution to their pain. Don’t spend time talking about a button’s color or size; explain how that button will help your prospect.

3) Using the Entire Meeting to Run Your Demo

This one seems counterintuitive. Why book an entire hour for a sales demo if you’re not going to use it all?

Because the most important part of the call is the call recap. This is the part of the call where you should ask an open-ended question and hit the mute button while you wait for your prospect’s response.

You need to confirm that you understand your prospect’s pain and that your solution is the right fit. You also need to establish that your prospect is comfortable with specific next steps for actually buying the product. What’s their purchasing process? Do you need to go through legal and procurement? Is there a vendor approval process?

If you talk until there are three minutes left, then rush through all of the above points, you haven’t dedicated enough time to cover the essential information. How long your demos run depends on your offering, but always leave 15 minutes at the end of every meeting to take a prospect’s temperature.

I use any of the following questions to open our recap discussion:

  • Did we cover all of the things that you wanted to see?
  • What are your thoughts?
  • Do you think the rest of the management team will get it?

Ask if they need more information, if they’re prepared to move to the next step, and always ask to put a next meeting on the calendar.

A product demonstration is an invaluable opportunity to walk your prospect through exactly how you can solve their problem. It’s also a surefire way to lose a deal if you stumble into any of the three potholes above.

But if you remember to come to a demo prepared, keep it narrow and focused on your prospect needs, and take time to lock down next steps, you’ll be running great demos in no time.

Have other demo tips? Let us know in the comments below.

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Originally published Aug 13, 2015 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017


Sales Demo