Dodging the demo dilemma


There’s a limit to how much an advertisement can inform you about a service; only so much the packaging can tell a potential consumer about a product, and there’s only so much a website can tell a prospective customer about particular software. After this, it can help if someone steps in and demonstrates exactly how much value this product, software or service can bring to that potential customer.

Product demos have always been part of the sales and client management arsenal. Not only do they provide a potential customer with a working insight into the functionality and usability of a piece of software, but it also increases the notion of trust between the buyer and the brand. A good demonstration can greatly increase the likelihood of onboarding a prospective customer. Failing this, the would-be customer will at least be able to speak highly of your software amongst colleagues and friends, opening other doors of opportunity.

No matter how experienced or confident a customer success manager or salesperson might be, demonstrations are rarely a walk in the park — especially when it comes to software. There are many factors that can transform a routine demo into a nightmare for both you and your customer: the bubbling frustration of a three bar WiFi connection, the draining feeling of an error message, or the car crash of meeting a question head on that you have no answer to.

But, as with most things, there are ways to combat these potential sticky situations. Just like a football player stretching before an upcoming game, a gardener anticipating that first frost of winter, or bringing the extra batteries for that camera before a day out sightseeing, there are ways to help prevent a poor performance and improve your chances of success.

Timing and communication

Punctuality is key to success. When it comes to demos, it’s important to first get that perfect time and date that suits both parties in order to prevent any confusion.

Additionally, it’s always helpful to limit the time between when the demo was booked and the day it actually happens. I, like so many others, can lose the drive I may have had for a product when I initially asked for the demo. The longer I have to wait, the greater the chance I’ve forgotten about what you have to offer.

Don’t forget that people are busy, either. A few hours before your demonstration, drop your client a quick email to remind them so they don’t get swept off in the raging current that is a busy working day and forget your appointment.

Arm yourself with answers

It’s all very well spewing a script regarding the functions and benefits of your software or product, but as soon as someone throws the inevitable curveball, all of this goes out the window.

Just like an interview for that dream job, it’s important to know what you’re talking about and to be ready for those awkward questions. As a customer success manager, I give demonstrations to customers as well as answer a wide range of support queries. Because of this involvement in Optimal Workshop’s support team I have read, researched and answered almost all the questions I could be asked in a live demonstration.

Therefore my advice is to get involved in your organization’s support. Answer some questions every day, find out the most common questions asked via the support channels and get your teeth into those difficult questions a support representative dreads darkening their digital doorstep. Without fail, you know that one dreaded question will make an appearance during an up and coming demonstration.

The power of technology

No matter how confident you are in your presentation skills, technology has the power to bring the best to their knees. The ability to build a rapport with an audience and speak confidently about a product can all be washed away with an unexpected error or internet outage.

Classic examples of technology’s merciless wrath include:

“Why won’t this connect to the WiFi?”

Check and doublecheck WiFi is available, and if there is, make sure you can connect and that it’s not painfully slow. Also, have a backup plan in case you don’t have the opportunity to test the WiFi.

“Your Windows update will begin now.”

Always make sure your software is up to date. There is only so much small talk you can make whilst something updates in the background. These updates are for a good reason too, such as security. You’d be surprised at the number of customers who lose trust or confidence in an individual who has 34 outstanding updates required.

“Hello, hello, can you hear me? I can’t hear you. Ah there you are. Now you’re gone. HELLO!”

If you’re using an online platform to communicate with a potential customer, there are few things that will frustrate them as easily as no sound or video. At times this is in the hands of the Gods, but you can improve your chances by testing out different communication tools. Ensure you don’t have 55 Chrome tabs open and adjust your webcam settings to improve the overall quality of the call.

“I’ll just ignore that battery warning, I’m positive I have enough power to last this demonstration.” *screen fades to black*

Keep your laptop on the charger throughout your demonstration or presentation. Don’t take the risk. Batteries are evil and have a mind of their own.

“Hmmm, well I don’t know why this isn’t turning on. Usually this turns on without fail, I promise.”

At the end of the day, no matter how much you’ve used your product, tool, software or prototype, things break. Whether it’s reaching an unexpected 404 page for no reason or the hinge snapping off your product fresh from the package, it’s just Murphy’s Law.

These nightmare scenarios can only be prevented through rigorous testing and an awareness of possible pitfalls. The ability to recover is key; as mentioned before, always have a backup plan, a screenshot of how it should look or a fresh prototype in your bag. Most importantly, have an honest explanation as to why the problem happened. Many customers will understand these things happen and trust can be regained if you honestly clarify where the problem lies and how you and your team are working to fix it.

Demonstrations, as much as they are daunting, are hugely beneficial for customer success managers, evangelists, onboarding specialists, salespeople and client managers. Whether it’s during the early stages of your relationship with a customer or well into their tenure as an important part of your customer base, providing a greater insight into a new product or upgraded feature will help in many ways. It will increase trust, improve your reputation and bring someone that bit closer to either becoming a customer, upgrading or purchasing more of your products.

In the meantime, I’m off to provide a short demo to a customer. Hopefully my battery doesn’t die from all this typi

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Published on Aug 04, 2016
Paddy McShane
  • Paddy McShane
  • Paddy is a customer success manager at Optimal Workshop.

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