Most sales methodologies are adamant that you should withhold sharing a product demo with a prospect for as long as possible.
It’s time to rethink this paradigm.
While withholding demos may have worked in the old world of sales, this approach is ill-suited to today’s customer landscape. Effective sales teams should lead with a product demo early in their sales process, and deliver these to prospects via personalized video outreach. Here’s why.
Why do salespeople wait so long to give demos?
In short: because it worked. In the “old world of sales,” customers often didn’t know how a technology product worked, was priced, or would impact their business. A salesperson's demo was often the only way they could answer these questions, which created an uneven power dynamic wherein salespeople had most of the leverage. Once a salesperson gave a product demo to their customer, they’d lose some of that leverage and the prospect became better informed. Delaying the product demo gave the salesperson more:
Control over information: By withholding pricing and product information from a customer, the seller controlled the flow of information to the buyer.
Time for discovery: This gave the seller a chance to unearth the real drivers for a purchasing decision, and helped them disqualify non-serious buyers. It also helped sellers maximize the impact of their sales pitch with the information they uncovered.
Pricing leverage: Withholding a product demo until the later stages of a sales process gave sellers leverage and more information than prospects, which ultimately boosted close probability and deal sizes.
The Sandler Sales Methodology, perhaps the most prevalent amongst technology sellers, takes this philosophy to an extreme. Sandler, which was created in 1967, has seven stages for a sales process and waits until the sixth to share a product demo.
In a world where prospects had limited options and had an outsized dependence on salespeople for pricing, product, and fit information this approach made sense. Now? Not so much.
Why older sales methodologies don’t work as well now
These tactics were wildly effective, but things have changed dramatically over the past 15 years, with the advent of SaaS (software as a service, in which software is licensed on a subscription basis). What happened?
Informed buyers: Buyers are better educated than ever before. Third-party review sites like G2 Crowd or Capterra offer detailed product reviews. Forrester and Gartner offer third-party research, and the discussion on social media or community forums gives your buyer more data points around what it’s actually like to use your product than ever before.
Churn potential: Software is easier to replace than it used to be. In the old world, you might purchase technology with a hardware component that takes six months to purchase, a year to implement, and another year to see true ROI. If something stops working or there’s competitive innovation, unhappy customers were stuck with a multi-year sunk cost project where it’s prohibitively painful to back out. SaaS changed that dynamic in a major way, but for software vendors it means that should your tool stop working in year one, there’s less reason to expect a customer to stay for year two.
Heightened competitive landscape: The marketplace is more crowded than ever before, people can code all over the world, and infrastructure providers like AWS have made it easier than ever to turn ideas into businesses. When you build a product and find a happy product-market fit, you can expect for a competitor (or ten) to show up soon after your product finds traction.
In short: Your customers are smarter than ever, you’re easier to replace, and there are more competitors than there used to be. The entire customer landscape has changed — why wouldn’t you adapt your approach to selling accordingly?
Make your demo memorable
According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, humans make 95% of their purchasing decision subconsciously. This means that achieving a positive “feeling” with a prospect is probably more important than a purely logical argument, and finding moments in the sales process to evoke a “Wow!” reaction helps toward that goal.
A strong product demo is engaging, relevant, and includes at least a few “aha!” moments for your customer. Ideally, the demo will convey a strong narrative that is understood and can be retold by your audience, as demos that incorporate stories are up to twenty-two times more memorable than demos that don’t. Sharing your narrative with a prospect early in the process will make you more memorable from day one.
I’ve spent the better part of a decade working in technology sales, and if I were to ascribe a mantra across all the customers I’ve worked with it’s “Trust but verify.” There’s a reason most people test drive a car before they make a purchase — it’s because human beings want to pair a logical argument with a tangible experience before making a big decision. Your product demo is that test ride. It’s meant to leave your prospect with a visceral memory that they can call back.
Why video works for sales demos
Video sits at the intersection of three major dynamics that account for its precipitous rise. Namely, video is:
Efficient: People speak three times faster than they type, making video a time saving medium to share complex ideas.
Engaging: People retain more of the content they consume over video than in text, which means you have a better chance of making a lasting impression over video.
Expressive: According to one study, only 7% of the information people take in are tied to the specific language you use — the other 93% of their takeaway comes from your voice, tone, and body language. Video allows you to share across each of these elements, and be more expressive as a result.
5 best practices for video sales demos
Here are four key things to keep in mind when recording and sharing video sales messages to send to prospects.
1. A product demo is not a ‘feature dump’
The fastest way to lose a prospect’s attention is to list features or functionality that aren’t relevant to their business. This is especially true if you share a demo early on in your process. Keep your demo crisp, concise, and relevant, and you’ll keep your prospect’s attention.
Pro Tip: When you’re sharing a demo early in the sales process, you might consider limiting it to two or three compelling features. There will be time for a more extensive demo later, but the goal of this demo is to pique your prospect’s interest and share some relevant information.
2. Personalize the demo to your customer’s needs
Early in my career, I was warned to avoid giving a “Harbor Cruise” demo to a prospect. This describes a demo that is like a harbor cruise: The ship launches, sails around the harbor, and returns to the dock without taking the passengers somewhere new. Your demo is meant to engage, educate, and inspire. By personalizing your demo, you can achieve these goals and make the presentation more impactful.
Pro Tip: When you’re sharing a demo early in a sales process you’ll have less information than you will post-discovery, but do your best to personalize the demo around the prospect’s business or role.
3. The shorter, the better
I’ve never left a product demo and thought “Wow, I wish that was twenty minutes longer.” Neither have your customers. Brevity is a gift in these settings, and leaving ample time for discussion is probably more important than demonstrating your most obscure features.
Pro Tip: Video demos shared early in a process should be no longer than three minutes, with an ideal duration of less than a minute.
4. It’s OK to ‘mess up’
People stutter, stumble on words, and misspeak all the time in their day-to-day conversations. Product demos are no different, and in fact can be less resonant if they seem “too rehearsed.” Some of my favorite memories are from a funny technical glitch or a silly aside in a demo, and those demos stick out more than others that were more polished. Treat the demo with respect and know your narrative, but don’t be afraid to be yourself.
Pro Tip: When sharing a video demo, you may be tempted to record until you get “the perfect take.” Fight this urge, and if your hair isn’t perfect or you say “um” it’s OK — it’ll make you seem more human.
5. ‘Show me you know me’
The most impactful demos are ones that your customers remember, and in order for your demo to be memorable it has to be personalized to the audience. Studies suggest that 7 out of 10 B2B buyers expect sellers to have a deep understanding of their needs, and have that reflected through personalized experiences. Rob Falcone, author of the not-so-subtly titled “Just F*Ing Demo,” had this to say:
“If you know enough about the people in the room, make a point to let someone know why you think this is going to be interesting to them. Even if all you know about them is what you found on LinkedIn, take a second to personalize a moment for them. You can always set up a deeper conversation with them separately.”
One of the most consistent complaints buyers cite around negative experiences with salespeople is “You don’t know me or my business.” Taking the time to personalize that demo and show your customer you’re prepared to help them will build credibility. For best practices recording a 1-minute demo video, here’s a Guru card Rob put together for his team.
Try Loom for product demos
Post COVID-19, one popular sales “guru” instructed salespeople to 3x or 5x their sales outreach activity, suggesting that dramatically increased outreach is the best way to increase bookings. This may yield some positive results, but it also might annoy your prospects (and come off as insensitive in the process).
It’s true that in uncertain times, salespeople need to change their approach, dig deep and try new methods to achieve their desired outcomes. Sharing a personalized product demo video to a prospective customer is a differentiated way of salespeople adding value. It shows that prospect four things:
You’ve researched their company and needs.
You’re a credible source of knowledge.
Your product can offer them some tangible ROI.
You care enough to make a real effort.
Of the four points listed above, the last is far and away the most important.
I hope this approach helps, and that sharing personalized product demos helps you have more or better meetings with your customers.