When Demos Sabotage the Sale

sales demo

Demos are a fundamental part of the sales process. Not only are they a great way to engage prospects, they frequently open the door to a deeper conversation about how you can collaborate to solve the prospect’s most pressing business challenges.

That said, the demo can definitely sabotage sales — particularly for anyone selling complex offerings with long sales cycles. Specifically, the number one mistake I see is showing the demo too early in the buying cycle. Sometimes it’s the sales professional who pushes too soon for a demo. Other times, the prospect asks to see the demo, and the salesperson takes the request as a good sign and leaps at the request. Based on my experience, however, you always want to pace yourself when it comes to the demo. Here are two reasons why.

1) You might not be dealing with a decision maker.

Generally, decision-makers tend to care less about demos and more about how you can solve a business problem. In many cases (particularly in the software world), the person who wants to see the demo is the person who will actually be using your offering. If that’s the case, they’re just curious to see how it works and whether they like it.

2) You become trapped by objections about features or superficial aspects of your offering.

When prospects watch demos, you want them to be in the right frame of mind. Show them a demo too early, and they’re highly likely to focus on the aspects of your offering that they don’t like or perceive as imperfections. This is how you get caught in a web of such silly objections as, “This tool won’t work for us because that button is green and our standard is blue.”

Before you do the demo, you want to be sure you’ve laid the proper groundwork for a collaborative mindset. That means waiting until prospects are 1) aware of their business problem and how much it’s costing them and 2) are committed to solving that business problem. At this stage, they’re much more likely to focus on why your tool is a compelling solution to help them solve their challenges.

One metric I favor looking at is the demo-to-close ratio. The desired value varies quite a bit by industry but you can always measure it against other salespeople in your organization. I’d bet that top performers have lower ratios. Salespeople who throw demos around like candy at a parade are wasting their time and maybe even turning prospects off.

So, when is the right time to show a demo? Obviously it depends a bit on the nature of your solution and the sophistication of the buyer. For complex sales, I generally say that anyone who asks for a demo is likely not a decision maker and should be treated accordingly. The right time to show a demo is when you know you’re talking with someone who is interested in business outcomes rather than the features of your offering. If that’s not the case, use the right questions (for example, “Who will be involved in the decision to move forward with this? Can we set up a meeting with the team?”) to bump the conversation up the decision food chain.

What are your thoughts on the right time to show a prospect your demo? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Related Posts

Why Having an ROI Calculator Is Good for Sales

Five Reasons Hosted ROI Calculators Trump Excel Spreadsheets

The Value Lifecycle: Justifying the Cost of Your Offering

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[Image via Flickr / ykanazawa1999]

Upping Your “Pre-Sales” Game with Value Insight Content

Bruce Scheer, President of FutureSight talks about how to master the front end of the prospect buying cycle…the part that doesn’t involve sales. A key strategy is to engage prospects with what he calls, “Value Insight Content.”

Here are a few Value Insight Content examples you can view in thinking about how you might up your own game in sharing value insight with your online prospects:

Best Practices Assessment Example

TCO Campaign Example

Business Value Calculator Example

Business Value Profile Example

Business Value Success Story Example

What are some interesting online value insight assets you have seen/been a part of producing that you can share with this group?

Discussion with a Sales Leader: The Transformation of the SunGard Sales Force

Last week I spoke with Ken Powell, who’s been leading a sales transformation at SunGard in his role as VP of Global Sales Enablement. (He was also a speaker this week at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston.)

He joined SunGard just 15 months ago, but his prior experience leading a sales transformation in his previous role at ADP helped him hit the ground running. Already he’s taken many steps to improve sales effectiveness. These have included:

  • equipping the sales team with mobile devices (specifically, Windows 8 tablets, which have “exceeded” his expectations and are “more business friendly” than the iPad);
  • adopting various Sales 2.0 applications (including Xactly, OneSource, LinkedIn, and SAVO, to name just a few);
  • simplifying messaging.

As a company, SunGard is in an interesting spot right now. Formed originally through acquisitions starting in the 1980’s, its primary revenue driver is currently software licensing, although they also have a large consulting organization. Ken said one of their aims is to make the consulting aspect a competitive differentiator.

To that end, Ken has already done quite a bit of work with his team to refine the message his teams send to the market. Whether his salespeople are face-to-face with customers or interacting online, Ken has made it clear that they must connect the capabilities of SunGard solutions and capabilities to business outcomes. Given this initiative, it didn’t surprise me to learn that one of the next steps for Ken and his team is to incorporate value-based selling tools (and TCO tools in particular) into the selling process. In his words, proof of value is “a natural course of a conversation that professional salespeople need to have today when they’re interacting with customers, because it’s an expectation.”

Since I’m in the business of creating ROI tools, Ken asked what I tell clients about overcoming the fairly typical objection from customers about “fictitious numbers.” As we all know, numbers can be arranged in ways that will support almost any kind of story (as Mark Twain said “There are three types of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.”) As a result, many customers look at numbers supplied by salespeople with a very skeptical eye.

I said that, in my mind, a major benefit of using a value calculator (or other tools) as part of the sales process is transparency. Whenever we train salespeople on how to leverage ROI tools, we advocate what we call a “peel-the-onion” approach. Salespeople should rely on the default calculations of an ROI tool to generate an initial report. But the next step shouldn’t be to simply throw the report over the fence and let the customer evaluate it alone. A much more effective route is to say, “We have this tool to evaluate your business case and decide whether or not this solution makes sense for you. Let’s sit down to discuss the numbers together.” After that, you answer questions and adjust numbers accordingly as you go.

With a peel-the-onion strategy, the customer sees the numbers evolve and thus becomes invested in the final calculation. For example, you might change the default analysis from three years to five years on the spot. Or, if the customer pushes back on a point, you have options. If the customer says, “Ok, I’ve seen your case study and how you’ve done this with other customers, but I personally don’t think you’ll ever get a two percent reduction in labor for us.” At that point you can ask the customer what he or she feels is realistic. If it’s one percent, you plug in the numbers for a one percent reduction in labor and show them what that scenario looks like.

The point is to start the conversation with numbers. Numbers will get the customer engaged. Only then can you talk about features and functions and how you’ll be able to support those numbers with your capabilities.

Great sales leaders must make hundreds of choices that will influence whether or not their sales teams succeed. This is particularly true for sales leaders that undertake a sales transformation, which by definition involves countless changes that all tie back to a unifying business strategy. It’s an interesting journey for any sales leader and I look forward to seeing what evolves at SunGard.

Do you have a sales process that supports a business case? What do you say when customers show skepticism about numbers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Throw out the Sales Process and Embrace Your Prospect’s Buying Process

The sales process (or more accurately, the buying process) has two critical stages:

1)     Awareness: Your prospect becomes aware that a problem exists, or that a product or service exists to solve a problem that he or she has.

2)     Interest and Education: Your prospect becomes interested in learning more, and seeks to become educated on what products and services are available to solve the problem.

Call them what you want, but most prospects will go through these steps.  Historically, marketing would launch campaigns to create awareness of your offerings. Those campaigns would help generate leads.  Those leads would then be passed over to your sales team to follow-up to educate the prospect on why your offering was the best solution to their problem.research

But today, leads are typically not captured at the end of the Awareness stage. Why? Because the interest/education stage of the buying process is now largely self-service. Prospects don’t need, nor do they want to engage with a vendor, and certainly not a salesperson, during the education stage.  They want to research what others are doing, what solutions are available, and narrow down their options to a manageable few.

Companies must now go beyond just lead generation (no matter how difficult lead generation is, it isn’t enough today) and guide buyers well into or even through the education stage of the buying process, most likely without ever having the opportunity to talk to them. Sellers cannot rely on the assumption that their reps will get the chance to educate potential buyers. Today, education is happening online. Blogs, white papers, Webinars, and our own ROI calculators are all tools companies can leverage to enable prospects to self-educate.

A common theme over the last ten years in sales was that you needed to establish yourself as a “trusted adviser” in order to be successful.  The way to do that was to dole out information carefully. You never wanted to give away too much. But anyone who follows that advice today will never get a seat at the table, because it is highly likely that someone else will freely give them that information and advice.

Even if your sales rep lands a meeting before the education stage, buyers will almost certainly go online to find out what people are saying about you and your company. If you’re not putting your thought leadership and content out there, then you’re losing an opportunity to educate and engage.

Some B2B companies today — particularly in non-tech industries — continue to systematically block their reps from being able to engage with prospects and customers online. By default, they prevent access to social media networks and even some parts of the Internet from the office because they’re afraid of losing control over their voice in the market, or more often they believe that people are merely wasting time when on the Internet. I think these companies are limiting their ability to sell in major ways. Buyers are already doing research online. The question is, are you part of the conversation?

Thinking about the buying process exclusively from the seller’s perspective has become an exercise in futility. Customers today will not follow your selling process. You have to think about it from their perspective and how they’ll go about buying. Prospects will be most attracted to companies that can demonstrate an awareness of the way they prefer to buy, and provide them with the tools and content that they need to make an informed decision.

What are you doing at your company to cater to the new way that prospects buy? How has your sales process changed to adapt to their needs?