I have been doing software demonstrations since the day I started working over 13 years ago. Whether that was demo’s to internal stakeholders to provide them with project updates or to clients or prospects I have been learning techniques for improving demo’s ever since. I have had the privilege of working with some of the best pre sales people in the business, from the team here at Microsoft to the dedicated people at our partners and they been kind enough to provide some of their insights in this post.

Demo’s are a critical part of the sales process. The demo meeting is a great opportunity to establish credibility, a rapport and a relationship with the client. There is a lot riding on the demo and often you only have an hour to meet your objectives (see objectives below). In truth you realistically only have  twenty minutes to establish yourself, after which it is unlikely that everyone is paying as much attention as you’d like.  It’s important that the client remains engaged and for this reason you need to relate the software to their needs rather that you just showing off all the feature of your toys (most are probably irrelevant to the audience anyway). It is fine (often preferable) to leave the client wanting more.

If you are still unsure as to the importance of the software demo, then listen to Ed Thompson from Gartner , I was talking to him recently and it was interesting to hear how many CRM purchasing decisions are made based upon how the software looks and what the prospect remembered seeing.

People buy from people and they remember visuals.

I’m surprised how little time is spent on understanding the clients needs and relating the demo to specific ways the product can meet their needs. The objective of a demo is not necessarily to win the work there and then (though it is a major influence) but to inspire enough confidence in you, the company and the product to get to the next stage. To do this you need to listen. I have been in many sales meeting where sales people get caught up in their own world and end up talking far too much about the product or the company.

For the purpose of this post I am going to assume that you are interested in client or prospect demo’s, however much of this is relevant for internal stakeholders also.

Demo objectives

When I demo I try to achieve the following objectives:

  • Help the client understand how the software can solve their problem today – the business value
  • Help the client understand that their problem can be solved at a reasonable price and in a reasnoble time frame – the return on investment
  • Help the client understand how the software is flexible enough to continue to solve problems in the future (even things that they don’t know about yet) – the flexibility
  • Get them excited about the product and wanting more – the relevance
  • Gain their trust and faith to take it to the next level (whatever that might be). –  connect with the audience.
  • Address and eliminate issues or pre conceived concerns that they might have about the software

I do this by:

  • Listening to the clients requirements and needs so I can tailor the demo and make it relevant to the individuals
  • Spend enough time during the demo so they get a good overall view of the product against their requirements but not too much that it gets boring
  • Allow time at the demo for Q&A and discussion

My top three four Tips:

  1. Prepare, prepare and prepare some more
  2. Make it relevant
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Have a backup plan (assume something is going to go wrong, because it will!) prepare a click though like a PowerPoint deck. When it does go wrong, don’t panic, be calm, compose yourself and carry on.

Here are the five steps to delivering a successful demo:

  1. Discovery call
  2. Verification
  3. Test & Rehearsal
  4. Delivery
  5. Follow-up

I am going to break these into things to do before, during and after a demo.

Before the demo – do the preparation work

It is all about the preparation, you should be spending the vast majority of your time at this stage. You should be working as a team, set clear expectation with the sales team on what you want from them:

What I expect from the sales team:

  • Brief on company background
  • Who their clients are
  • Who is attending and their roles
  • Why are we seeing them – who initiated the meeting
  • What systems do they have in place
  • Expectations of meeting (both sides)

There should always be sales and pre-sales at engagements, sending in one without the other is likely to be a waste of time and will diminish credibility no matter how experienced you are.  A sign of a successful demo is one where the sales person says relatively little, this means that you are engaging the customer and he or she has no need to “fill the gaps”. It is the responsibility of the sales resource to get the right people in the room (decision makers and influencers) as a pre sales resource it is your responsibility to sell to them effectively. Remember business resources buy CRM solutions, if you are sat presenting to a load of IT people, your sales resource has failed to engage properly and get the right audience in the room. Avoid arranging a combined meeting with Business and IT the objectives and language used will be very different and it is likely that both audiences will leave disappointed.

Discovery Call

Do some research, find out as much as you before the meeting, get an understanding of their competitors, their customers, their industry and the purpose of the project. For example interview or discovery questions see my post on CRM Workshop questions. If possible, try to arrange demo’s in functional groups so demos are more targeted to the how they would use it. Once you have had the discovery call, design the demo story you should verify your proposed script with the client (see the next section).

Try and get screenshots of their existing system or even a demo. Don’t try and rebuild their exiting system when you tailor the demo, focus on the most important scenarios. Instead, make sure that the elements you are going to show are relevant, that the data is correct, perhaps mimic a report and add real users.

Prepare a very short presentation to set the scene and objectives of the demo. Keep the number of slides to a minimum (I try to keep it under 5), don’t use PowerPoint as a script for the meeting, if you need to be reminded about things to raise then use cards instead. Imagine that you lose a certain % of the audience’s interest for every slide that you add. Try and turn the demo into a story, a day in the life of (role) is an effective way to show software and relate to their business. Use the slide to visually depict the process/scene they are going to see. This will help them follow the demo and stop you losing them part way through

Verification Call

Once you have a good understanding on the requirements, design an outline demo and arrange a call to verify these requirement and verify that your proposed scenario is appropriate. If possible and if it is appropriate to do so, do a dry run with the client. Confirm the logistics for the day:

  • Location
  • Duration of the meeting
  • Number of people
  • Audience Type
  • Projector or Screen
  • Internet Access / Wifi
  • Languages (you may need to compensate any language issues by speaking slower)

Test & Rehearsal

Go through the proposed demo and make sure it becomes natural, remove elements (such as fields/navigation items) that you are not going to show to make it relevant. When you are rehearsing make notes of any data that doesn’t look right, continue to refine until you are 100% confident. Time the demo and make sure that each scene is of appropriate length, cut anything that is not essential. If possible I do a silent run an hour or so before the demo, this really helps me make the real thing feel natural.

Create a demo cheat sheet, you can see an example one of these on my post A sample Microsoft CRM 2011 Demo Script.

Remember, make sure that your demo relates to their specific scenario and industry. Make sure that every screen you are going to show them has good data, each report is populated and charts / dashboard make sense.

During the demo  – keep them engaged

If you are sufficiently prepared, this is the fun part, this is your chance to put on a show. If you know the customer, know your demo and you believe in your solution and you can deliver this with passion you and your audience will get the most out the demo. Be confident but do not patronise the audience.

I love going into meetings with the belief that I have a solution to their problem. It is why I do what I do.


Deliver the short presentation to set the scene and objectives of the meeting. Use  the Tell – Show – Tell technique:

  • Tell them you are going to show them
  • Show them
  • Tell then what they have just seen

Work as a team, the sales person should be watching the audience closely  and should help guide you if he or she feels that the audience is not engaged. As the sales person to make a note names and job titles and make sure that any questions or follow ups are written down.

Tip for the sales person: Don’t interrupt the demo unless you really have something to add of value. Interrupting the flow or labouring a point already made can not only put off the pre sales person but it is likely to annoy the audience.

When you are delivering you demo here are some things to do and some others to avoid.

  • Do arrive early
  • Do tell / show / tell
  • Do set expectations at the outset, explain that this is just an example day in the life of (role)
  • Try and stick to the script, answer questions if they are easy. If you leave questions to the end make sure you address it
  • Speak their language
  • Speak slowly
  • Try and sit in a position where you can gauge body language and engage in eye contact
  • Always assess the room, are people engaged, draw them in with questions
  • Keep an eye on the time and be respectful of their time
  • Keep the mouse still (stop waving it around the screen such as when you want to highlight a field  –  it is really distracting)
  • Be confident but don’t patronise the client
  • Use real life customer stories, examples and metrics
  • Avoid too much time in company background (5 mins max)
  • Avoid talking without listening -it’s their meeting not yours
  • Avoid just showing them the latest features because your bored of the old ones – show them the most important and relevant features / benefits to their problem.
  • Avoid sitting too close to the screen, give the client the best view
  • Avoid rushing the demo, if you are overrunning cut something out if you have to
  • Avoid going off script and know the limitation of you demo. If you get a question, answer it verbally, you don’t have to show them.

After the demo – follow up

Be critical of yourself and make notes of what went well and what didn’t whilst it is fresh in you mind. Get feedback from your team as they would of picked up things that you would not notice. There might be questions you could not answer or did not have time to answer. Go through these with the sales person and get the answers as soon as possible. Discuss and examine how the meeting went from the perspective of the audience, for example:

  • What was their body language
  • Did they ask questions
  • Did they ask question is a positive or negative way
  • Who is a champion
  • Who is a detractor

Get feedback from the client and arrange a follow up within 48 hours.


When putting this post together I got some great help from friends and colleagues, I would like to conclude with three points (taken verbatim) from one of them that I think sumarises this perfectly (thanks Jamie):

  1. Understand the people – The people in the room are there and giving you their time because they have requirements that aren’t already being met, and these will vary from individual to individual. Ensuring that everyone’s pain points are addressed and they feel engaged.
  2. Understand the business – Inspiring confidence early in the engagement will win the business, there is no shortcut to this, you need to understand the vertical you are selling to, how they operate, terminology, processes and products. Presenting the customer very little in the way of CRM technology but with an inspiring and well aligned story through of their business process will always sell to a business audience regardless of what is on the screen.
  3. Understand the technology – Remember that you are the expert, have confidence and conviction in your knowledge of the technology you are showing, be passionate about the product and don’t let the customer see gaps in the demo. When you are building a demonstration environment it must work reliably and without hanging or errors, understand what you can realistically and reliably deliver in the time you have and show less that works rather than more that breaks.

And finally….

Smile and  have Fun!

This posting is provided “AS IS” with no warranties, and confers no rights.

Next time on Mark Margolis’s Blog: CRM in Investment Banking