Why do you demo?

Why Do You Demo?

Not too long ago I watched a sales engineer on my team deliver a product demo to a prospective customer. After he was done, I asked him a critical question:

Why do we demonstrate products to prospective customers?

He told me his answer, then I told him mine. In the context of a sales engagement, I believe there is only one reason to demonstrate products to prospective customers.

A product demonstration is a proposal that proves
to the customer that we can solve their problems.

Simply put, we demonstrate software in order to prove to the prospective customer that our software will solve their business problems. But how do we know what problems need to be solved? As it turns out, the hardest part about delivering a software demo occurs long before the demo starts.

Discover first, then demo


Before you ever schedule a product demo, you must first have a discussion with the customer, one that will frame the demo and define its success criteria. During this discussion, your objective is to gather all the information you need to deliver an effective and convincing demo. (Specific details on how to conduct a discovery call will be shared in the next blog post.)

To help you understand why a discovery call is so important, imagine for a moment that you have severe stomach pains. You schedule an appointment with you doctor and hope that he can help relieve your pain. When the doctor walks into the examination room he doesn’t ask you anything about your condition, he simply starts writing prescriptions — lots of them. “Take these 17 pills three times and day” he says “and let me know if that improves whatever is wrong with you.”

Would you return to this doctor? Unlikely. Yet many sales engineers conduct their demos in the exact same fashion.

Your discovery discussion with a prospect is much like that meeting with your doctor. The purpose of this discussion is to understand the prospect’s pains and challenges, learn about their business objectives and gather enough information such that you can (a) determine if your product can help  the prospect’s problems (b) craft an effective and convincing demo that helps the customer understand how your product will solve their problems.

Never, ever skip the discovery call

Occasionally prospects will tell you “I’m in big hurry and I don’t have time for  introductory discussion. Just show me your software and I’ll decide if it will work for me.” Don’t agree to this. This customer either (a) has already picked another product and is merely performing “due diligence” so they can tell their management that “several vendors were considered” or (b) is a very inexperienced buyer, one who doesn’t understand that the discovery call is in their best interests.

If your prospect balks at the discovery call, tell them “the purpose of this call is for you to share with me your specific requirements. I would like to understand what you are looking for so that I can validate that our products are a good fit before taking any more of your time.” There is great value to the prospect in this call; it will substantially increase the odds that they will find a viable solution to their problem.

If a prospect still rejects the idea of having a discovery call, don’t do the demo. Point them at online videos and other canned demos that your company has already produced for the “tire kickers.” I feel strongly about this because in my 20+ years in software sales I have never seen a sales team win a deal if they did not thoroughly understand the prospect’s requirements.

What about tradeshow demos?

This “discover then demo” rule applies to all sales opportunities. If you are talking to someone who might buy your software it’s imperative that you understand their requirements before you show them your product. Occasionally you might be asked to demonstrate software in special situations, like on the floor of a tradeshow. I do not believe that software demo belongs on the floor of a tradeshow; they can do more harm than good. In a future blog post I’ll explain my preferred tactic for showing off software at a tradeshow while not breaking the cardinal rule of demos.

9 Responses to Why do you demo?

  1. Stuart Tucker says:

    Nice blog post. It made me chuckle, but I am in full agreement. Goes well with the 2 ears, 1 mouth, use them in that order philosophy.

  2. Durgesh Tolani says:

    i would like to know the source of this article

  3. Jay Meyers says:

    A demo without discovery is like driving a motorcycle through an art gallery. Lots of interesting things to see but the prospect will remember none of it. The go/no-go decision on pursuing a deal that has no chance of closing is the toughest decision, and rarely does a sales executive walk away. It’s not in his/her nature, but the consequences can make him/her look pitiful both to the prospect and the sales manager.

  4. Bill Janulin says:

    Great article, in my experience I was called upon to do product demos even though I sensed that we did not have a complete picture of the requirements. Those questions came out during the demo and it did not help the situation. The discovery call is so important.

  5. matt says:

    @ Durgesh: All of the articles on this site are original material that I’ve created: https://professionalsalesengineer.com/about-me/


  6. Rob Garneau says:

    Good article Matt.

    I would extend the reason you demo and add that you also need to prove you are better than your competition and you provide enough value for your customer to invest and change the way they are doing things today.

    Too often companies shy away from differentiating themselves against their competition.

    For an example of how differentiating works, just look at the advertising campaign that helped propel Apple to be one of the most successful high tech companies ever–“I’m a Mac…I’m a PC.”

    If you don’t differentiate and demonstrate your value, it becomes much harder to justify your price and discounting inevitably ensues. Or worse, you lose.

    In general, the big problem is that technical sales professionals spend most of their career learning technology. They tend to get plenty of training about how to use their products but very little, if any, training about how to actually sell and demo better.

    Our company was formed 9 years ago specifically for that reason. We help companies improve results by developing the sales and demo skills of arguably your most important sales resource–the Solutions Consultant, Applications Engineer, Sales Engineer, etc.

  7. Phil Alape says:

    For live demos with specific prospects, yes—definitely—BUT there’s certainly good reason to establish a standard demo flow, including modules to be shown and chronology, which serves as the foundation for all who present.

    You may be interested in the 350+ SE delivered demos that utilize this foundational approach that are posted on our Demos on Demand site here:


  8. wrswartz says:

    Matt, I have enjoyed each of your articles I’ve read so far. As for when to commit to a demo, I agree completely with you.

    Phil’s comment about he canned demos on, I assume, his company’s site appear to be from companies that provide a solution for a very specific need and thus wouldn’t typically be tailored to extensively to a site.

    By comparison, an ERP (Enterprise Requirements Planning) solution will require product line & process-specific setup before presenting it to a prospect. Even experienced sales reps will ask for a generic 50,000ft demo when they feel pressured by the prospect to show them something before Discovery has been completed! These typical end up with more questions from the prospect – such as: I wouldn’t do it that way, etc.

    Bottom line, stay away from demoing until you understand the prospect’s needs. Being a Domain Expert is no guarantee you will guess what’s on the prospect’s mind.

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