What should an AE do during a demo?

I’ve been a sales engineer for 20+ years and I have a lot of thoughts about what a sales engineer should (and shouldn’t) do during a demo, but this article is written for account executives.


As an account executive, let’s suppose you’ve found an interesting opportunity, have qualified it and –with your sales engineer– have done plenty of high-quality discovery. Your sales engineer has spent the past two weeks developing a highly compelling demo. You and your sales engineer have traveled to the customer’s location and now it’s time for the demo. You’ve kicked off the meeting, made some introductory remarks and then have handed things off to your sales engineer. At this point what should you, the account executive, do for the rest of the meeting?

The tactic I recommend is a technique that I learned from Holly Niehaus, an account executive at Oracle, with whom I worked several years ago. During onsite demos, Holly would always position herself facing the audience so that she could see their reactions. She would read their faces, watch their body language and study how the audience responded to the demo.

The people Holly would observe might include the economic buyer, the consensus builders, the IT folks and the skeptics. She watched them all and studied how they responded to my presentation. This is a smart approach because most of my demos were similar, but every audience was different. Here’s what Holly did:

Manage pace: When I’m driving a brand new demo (following my click path and telling a story), I don’t always have the ability to also watch the audience. If Holly observed a look of confusion on someone’s face she would ask me to go back and cover the relevant point in more depth. In other situations, she might suggest I speed up. We worked as a team.

Observe dynamics: People often look at the most influential person in the room for validation when speaking up or asking a question during a demo. To whom do they look? It’s not always the person with the most impressive title. Holly would learn a lot about the hidden power structure in an organization by watching how the audience interacts with each other.

Dig in: The most important thing that Holly did during demos was pump the breaks. The whole point of the demo is to prove that we have the solution to a customer’s problem. When Holly saw a smile on someone’s face or heard someone whisper “That’s awesome” she would stop me and ask that person “You seem excited by this… can you tell me why?” Rather than making a closing statement telling the audience why they should buy our product, Holly would get the audience to make the closing argument for us. Brilliant.

This isn’t rocket science, but it does require focus and attention to detail. You cannot execute this strategy if you do any of the following during the demo:

  • Check messages your phone
  • Work on email
  • Zone out
  • Sit in the back so you cannot see people’s faces
  • Leave the room to take a phone call

Besides missing out on the opportunity to read and manage the room, all of these activities are bad because they send a message to the audience that whatever is being presented is not important to you. It’s a terrible example to set as an AE… if you are getting paid to sell a product but you are checked out during the demo, why should the audience be interested?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: