Developing a Strong Demo Practice

Developing a Strong Demo Practice
Amyra Rand is the Vice President of Sales at Ziflow, and has previously held sales leadership roles at Criteria Corp, Kareo, HireRight, and Sage. In this guide, she discusses how she’s seen close rates improve 30% with a demo certification process, and lays out how teams can build strong demo practices at any deal size.

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Questions covered in this guide

Why should sales teams invest in improving their demos?

Increase close rates – I’ve seen demo process improvement and rep certifications improve close rates 30%. There is only upside to improving your demo process because if you let the prospect drive the conversation, or if you’re demoing the wrong thing, your entire sales cycle can go sideways.

When should a company invest in formalizing or improving its demo processes?

Once you understand your market, ideal customer, and personas – then start building your demos to showcase your value proposition to those personas, addressing their key pain points. You should review your demo process every six months to a year.

How can you test whether your demo practice is solid?

Look for consistency – review rep calls or interview reps to ensure each rep can communicate the value proposition and to see the answers you get from different reps – if they’re different, that’s a problem. Consistency means that when you hand off the new customer internally, you know that whoever is running implementation knows what value you communicated about your product. 

Who’s responsible for designing and implementing demo strategies, and who should be involved?

The sales leader is ultimately responsible – this is especially true if you don’t have sales enablement. Sales leaders should also be a filter to make sure materials are framed in “normal human being” words, since marketing language is different from actual “speak” in a lot of cases. 

Product marketing is a resource – helps refine positioning and create materials for distribution. They also create materials that target the market or segment you’re going after, and help with competitive intel. 

Sales enablement (if you have it) helps drive consistent messaging – they’re responsible for getting information from the reps to find out what the team is hearing from potential customers, and conveying that to product marketing to make that feedback actionable. They’re also responsible for driving that message back to the team, and making sure that the reps are communicating it consistently and understand what tools are available to help support their message to the client.  

Product helps serve up the demo environment – you’ll want them to help you create something customizable that makes it easier for your team to demo.  

Customer Success helps surface success stories – identifying customers that’re happy with the product, why they’re happy with the product, and then serving those customers back to marketing. They’re identifying the key metrics and getting quotes so we can mix those success stories back into the demo process. 

Sales ops helps coordinate – to make sure that it all becomes part of the sales process, with data aggregated into your CRM.

What are all the different pieces of content that make up the demo resources?

The website – to tell the story of our organization, and showcase your company’s thought leadership. A website is also good to flash for success stories, key metrics, and to show all the industries you work with. 

The demo environment – to show them the widget that you want them to see.

The deck – a leave behind, a walk through of what you just walked them through on the site, so they can look at it again or share it with other team members later.

What goes into a good demo deck?

Make sure the prospect can re-communicate what you showed – include different slides for each of the widgets you need (screenshots and highlights of each widget the company could be interested in). You might not be meeting with the person who has the power to make the final decision, but you could be meeting with an influencer. 

Customize with plug-and-play pieces for larger deals – swap them out for each customer – think about having different variations for key logos, highlight integrations, and tailored success stories by industry to focus on the ones that will resonate with their company most. 

Make it scalable for small business – for a small business, have a generic deck. This deck might be pretty pared down that has the big things you need (most common use cases). You’re not going to expect your small business rep to swap those out because they’re dealing with 100 prospects simultaneously. 

How long should a demo be?

45 minute to an hour, highly interactive – if the demo isn’t interactive, that’s a problem because, more than likely, no one is listening to you. 

For SMB, this is one spot where you spend time – for what I’ve experienced, you get the customer on the phone and you’re doing your discovery on the front end. You might say, “hey, I know you want to see our product. Before I go in, I want to make sure I’m showing you the right things and that I have some context, so I can really bring this to life for you. Do you mind if we take the first 15 minutes so I can ask you some questions, get some additional information, and then we can jump into the product? And then I can show you how it might work for your organization.”  

How should reps be trained and certified to give good demos?

Write a demo script and scoring sheet (including discovery) – are they covering the key topics? Are they hitting all of the points that they need? Create a scenario and see if that person manages to get all of the information they need in this scenario by the questions they asked. At the end of our scoring sheet, you might also include style points that can be added. 

Certify annually and with mini-releases – in SaaS, products are constantly changing, so it’s important to keep certifying. The person’s direct supervisor should be involved, along with someone from CS. The customer success team does a certification as well and they’ll usually invite someone from sales. 

Cut off leads if the certification goes poorly – these remain off until they get recertified. With their leads off, they have enough time to focus on the proper messaging.

Expect salespeople to push back on the certification process – but having everyone on the same page really impacts close rates. When we instated the certification process, our close rates improved by approximately 30%. 

Have level 1, level 2, level 3 demo certifications – you can’t give new sales reps everything at once, because it’s impossible for them to ingest. Plus there are going to be nuances they face that aren’t core to your value proposition initially, but matter as the deals get more complex. As people get more advanced, and start to get bigger and bigger leads, you need to have more advanced levels of certification. 

Use call recording software (e.g. Gong) – we create libraries so people have good demos to watch. On the discovery side, we have recorded calls and we have the team roleplay. Word for word, this is what the salesperson asked and this is what the customer said. These are completely anonymous, so no one is hearing the sales rep’s voice. 

How should all reps be trained and certified as new product development is released?

Product marketing should join meetings at least once a month – we’ll also have one off training. We partner closely with our product marketing team to make sure that we’re all in line and that we have the right messaging. Your product marketing really helps bridge the gap so there isn’t a disconnect between product and sales. 

Sales enthusiasm is a double-edged sword – make sure they have good messaging. As a salesperson, I can say that the minute we hear about something new, we latch on to it, and start talking about it. If we don’t know how to talk about it, we fill in the gaps with our own interpretation of what  is being released  because we’re so excited about it. Product marketing ensures that when sales goes to market, they’re talking about the product in the right way consistently. 

For SMB (lower-priced) sales what are the steps/components of a good demo?

With SMB, it’s often a combined discovery-demo
  • Set Expectations – tell them what to expect in the time you have together.
  • Introductions – especially if there are multiple people on the call.
  • Discovery questions – what do you do? How do you do it? Tell me a little bit about your team. 
  • Summarize the problem – learn about the issue they’re attempting to fix and then reiterate the problem back to them based on your understanding of it.
  • About us – tell them why you think you’d be a good fit.
  • Here’s how we can solve your problem – talk about how you can solve their problem specifically and then move into the demo piece.

For enterprise deals with many stakeholders and multiple meetings, how should you handle different meetings with different audiences?

Build over time – get a little more information with each call. Think of it as a complex paint by numbers scenario; each call you’re filling in the picture a little more.  

Each step along the way – make sure to acknowledge and speak to your audience, and keep the process moving forward
  • Get introductions – name, title, and what they’re looking to talk about today. This will help you get an agenda and you’ll be able to address the needs of particular stakeholders on the call.  
  • Prioritize exec decision-makers – if you have a C-level executive, make sure to touch on what they want to see first (they’re most likely to drop early)
  • Define next steps in the process – and figure out who else needs to be involved in the process to make a decision. At the end of the day, this is a change in their organization, and there’s a change curve. You should make sure people are bought in and your job is to help them through this process.

Demo first with the person who brings you in – talk with your influencer or champion about what their concerns are and shape the demo accordingly.  

What type of bespoke preparation should you do for enterprise demos? 

Before the big committee demo, prep with the influencer or champion – ask them what the concerns and objections are of other specific people on the committee. You want the champion to feel that you’re working together and you’re trying to make them look good too. 

Customize the demo environment – include their logo in your software if that’s an option, have the specific widgets they’ll want to see, do research to show them how your software can make them better. For instance:
  • Know (or ask) what roles/titles will be using the software, so that you can work them into the demo
  • Show examples of what they really sell, for instance if it’s a bike shop, create a bill of materials for a bike and a scooter in the demo, because those are the things the prospect sells the most great
  • Pull in things specific to the company, for instance if you sell marketing software, pull some of the ads that your prospect has and show how your marketing software can help make those ads better.

What types of more scalable preparation can you do for smaller deals (e.g. demo environment building)?

Have a standard deck – this should cover 90% of scenarios. Include a small number of “pocket slides” to cover a specific industry just in case you decide to bring them in.

Have demo environments setup so that it covers 90% of scenarios – the last company I worked for did background checks for different types of roles. So we’d have 15 different roles ready to go for a demo environment. For example, we had a driver role, which was a lower level background check, and tech people, which was a much higher level background check. So if I was meeting with a company that needed to hire a pizza delivery person, I could show them how we’d pull the motor vehicle records for a truck driver and how they have similar requirements. 

How can you customize a demo mid-meeting as you learn more about the prospect?

Make sure sales reps can speak on their feet – they need to be able to show the prospect how they’ll be able to use a widget to solve their problem. That’s how they’ll be able to bring it home. You’ll want to teach your reps how to be fluid in different situations. 

Align your demo to your website so that you can use the website as a resource – this is where partnering with marketing is extremely important. You can use some of the stuff on your website to help make it a little more customized if you don’t have what you need in your deck.

Become an expert in your prospect’s job – your reps need to understand what your prospect goes through on a daily basis and the challenges they face. This is how your reps will manage to become a trusted advisor. 

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Set expectations with the sales org that the demo process and certifications are non-negotiable – get the sales team on board with you to come along for the journey. 

Quantify and show the impact – show them the difference it makes in terms of close rates. 

Make it a habit train your team until it’s muscle memory for them. Create good habits so that demos can be routine. You want to avoid the scenario where an unexpected objection triggers an adrenaline response. There’s brain science behind it – if you start to worry about losing a big deal and fight or flight mode kicks in, your IQ actually drops.

Make sure you have good materials – write the demo script, create the scorecard. Establish your deck and demo environment.

What are the common pitfalls?

Lack of enforcement – for the certification process. There has to be a carrot and a stick. The carrot is the leads. The leads are a privilege, not a right. 

Don’t make exceptions for top performers – it’s bad culturally and it’s bad because that person still needs the training on that specific product offering. 

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