Saturday, March 3, 2012

Top 10 rules of software demos

Over the years I have delivered more demos than I can count. I demo'ed to investors, prospects, customers, analysts, journalist and other vendors. I also got to watch many others deliver demos.

These are my very own top 10 rules for delivering a killer demo:
  1. Establish goals - every demo must have a very specific goal (otherwise why do it). If you're in enterprise software, the goal is often to get to a proof of concept. If you're meeting with a potential investor, the goal might be to explain the problem and how your product solves it differently from alternatives. Make sure every member of your team agrees on the goal prior to the meeting.
  2. Customize - in most cases, you have ample information about the audience before going into the meeting. The more you customize the demo to talk to the specific prospect's processes and pain points, the more effective it will be.
  3. Prepare - Murphy's law holds true when it comes to demos. The more important the demo is, the more likely it is to fail. Make sure your VM's are ready, you have enough battery power, Internet connection is working, etc., and always have a back up plan. If you're meeting in a hotel and Wi-Fi isn't working fast enough, you already made a bad first impression.
  4. Time - make sure you allocate enough time for the demo. When you demo to executives, keep it short. You should be able to get your points across in less than 5 minutes. When you do a deep dive technology demo, plan for 45 minutes or more. Always re-confirm the time when you start.
  5. Tell a story - the worst demos are a reflection of a reference manual - a laundry list of technical features. Every demo should tell a story. A good demo tells a story the audience will identify with using the prospect's terminology (see point 2). Remember that most chances are your prospect doesn't care much about your product or technology. It's all about solving particular problems they have or letting them do things they weren't able to do before. Make the prospect think what her life would look like if only she had used your product. Demo is about storytelling, not reading from a fact sheet.
  6. Explain - always explain what happens on the screen, what you do and what happens as a result. Remember this is the first time your audience sees your product. Don't ask them to imagine. Tell them how every capability will work in their environment and help them meet a need they have.
  7. Lay land mines - your audience is likely to see competitor demos, so try to weave in land mines - capabilities your competitors will have a hard time demonstrating. For example, if your differentiator is ease-of-use, show workflows that emphasize this attribute of your product.
  8. Interact - giving a 60 minute monolog is easy. It's also a bad idea. Make your demos interactive. Ask the audience questions like "how would you do X in your company?" or "would this help you do Y?". Asking questions keeps your audience engaged and helps you determine sentiment and fine-tune your script. This is especially critical for remote demos, when you can't see if your audience watches your demo or does email.
  9. Maintain course - especially when demo'ing to a large group, there will always be a wise guy trying to side track you, usually by asking some real deep questions about a non-important part of your product. It's always better to ask that person to take it offline after the meeting, otherwise you may run out of time and cause everyone else to lose interest.
  10. Know when to stop - the golden rule is you need to end the demo as soon as you have reached your goal (see point 1). Remember, the demo is just a means to get to the next phase of the sales cycle, so use any extra time to discuss the next step, or cut the meeting shorter than planned. Your audience will appreciate it.
Happy demo'ing.