Sales demos are tricky no matter what. Unless your product is a well-known brand like Band-Aid solving, a clear and distinct problem. Sales demos need a whole lot of strategy to go into it. If yours is a software product, a early version of your product and a unique product that falls in between the traditional product categories, then the demos become even more challenging. I landed in a similar situation helping a customer of mine who has a unique enterprise software product at the intersection of BI and Performance Management. Looking at the Gartner Quadrant and explanation of both those aforementioned product categories it becomes clear that this product addresses a white space that has not been addressed by the incumbent vendors. (Unfortunately I can’t get very specific about the company and the niche they are going after.. for obvious reasons)
The company has been doing well making opportunistic sales across a wide spectrum of companies either through referrals or personal contacts of the founders. As you well know, personal contacts and referrals can help you get your early adoption but at some point you need to have a strategy to build a customer base organically. That is where I got introduced to help crystallize the product strategy. Much as the companies would have liked that to be true, it is unrealistic for a small company to target a horizontal customer base and meaningfully meet their customer needs over time. They were targeting a niche usergroup within a large company and that made it even more tougher. So as the first course of action, I recommended that, we narrow the focus to a particular industry vertical rather than making it a horizontal offering. After evaluating the existing customer and product evolution it was clear that we had to focus on one vertical that would give us what would amount to a viral growth (Is there such thing as virality in an enterprise software world? there is and I will get to that in another post). After the management team bought into the strategy, the next step was to come up with a clear value proposition that would resonate with that target segment. This had to take into account the specific personas we were targeting in the companies.
Some background on the target users in the companies. The personas we would be targeting fall under the broad investment banker community. Mostly comprising of smart MBAs that deal with complex business challenges. So imagine the prospect of us walking into their flashy offices and saying we have something that will help them. We were risking getting thrown out by the security guard for the sheer audacity behind that claim. So to sidestep that here is what I came up with. We identified a few contacts in the target segment and reached out. We would have not gotten an appointment if we said that we had something that would help them. So our pitch was along these lines
“We have something that we have been selling to the Capital Equipment companies and suddenly in the last 3-6 months we have been getting a series of repeat requests from guys in <your industry> to sell them our product and that they would love to have this tool and they think it would help them immensely in <activity 1> and <activity 2>. Before we license our product to them, we wanted to run it by you and make sure we are not getting into an area we are not experts in.”
Voila!. we got our appointment. Notice that by saying that their fellow professionals/rivals feel it can really help them created the urgency for them to meet with us and see our product. Our saying “area we are not experts in” mellowed their ego I am sure. Now we had to prepare the demo to win them over while continuing to maintain that we are not there to sell and merely there to get their approval of the product solving critical problems for their industry.
So the objectives were clear – orchestrate the demo in such a way that we eek our their validation, perk their interest and get them to give us a chance to sell to them. The operative phrase being “give us a chance”. If we were too eager to sell to them, it would have shown in our actions.
As for product demo itself here is a script we followed
- We made the demo about the life-in-a-day of that executive that we showed the demo to. We also took a realistic scenario of how they were tackling a problem. In fact, we mocked up the demo with that executive as the user. A little bit of pandering of ego has never been wasted in opening up the discussion.
- We deliberately mocked up another company (a fierce competitor of theirs) and accidentally opened up that portfolio before the demo. Just long enough to give him a glimpse, and make it seem like we are talking to them as well, all the while never saying anything. This ensured that we got their full attention.
- We made the demo about them and not so much about features and asked some open-ended questions like
- What would you do in this scenario ?
- Does is it really work this way?
- I am sure you have sophisticated applications that do this already
- How would modify this feature to do that?
- We also did some role playing to pretend we disagreed on some topics thereby allowing that executive a chance to interject with his sagely advice.
- Finally asked the question, if he were in our position, would he see the value of going into this vertical and why would someone buy it and importantly who would buy it. That was the watershed moment. He started explaining how we should sell, whom to sell, how to articulate the value proposition, how to price the solution.
- If that was not all, he also turned around and said, he would be happy to introduce us to others within his company to discuss other aspects on business where this product might be helpful.
- When we finally ended the demo, we said, if it was not too much of a hassle, we would like to update him with the feedback we received from other companies in their vertical we were due to meet. Needless to say, he said, he would have rather we circled back to him in a couple of weeks, while he thought some more on how this could help his firm. That was hook, line and sinker !!. Perked his interest and got a lead to call him back.
- Some things we ensured during the demo were
- we avoided the customary elaborate introductions to highlight the “earth-shattering stuff” we have done in our pasts and spent that time on how their company has been executing.
- we avoided elaborate numbers (remember they live and die by numbers so we did not want to evoke the monster) and stuck to the problem.
- we avoided any implication of us knowing how they work and stuck to the “you are the expert” theme. It is usually tough for tech guys to sustain that stance during the entire demo. Being a tech guy myself I can vouch that we rank right behind, if not on par with, the Wall Street MBAs in terms of our egos.
- we left our sales mindset back in our offices and instead wore our Product Management hat and listened and took notes.
- and foremost of all, we religiously obeyed nature and listened twice as much as we talked (remember two ears and one mouth are there for that specific reason)
Time will tell how repeatable this strategy is. But we are confident that this will get us further in penetrating this vertical. As we find other personas we will tailor our demo script accordingly. In the meanwhile, we are waiting to hear back from that executive so we can go and nurture that opportunity further and hopefully one day close the deal.