Agile · Communication · Principles · Product management

What’s in a demo?

As a product owner working with a growing suite of products in an active market, I am frequently asked to “do a demo” of our product for a new prospect.  Our development team, support team, and consulting team all work closely with each other and with the business development team and the marketing team to make sure that our product messaging is getting out to our target market, and so when a potential client is interested in learning more about what we can do we are eager to engage.  Over the past year or so we have been refining what it means for us to do a demo (or product demonstration) for a prospect, and here’s where our thinking is moving.

Requests from a prospect or client to see our product (or requests from our business development team to show it to prospects) come broadly speaking at three distinct places in the engagement process that I will call qualify, win, and train.  At the “qualify” stage we are really looking to see if this particular company has an issue that our product can help them solve.  The focus of demos at this level is on benefits and solutions, not features and functionality.  We ask questions about the pain points the prospect is feeling with their current solution and talk about how other companies are using our product to solve similar problems.  Many of these demos are carried out by the business development team members themselves, whose knowledge about the market we serve and solutions we offer is generally sufficient to determine if the prospect in question has a clear need that they are actively seeking to address; the advisory expertise of our company comes into play at this level as we demonstrate our ability to listen well and understand the needs of potential clients.

Some prospects get weeded out at this qualifying stage in the process – that’s part of the role of our business development team and the reason we seek a wide sales funnel that draws in many potential clients and then determines which ones are truly ripe for our services.  But those that have a clear and painful issue which we can help them solve at a price that makes sense to both of us move on to a second stage of demo; here the goal is to “win” the business.  The demo at this point involves a deeper dive into the product, but the focus remains more on benefits and solutions than on features and functionality.  While at the “qualify” stage we talk about how similar companies use our product to solve their problems, at the “win” stage we talk about the benefits that this particular client will receive and how our product can enhance their specific program.  More knowledge of the nuanced functionality that our product offers is helpful at this stage in the demo process as prospects often ask more detailed questions.  But even at this point we ask a lot of questions of the company – for example, ‘how are you solving this problem currently’ or ‘what about your current process is giving you the most trouble?’  We have found that our ability to understand and articulate the issues that a company is wrestling with and to explain the solutions offered by our product suite is more crucial to our ability to win business than is our capability to provide detailed product functionality demonstrations.

For the clients we both “qualify” and “win” through this process, we move on to the third stage of product demos; here the goal is to “train” new users of our platform.

Side note here: in many cases in the sales process, this is the first time that actual users will be confronted with the product; most of those from a company that have seen it so far have been “buyers” whose decisions are based more on benefits than on features.  This is part of what drives the focus on benefits instead of functionality earlier in the process – and it’s a great reason why having a clear understanding of “buyer” and “user” personas is valuable for product managers.

Training demos take on a different tenor than earlier demos; the focus is no longer on how the market benefits from our product or on how the company can realize these benefits but instead on how specific people can use the tool to accomplish their daily jobs.  Our client implementation team usually handles these training demos – both walking people through the tool with generic data in place and helping them load and utilize their own information on the platform.  This is the ‘driving lessons’ phase of the demo process with the goal that users will be fully capable of operating the product themselves and realizing all the benefits we began talking about in the “qualify” stage.

The request to offer product demos can be a demanding and distracting part of the job of a product owner.  Providing clarity on the goals and approach for these different levels of demos can alleviate some of those problems, allowing the business development team to effectively move prospects through the sales pipeline and freeing members of different teams to focus on that part of the process where they excel.  It would be great if talking about a three stage process resolved all the complex issues around doing product demos, but in truth it’s not that simple.

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