Architecting a Winning Enterprise Demo

By Dougal Cameron - June 04, 2019

The demo is a key ritual in the customer journey for any B2B SaaS company. Blowing it is expensive. After the marketing and sales team have collaborated to convince the customer of the product’s value and secured a calendar spot for the key stakeholders to join the conference call, the last thing any founder wants to hear is ‘the demo system is down’. Demo day failures seem to follow Murphy’s law; whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Dougal Cameron from GSTVC walks us through his lessons learned in architecting a winning demo.

High performing sales organizations put systems and processes in place to ensure demo day goes off without a hitch.

Build a story

A good demo is really just a good story. People are captivated by stories. In the case of a demo, the story teller’s job is to weave into the story the intersection of the customer’s stated pain (usually sourced from the sales executive who owns that customer), the key features of the system that address that pain, and the value the customer receives from having that pain resolved.

Improv makes for good entertainment because of the divergent ways it can evolve, but it is usually more fun for the participants than the observers. Don’t do improv with a demo.

Crafting the demo story takes time and must be specific to the customer. For smaller contract sizes, this means more of a canned script with a few key areas of customization. For large contracts, it can mean a seven-person team presenting onsite for three days. In both cases, the story has to resonate with the attendees.

Build a high availability process

A blank screen or a solution expert fumbling around a bug during a customer demo will blow the story regardless of how good it was. Demo failure can have real hard costs.

Take for instance, an inpatient Health IT company I ran. By demo day, we had already invested more than fifty-thousand dollars in trade shows, road trips, sales salaries, marketing collateral, systems and overhead to get to that point. The demo day itself usually involved three to five team members onsite for two days. This could cost more than thirteen thousand dollars in travel and payroll. And those are just the hard costs, the opportunity costs of what we could have done with that capital and time dwarf these figures. And yet, we blew it from time to time.

Building a high availability process to support 100% demo uptime is very achievable. It takes commitment, accountability, and documented processes.

The environment

The first area to support is the demo environment itself. Invest in a dedicated demo environment. Stop using the test server or, worse yet, the development environment.

Then maintain the environment like it is for your most valuable customer. This means the demo environment gets updates first and is tested rigorously (there is no tolerance for unknown bugs here).

The workflow

The demo environment should be brought through the demo script workflow several days before every demo. This can be batched weekly in the case of a high frequency demo company. This ensures the workflow (which should be documented and not in someone’s brain) gets a new version if recent updates have added or removed functionality.

The connectivity

Don’t rely on the customer’s network or internet access. Bring your own connectivity with a hotspot and have a few contingencies for outages. The SaaS sale is completely undermined when connectivity drops.

The dress rehearsal

The demo team including the sales executive should all attend a demo dress rehearsal several days before demo day. This can be batched weekly in the case of high frequency. This cadence ensures that the lessons learned from past demos can be injected into the process as well as updates to the company’s products, services, or vision.

The dress rehearsal should be treated as a demo day experience and any issues that emerge should be logged, assigned, and reported on several times a day until resolved.

The post-mortem

A post-mortem should be held for each demo day as well as any demo day or critical failures. This is part of any quality management system. All post-mortems should have minutes where the team tracks issues that came up and for severe ones a corrective action for the issue that stems from the root cause.

Conclusion

The demo is a high stakes performance of multiple parties to tangibly demonstrate the value promised by marketing and sales. It is usually given late in the sales cycle due to the expense of performing it. High performing teams treat the demo as a sacred ritual in the customer journey. Don’t neglect it or sales will just spin wheels until you run out of cash.

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