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Why Your Product Demo Is Broken

Posted January 18, 2022
Darrell Evans

Is a Demo Request Helpful or Introducing More Friction?

Over three decades, Darrell has been a serial entrepreneur involved in five to six different business ventures. In the last 11 years, he has focused on helping small to medium businesses scale their digital presence. On the side, Darrell offers his services as a consultant and hosts The MindShift podcast.

Most businesses (and sales teams in particular) view demo requests as a top converting channel. But is this more of a reflection of the perception of demo requests or the actual effectiveness of demo requests? If customers have already researched and decided about the product they would like to purchase, are demo requests necessary? Darrell offered his opinion.

“I’ve got some insight that I think will be helpful. I sit in a mastermind group with 17 multi-seven figure business owners. What I hear them say all the time is something a lot of people in sales should take to heart. ‘Darrell, if I can buy a Tesla without talking, why the heck should I buy your marketing services?’

“Decision-makers are self-reliant, particularly when it’s a major decision like an operational change. For example, you don’t just jump from one CRM to another when you’ve been on it forever.

the demo request or the egg

“What a business owner will probably do is send a scout to check out the top contenders in the market. They may send a junior person to gather some information. An executive doesn’t want to take the time to battle the walls companies put up. It can take three to four calls just to get information on pricing. And executives want to know why.”

Chances are good that between an executive’s network and prior product experience, they already know what the product costs.

“An executive in the group wanted to buy an enterprise-level Shopify product. He’d already done the research. He knew it was going to cost $2,500 a month. Yet, it took eight days to get a salesperson on the line because they are required to take the buyer through a demo call before discussing pricing. While there’s a high probability of closing an opportunity once someone requests a demo, we have to remember we may be introducing a lot of unnecessary friction because we’re clinging to old sales methodologies.

“Depending on the statistics you read, 70%-80% of buyers have already made their decision. They just need to get across the finish line. But a lot of times, we construct these walls–like insisting on doing demos–before they can buy.”

When Does a Product Demo Make Sense?

Demo requests are still heavily leaned upon as a trusted sales tool. So we have to ask, is there something else out there that’s better? Should we eliminate the demo or train the sales team around navigating the conversation before a demo? When does a demo just make sense?

“I cut my teeth in sales. I was taught some bad sales practices. Sure, they worked, and you had to do them back then, but the methods weren’t human. There was no empathy in this process. It was supposed to be all about me and not them (customers). I always ask, ‘What can we do to meet them where they are?’

“I advise people to try to master simple before they get complex. There are hidden intent data points in just about every great piece of analytics software, whether it’s Facebook Ads, Google Analytics, an Adobe application, Marketo, or even HubSpot. So the question is: Are we willing to be cognizant of a user’s behavior?

“Start looking at that behavior. If you’ve offered them something that will help solve a problem even before buying your product, which is something we believe in, that builds trust. I don’t believe free trials solve a prospect’s problem. The product demo doesn’t solve a problem. A more effective lure demonstrates that we can solve a problem without our product, which leads to a sales conversation. It’s a very advantageous way to build a little bit more trust and then see if they’re engaging with that resource.”

Darrell floated some scenarios for those of you needing a little more clarity on this value-first approach.

“You’re trying to help them solve a micro problem and then watch how they engage with it to determine where they are in the sales cycle. Here’s a perfect example: We do three- to five-part email sequences behind a video (which we keep under five minutes). Our goal is to solve one specific problem that we know they’re facing. If we can help them solve this problem, we can give them an idea that we understand where they’re coming from. If the solution helps them and if they (hopefully) know what their next problem is, then you can observe their behavior and engage with them on that second problem.”

In the example above, early engagement indicators are email opens and click-throughs. The next step would be to determine whether they watched the entire video or only viewed the page.

“In this example, we’ve found that if they stay engaged through the fifth email, it naturally leads to a demo or consultation call.”

When most buyers interact with sales, they typically know which tool they want to buy to solve their problem. They’ll want to do their due diligence and verify that the product does what it advertises. Particularly in the revenue attribution space, customers have heard promises from vendors who underdeliver. In this scenario, offering a free trial to qualified buyers who are sold on the product but still have concerns may make sense.

“I believe in something called return on relationships, not return on investment. If you’re selling software, you can look at a demo as an opportunity to build a relationship. If you get a chance to get on the phone, you’ve got a chance to build a relationship.”

Objection Handling: Sales Still Wants the Demo

If you’ve been in marketing ops in the technology sector, chances are good you’ve had at least one (or fifty) salespeople provide feedback about demos. And the feedback is nearly always, “We should do more of them,” with the occasional, “I’ve only seen one this year, and I should be getting one hundred requests.” Pause, take a deep breath, and ask questions before responding.

“I hear the request from sales for more demos a lot. We talk about marketing and sales alignment all the time. Before scrambling for more demos, the first thing I’m going to do is check on my relationship with the salesperson who’s asking. Then, we’re going to look at the statistics behind the last 30, 60, or 90 days of demo calls. You have to walk a fine line. You have to understand both sides of the equation. There will be salespeople who say every ‘at bat,’ they close. However, here’s what I’ve learned. I didn’t come up with this statistic, but only 10% to 15% of people who inquire about a sales demo aren’t going to buy the product in the next 30, 60, or 90 days.

“Often, when salespeople ask for more demos, they are really saying they don’t have nurturing sequences in place. It tells me they aren’t using their CRM effectively. Listen, if I know that most people requesting a demo aren’t going to transact today, then I don’t have the pressure to close the deal during the first call—the pressure shifts to refining my follow-up sequences.

should I offer a free trial

“In my experience, when I request a demo, I take the call. Then I either receive a barrage of emails all at once, or I don’t hear a word. It’s one of two extremes.”

Before you look for ways to turn on that demo request faucet, confirm that the right steps are in place after the demo. Reviewing the hand-off process is an opportunity to collaborate with the sales team and should be positioned as such. Marketing can pass along email best practices, review the messaging in follow-up sequences, and find ways to improve conversions.

“It’s marketing’s job to keep demo requests from being requested until the buyer is ready. Maybe we need a step in process that would set someone up more appropriately for a demo call, which would help sales teams get more qualified leads. It’s an opportunity for us to better identify people who are closer to a buying decision before feeding them a demo form.”


Listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast for more best practices around the marketing to sales handoff.

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