Technical Demos in the Cloud

The SE (Sales/Solution Engineer) bridges the gap between the business world and the technical world by providing a translation layer. A good SE is technical enough to talk shop with the engineers, but also sales-y enough to explain the business value of a solution to company leadership. One of the ways SEs help to bring these worlds together is via the product demo.

Why Demo in the Cloud?

Cloud computing has been around for over 15 years and has established itself as a mature technology, ready for the most demanding production workloads and use cases. Nearly every prospect you encounter will have at least some of their technology stack hosted in the cloud. In the past, one of the main challenges for SEs trying to do a demo or workshop in the cloud was network restrictions. Imagine going into the basement of a giant bank where the DevOps and engineering team offices are located. Sometimes the outbound network would be so restricted you couldn't even reach the Internet.

Thankfully, these days most organizations will have some kind of guest wifi or network you can use to access the cloud from their offices; and if you are conducting a remote meeting, the participants will be able to see your shared screen.

Using cloud computing for demos provides the following benefits:

  • Can be accessed from anywhere there's an internet connection
  • Users can each have their own separate demo environments
  • Prospects can do a self-guided demo or test drive
  • More cost-effective, because they can be shut down when not in use
  • Development, maintenance and collaboration is easier in the cloud

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Let's look at some of the methods each type of vendor can use for successful demos in the cloud.

PreSales engineers are usually responsible for creating and maintaining technical demos. Technical demos can come in different forms and flavors depending on what product or service you are selling. Your company may fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • The hardware vendor
  • The on-premise software vendor
  • The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendor

Hardware Vendors

The hardware vendor has the greatest challenge because physical devices usually can't be emulated in a cloud environment. Some vendors will have a virtual version of their physical device, for example a network switch or router that runs in a VM or appliance. In most cases you'll need to have the product on hand or at least remotely accessible so you can demonstrate it to the client. Some PreSales engineers will create a remote lab environment that's accessible via VPN or remote desktop to alleviate the need to bring hardware to their meetings. Hardware vendors can also use cloud for all of the external dependencies that surround the hardware device.

Hardware vendors often won't have much choice here — buyers will eventually want to see the physical device working in a real environment or their own data center. If your product is small enough you might be able to pack one in a suitcase and bring it with you to sales meetings. Suppose your company makes air quality monitors; in this example, the SE might carry one of these devices along with a demo kit. The kit might include some non-volatile chemicals that could be used to show how the air quality monitor can detect even tiny amounts of different substances in the air.

On-Premise Software Vendors

The on-premise software vendor has a different set of challenges. Prospects still want to see the software running in a real environment. In this case the SE might try to install the software on their laptop using some kind of virtualization or local installation method. This type of demo can work well if your software is meant to run on laptops and workstations, but as with hardware vendors, eventually the prospect will want to see the solution working in a real environment or in their own data center.

The on-premise or self-hosted software is the ideal candidate for cloud demos. Instead of installing your software on a laptop or requiring the prospect to download and install a trial, you can create temporary cloud environments that closely mimic what the data center environment looks like. Many software vendors even have virtual appliance images that you can download and run either in the cloud or on-premise. Some cloud vendors even provide hardware instances that use real physical machines, if actual physical hardware is required. The goal here is still the same: build out that model home with all the furnishings so that you can access it from anywhere.

SaaS Vendors

The SaaS vendor may have an easier time demonstrating their platform, since it can be run without installing any new software in the prospect's environment — but there are still challenges. Sometimes the customer won't be able to access the SaaS platform due to network restrictions or regulatory requirements. Also, SaaS platforms don't usually come with a "demo mode" built in, so it falls upon the SE to figure out how to tell a compelling story with realistic looking sample data.

The SaaS vendor has the simplest path to a cloud demo. Most SaaS vendors are already running in the cloud, so performing a demo can be as simple as logging onto the platform and showing off how it works. This is the easy part. The more challenging task for a SaaS provider is to tell a compelling story around the data and platform. Imagine you're selling a house; the house will look much more appealing to buyers if it's furnished like a model home from a magazine. Real estate agents like to have furniture and artwork in the house because it helps the buyer imagine themselves living there.

Contrast this with a bunch of empty rooms and bare walls that requite more imagination to tell your story. In the same way, the SaaS vendor needs a data set to make the platform look lived in. Your potential customer wants to see the platform working with realistic looking data, or even better, with their own data. This is where cloud computing helps. SaaS vendors can store their pre-built data sets or demo environments in the cloud. You might even have a workstation running on a virtual machine that SEs can access when they need to do a demo within the platform. If your SaaS platform does monitoring or data analysis, you can use cloud environments to build faux customer environments that can be spun up or torn down on demand.

What's the best way to demonstrate the business value of your product or service? Whether you sell hardware, self-installed software, or SaaS, you should build your demos in the cloud! Different companies will need to take a different approach but all of them can benefit from cloud-based demos.

Summary

Whether you sell hardware devices, downloadable software, or SaaS/PaaS software, you can benefit from cloud-based demos. Evaluate your current process and identify what could be partially or completely moved into the cloud. Cloud-based demos are easier to maintain, more portable, and more cost-effective than on-premise demos or solutions that are installed on laptops.

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The Leadership collective is a group designed for PreSales leaders in a management capacity (Manager+ title) who are looking to network, grow professionally, and actively participate.

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