You Need to Ditch Your Current Demo Flow. Here’s why.

Most software demonstrations follow a predictable “process-oriented” demo flow, meaning the demo follows a particular process or workflow in a sequential order that is more or less dictated by the design of the software. This isn’t an inherently wrong way to convey information. In fact, in many cases, it’s the expected default. When giving driving directions to a friend, for instance, it would be pretty odd to start with anything other than Step 1. But as PreSales professionals, we aren’t giving directions; we are describing a destination. Instead of telling my friend to turn right at the stop sign, I’d be better off convincing her why my choice of restaurant is worth the drive. She almost certainly has GPS on her phone, after all.

I’m here to convince you that by scrapping your process-oriented demo and the confines that come with it, you’ll free yourself and your customers to participate in conversations that are more engaging, more memorable, and lead to better results. But wait…your demos get great feedback! Why change what isn’t broken? Off the top of my head, I can think of four reasons:

  1. It takes too long. By definition, following a process-oriented demo flow requires you to go through each step to reach the final result, even if some of those steps add no value for your prospect. This wastes time in a demo and makes it difficult to shift gears when needed. If you often find yourself racing to get through everything by the end of your demo, a process-oriented flow is likely the cause.
  2. You’ve buried the lede. If you’re following a process-oriented flow, the Most Important Thing in your demo is probably hidden somewhere in the second half. This could be game-changing AI, or the component of your software that separates you from your competitor. When you tie yourself to a process-oriented demo flow, you lose the option to show your best thing first - when you have the full attention of your audience. Don’t be surprised then, when your busy C-level decision-maker has to leave before you get to your pièce de résistance.
  3. You’re expecting customers to connect the dots themselves. Your sales rep laid out a pretty compelling business case at the start of your demo. So the customer should understand how feature X, shown 45 minutes later, directly relates to that business case, right? Wrong. Even experienced SEs sometimes struggle to do this. We can’t expect our customers to connect those dots when interacting with our software for the first time! Yet a process-oriented demo requires just that.
  4. It looks and sounds like every other demo. Remember when I said process-oriented demos were the default? Yeah. That’s not a good thing. Sure, it’s what your customers are most conditioned to expect, but it’s also what’s making your demos look and sound exactly like every other software demonstration they’ve ever seen. My previous article on nailing the first 5 minutes is a good start to breaking the mold, but the most effective way to escape the feature battle is to base your demo flow on what matters to your customer, not the default order set by your software.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to do away with your process-oriented demo, but what’s the alternative? Instead of orienting your demo around a series of steps or processes, I encourage my teams to adopt a value-oriented demo, which structures the demo around the core outcomes the prospect can expect to gain from your software. I call these “Value Vignettes”. You can see the difference represented in the diagram below.

In short, a value-oriented demo requires that you break apart your process and instead group and order features by the value they provide. Rather than demoing every step in a process, the only product you should show is that which directly proves the value you are currently discussing. For example, if I’m trying to convince you that my solution will remove bottlenecks in your business-critical process (the value), I would structure that Value Vignette around three features that best demonstrate that outcome, let’s say: A) Intelligent approvals that prevent most bottlenecks from happening, B) real-time analytics that allow you to identify where bottlenecks may be forming, and C) administrative tools to quickly correct bottlenecks when they happen. These three features may not directly follow each other in the software’s workflow, but in a value-oriented demo, they belong together.  

If you’re raising a skeptical eyebrow at this point, it’s probably warranted! Pulling off a value-oriented demo is easier said than done. But if you’re committed to differentiating your demos and making it easy for your customers to access and understand the value of your solution, I assure you, it’s worth it. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to make the transition easier.

Always keep features and value paired together. Back in college, I took a dining etiquette course and the one rule that still stands out in my memory all these years later is “Always pass the salt and pepper shakers together”. Even if someone at the table asks for just one, you always pass them both. The reasoning for this is that salt and pepper are considered a complementary pair, and if you only pass one the other is likely to get lost somewhere among the serving ware and breadbaskets, forgotten for the rest of the meal. The same is true for features and value. They should always be passed to your customer together – ideally in a 1:1 ratio. This gets me to my next point…

You may not show or even talk about every great feature, and that’s okay! Man, it took me a long time to get comfortable with this, and even longer to calm the impulse to cram as many features and benefits into my demo as time and lung capacity would allow. Having a 1:1 relationship between features and value in your demo requires ruthless editing, and this means there will be great (even value-adding!) features that simply don’t make the cut. If a feature does not directly support the specific value I am trying to prove, I don’t show it. And if a feature I am demoing has benefits that don’t directly relate to the value I’m presenting, I don’t talk about it. Instead of trying to show every cool thing my software can do, I focus only on the game-changing features and keep the rest in my pocket to take out when I need the perfect answer to a tough question or objection.

Utilize a strong Tell-Show-Tell framework.  When I first started trying out a value-oriented flow in my own demos, my biggest concern was confusing my customers. Will they get lost if I demo “out of order”? How will they follow me if I’m not following the process they are used to? I quickly learned that the answer was to get very good at utilizing Tell-Show-Tell, a technique I learned from Bob Riefstahl and 2WinGlobal. While this is a best practice in any demo, it’s particularly critical in a value-oriented demo to make it easy for your customers to follow your demo and match the features you are showing to the value you are demonstrating. In a value-oriented demo, each Value Vignette becomes a separate Tell-Show-Tell loop, and may look something like this:

Make one of your Value Vignettes a Competitive Differentiator.  As mentioned above, one of the primary reasons to switch to a value-oriented demo is to differentiate yourself from the competition. Studies show that just the presence of novelty itself has a significant impact on human decision making, so simply looking and sounding different will often give you a competitive edge. But a value-oriented demo takes this one step further by allowing you to hinge your competitive message on value, not features. Unlike a traditional demo, where competitive differentiators are sprinkled throughout (maybe your prospect notices, maybe they don’t. Maybe they care about that differentiator, maybe they don’t), a value-oriented demo allows you to present your best competitive differentiator as a single idea with supporting evidence that will stand out in your demo and from the crowd. If I have 3-5 Value Vignettes in a single demo, I always reserve one for my strongest differentiator.

Now that you’ve been armed with some tools to re-think how to structure your demos around value instead of process, I want to know how it goes! Did it completely flop? Was it a resounding success? Something in between? Please share your own experiences and strategies for building value in your demos in the comments!

Stephanie Day

Stephanie is passionate about people, technology, and how people interact with the technology around them. She is currently leading a team of all-star pre-sales professionals at DocuSign.

Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn.

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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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