How to Give Deal-Winning Software Demonstrations

By Geoffrey James

Software demonstrations are fraught with peril. Even if technical glitches don’t throw a wrench in the presentation, there’s a high probability the customer might get confused or, worse, bored because he or she is unfamiliar with the software. Here are seven key rules for giving winning software demonstrations.

Rule 1. Simplify. All too often a software demonstration trots through every feature of the software, leaving only a few seconds to show each feature. The mistaken belief is that the customer will think the software is robust if there are lots of features. Instead, such feature-trot demos generally leave the impression that the software is overly complex. It’s better to simplify the demonstration so it highlights, at most, one or two of the product’s features that are most valuable to the customer.

Rule 2. Target. Remember that you’re not demonstrating how the software works, but how the software will help the customer solve a problem. Because of this, every feature you demonstrate should be tied directly to the customer’s problem or opportunity. Ideally your demonstration should create a story line that allows the customer to see how things will work better when the software is up and running at the customer’s site.

Rule 3. Script. While software demonstrations are similar to presentations, the talking part of the demonstration must accommodate the rhythm of the software. For example, if it takes 10 seconds to execute a particular feature, you need to fill that time with appropriate patter lest those 10 seconds seem like an eternity and make your software look slow and pokey. Ideally your demonstration should be seamless, without long pauses and dead spots. The only way to accomplish that is to time it with a script.

Rule 4. Rehearse. This seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many software sales reps think they can wing it and let the software do the talking. The result is almost always a disaster. Not only should you rehearse the entire demonstration beforehand, but if possible you also should do a dry run in the actual location where the demonstration will be performed.

Rule 5. Test. Never assume the equipment that’s available at a customer’s site or conference facility will correctly run your demonstration. When possible, bring everything you need to do your demonstration – your own laptop, your own projector, your own pointing device and so on. When you do your dry run you might elect to use some of the equipment that’s already present. Just remember that using any unfamiliar equipment entails risk.

Rule 6. Mentally prepare. Feeling nervous prior to a demonstration is entirely normal. To help control nervousness and ensure a smooth performance take a few moments in private and practice some relaxing exercises before your appearance – roll your neck, swing your arms and stretch. Take a deep breath, hold it for 3 to 5 seconds and then slowly exhale. Before you begin to speak, establish eye contact with a friendly face in the audience.

Rule 7. Have a backup plan. You want to be certain you don’t get caught short if something goes wrong. The best approach is to have a slide presentation of the sample application just in case the demonstration application won’t run or bombs out. While you should never pass such a presentation off as a real demonstration, it at least will allow you to open a conversation about the software and how it normally performs.