Memo to the Vendor Community:
We work with many clients that are interested in acquiring new technology. It is always a good sign when investments in technology are being made. As we work through the acquisition process with clients, technology providers are asked to deliver a system “demo.” For some, this becomes more of a demolition than a demonstration… and the focus of this month’s discussion.
It never ceases to amaze me how poorly demos can go considering how much better they can be with a little more caring and a lot more “finesse.” Finesse is defined as the “subtly skillful handling of a situation.” Now isn’t that a nice platform for a demo? I think that adding finesse makes a great organizing platform from which to plan and present a demonstration or demo of your wares.
I will begin by identifying some of the “demo” challenges I have witnessed personally over the past few months. Honestly, it doesn’t seem to matter whether it is a phone system, recording gear, workforce management system, CRM or knowledge management system. There seems to be an epidemic of ill-prepared speed talkers that use “tornado” navigation to present not necessarily what the prospect wants to purchase or see demonstrated. It seems more like what the sales team wants to promote.
We constantly have to deal with demos that almost right from kick-off show what is coming… the next new thing… rather than what the prospect has requested or the vendor has proposed. A recent system demo spent nearly half the session discussing a set of upcoming analytical features that were not part of the proposal. Despite protests from the “audience,” the presenter could not seem to get back to what the prospect was interested in buying. I just do not get this. This divergence occurs despite the fact that the demo criterion states clearly that vendors must demo only what has been proposed. So, what gives?
Obviously, the sales team is interested in promoting new features and functionality. However, in a competitive bid situation, if these are not in the proposal they are not going to magically get in! At this point in the sales process, the demo needs to be focused and aligned solely to the prospects needs.
Here are a few tips for the vendor community to improve their demo value to prospects and add a bit of finesse!
1. Use the client’s proper name
We recently had a demo from the preferred provider in which the wrong name of the client was used! It was painful to watch the presenter pepper the demo with the wrong name. That comes off as just plain lazy; prospects won’t consider the possibility that staff allocation to presales has been curbed to cut costs. Most people cannot conceive the fact that many vendor sales teams are weary. System sales are often the bastion of the “value-added reseller” (VAR) rather than the actual manufacturer. So they protect margins… sometimes by skimping on the sales front end.
If you can’t even scrape the proper name off the RFP for demo purposes, do you really have the time to care? This misstep causes a subtle but genuine disconnect from the get-go. Make sure you get the prospect’s proper name and overcome the weariness by engaging and creating energy to drive sales. Maybe the additional sales won will allow more time to address prospects properly!
2. Know your audience
Contact center technologies often have multiple audiences: the technical support team, user community and executive sponsors. These are definitely not the same. IT is interested in the network, integration to other systems, storage requirements, administration, etc. The user community is interested in what the system will do for them, how to use it, level of effort and resources. Executives are interested in investing in tools that support the organization’s strategic objectives. Therefore, it is unlikely that the demos should be “the same.” This is often not the case. The demo is the demo… so there! What IT wants and needs to know is different from the end-users.
Vendors need to recognize the level of familiarity the audience has with the system. When an organization is opening up its first contact center, leadership has little working knowledge of “systems.” Let’s say you are presenting a quality/workforce management system. The audience’s level of familiarity may be only as deep as having heard the disclaimer, “Your call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance purposes.” The sales team needs to put some time and effort into knowing who the audience is and how to address its needs. Very often, different sessions are organized to accommodate the unique needs of these audiences.
Preparation is possibly the most influential contributor to finesse because preparation brings the “skillful handling of a situation.” I have low tolerance for poor preparation because I know firsthand how confidence grows with preparation. When the demo is grounded in confidence, the return is confidence from the audience!
These days most demos are done via WebEx. This brings its own set of challenges because there is no face-to-face; it is just voice and screen. To inspire confidence, set an agenda. I cannot tell you the frequency with which demos are launched without a clear agenda. It is critical to identify clearly the things that will be covered. When navigating through the application, it is important to enlarge the cursor and keep the audience informed about what is being shown. It is dizzying sometimes to watch as the presales engineer weaves all over the application—whizzing through drop-down menus, tabs, and pages—and simply losing the audience. The lack of face-to-face means that presenters need to be very cautious of jumping all over the place. This is disconcerting for prospects and they may believe that the system is difficult and complicated to operate. This makes them lose confidence in this selection.
Being prepared also means the ability to respond appropriately to questions. During a demo where the above occurred, the prospect commented, “Wow, this doesn’t look easy.” Rather than answer by promoting the excellent training and implementation routines that the company provides, the presales engineer just muttered about how most folks eventually do figure it out. This is not a confidence builder, especially when the competitor’s demo had been very rich with claims of how easy its system was to administer. (Neither is really much different, but the prospect can’t know that. They believe the demo that evoked confidence.)
4. Stop speaking so fast
How can I possibly put this in strong enough language? I have been exposed to people that don’t seem to believe they can possibly be talking so fast that it becomes irritating just to try and keep up.
You must use an appropriate rate of speech for the medium (see the “Average Speech Rates” below). For example, WebEx is somewhere between a presentation and a radio host. This puts the rate of speech between 100 and 160 words per minute. Please avoid sounding like an auctioneer!
Evaluate those assigned to this task to assure that the audience is not alienated by the pace of speech. Just for the record, tone and articulation (e.g., pronouncing the consonants) also matter in terms of the audience’s ability to not only hear but to follow and understand what is being said.
Average Speech Rates
- Presentations: 100–150 WPM for a comfortable pace
- Conversational: 120–150 WPM
- Audiobooks: 150–160 WPM (upper range that people comfortably hear and vocalize words)
- Radio Hosts and Podcasters: 150–160 WPM
- Auctioneers: about 250 WPM
- Commentators: 250–400 WPM
Source: “Average Speaking Rate and Words per Minute,” virtualspeech.com
5. Customize the demo
We recently had a product demo for a healthcare client and the vendor used all banking scenarios. Really??? What would it have taken to use healthcare? The company has TONS of healthcare clients. I seriously just shake my head and wonder, “Is this the sales prevention team?”
In another example, we planned a demo for a knowledge management vendor and provided a specific scenario to weave into the demo. The speed talker barely highlighted the scenario, giving it only a cursory moment. She went on with a demo that seemed to be more about how much she knew rather than how much she knew about the client’s unique needs and how the system would support business objectives. The demo dampened rather than ignited the interest by the client.
Invest the Time to Plan
If your organization offers system demos and your proposal has led to being asked for one, take the time to do it right and with finesse. Avoid the pitfall of salespeople and presales engineers that dominate the demo with how much they know. Honestly, how much you know is only meaningful if you know enough to persuade and positively influence the prospect into moving forward with you as a partner.
Invest the time to plan; set the agenda, know your audience and stick to the proposal. Slow down long enough for the prospects to digest.
Lastly, prove how much you know about them by using industry-specific scenarios and, of course… use their proper name.
I wish you good luck with future demos!