The Art of the Demo

Demo-Sell-Build

Me: You seem to have identified a big-enough customer problem that you have a plausible solution to (feasible)… What’s keeping you from closing customers?

Founder: That is our next step. We are just waiting to finish our demo.

Me: How long will that take?

Founder: About two months.

Me: Why that long?

Founder: Creating a working prototype with the right data set to show customers takes that long.

Me: Why do you need a working prototype to close the sale?

Founder: As you know, we’re relying on complex machine learning algorithms. And so we want to build a working demo to prove that our product works.

Me: The customer asked for this.

Founder: No, but…

Thinking you need a working product (or prototype) to make a sale is a common myth in the product world.

This happens because we tend to over-emphasize our solution disproportionately. We both love the promise of our solution and fear the possibility of failing with it, so we tend to overbuild, overpolish, and overtrain our customers during demos.

This is our Innovator’s Bias at work; it does more harm than good.

When you show too much during your demo, you potentially

  • dilute your unique value proposition,
  • confuse the customer, and
  • expose yourself to more criticism and additional feature requests.

The art of the demo isn't to train or impress your customers with the breadth of your product.

That's a recipe for overwhelming them.

Then they ghost you.

The art of the demo is showcasing the least (not most) about your product to cause a sale.

This starts with customer problem discovery, where you first seek to uncover

  • your customer’s current situation (triggering event, desired outcomes),
  • what they are currently doing (existing alternative),
  • what’s broken with their current way (problems),
  • what’s motivating them to change (what’s at stake), and
  • by when (critical event).

If this discovery happened in a prior meeting, take 2-3 minutes to recap the customer’s current situation and get them to own their current reality before demo’ing your product.

Why? Because getting the customer to own their current reality creates the gap for your demo to close (future reality).

All your demo needs to showcase is how you get the job done better - solve exactly and nothing else.

Me: Why do you need a working prototype to close the sale?

Founder: As you know, we’re relying on complex machine learning algorithms (AI). And so we want to build a working demo to prove that our product works.

Me: The customer asked for this.

Founder: No, but…

Me: Do you think your customers are going to review your code during the demo or ask about your algorithms?

Founder: No, they’re not that technical.

Me: So from a demo standpoint, you’re going to show them some data, click a button, which will then generate a report with insights. Why not just show them the report? Start with the most valuable thing first.

… if they have more questions or objections or want to see your product working with a different data set, ask for a second meeting.

I convinced the team to use only a slide deck to showcase their product's before and after story using screenshots — no working prototype.

The founder called me the day after the demo.

Founder: They loved the demo and signed up for a paid pilot!

Me: So, no second meeting needed with a working demo?

Founder: No. They weren’t interested in wasting time with another demo on test data. They’d like to see what our product uncovers against their actual data. We told them it would take about two months to get that ready. So they proposed a 3-month paid pilot!

In Summary…

Despite your best intentions, don’t immediately reach for a working prototype. Instead, consider the best demo format from the options shown below ranked in order of preference:

Digital Products

  1. Verbal demo.
  2. Screenshots or mockups.
  3. Clickable prototype.
  4. Working prototype.

Physical Products

  1. Verbal demo.
  2. Sketches or CAD diagrams.
  3. Physical prototype.
  4. Working prototype.

Services Products

  1. Verbal demo.
  2. Process diagram to demonstrate how it works.
  3. Sample deliverable, e.g., a report.

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