Don’t go down the rabbit hole. Or lecture. Or spray and pray.


As Sales Engineers, we see ourselves as the authority on all things product - we know the product inside out, we know the use cases, the features and all the little details. We know why our product is so much better than the competition. We genuinely like our product, and can drone on about all of these little details that help with this little function in that little use case… while completely ignoring the bigger picture. 

This is boring enough, when it happens amongst ourselves and with our sales rep brethren, but it is absolutely catastrophic when it happens in a demo. And it happens to the best of us. We go down 'rabbit holes' when we're pulled into a conversation with a technically minded member of the prospect set, and before we know it, we're talking integration while the BDM answers his emails; all the momentum built from the demo, now lost. 

It's not just rabbit holes though. Some of us are used to going into what I call 'lecture mode'. We get into the habit of exploring the screen we're showing, in its totality, even if the prospect isn't listening. We're great at eye contact, and we pause, and we explain further… an approach that works great in a training room, but is completely out of place in a demo, where the BDM has, of course, turned to email. 

Then there is the 'Spray and Pray' crowd. This is the sales engineer that doesn't believe in doing their homework. So they go into every detail of every feature, hoping that there's something in there that will interest the prospect enough to stick. Trouble is, we don't earn the prospect's full attention by being irrelevant. 

Info dumps are boring 

Irrespective of which camp you fall into, I know there's a part of you that doesn't agree. You rail that sales is about giving the customer 'all the information they need to make a decision'. You give me examples of all the times when including that one crucial feature in the demo (which everyone else ignores!) made the sale. You talk about winning over CTOs, who champion your product. 

True. All true. But there is a part of you that knows that these things didn't happen because of your info dump, but in spite of it. 

What if you could, instead of lecturing at prospects, engage them with the things that are most relevant to them? What if you could stay on point (and not jump into rabbit holes), maintain the momentum you and the sales rep worked so hard to create? What if you led with solutions, instead of features? Surely, these would give you better results, no? 

Info dumps are, like anything else, habits. We all fall into comfortable mental patterns from time to time. I'm here to tell you that this pattern is holding you back, and by recognising and remedying it, you'll not only end up with better sales numbers, but your popularity among sales reps is sure to go up too! 

Diving into rabbit holes 

Let's face it. It's really easy to do. Most of us are carrying so much product info in our heads, that when the opportunity to say our piece falls into our lap, we jump at it. It feels good to talk, and to establish our authority on a subject - observe any 5 year old that's trying to convince you that butter is better than cheese. She's happy. She feels smart. She feels important. So do you, when you dive down a rabbit hole. 

The key here is recognising when you've fallen into one. Are you still in control of the room? Are people on their phones now? Or busy answering email? Was your poor sales rep trying to distract you? If yes, it's time to pull back. Maybe use some humor - it's a great way to get people to look up. One guffaw from someone, and the whole room wonders what they just missed. So joke about it - use self-deprecating humor about your tendency to go on and on about your beloved product, joke about your soapbox, joke about the fact that the poor sales rep has been making cutting motions against her throat for the last 5 mins! 

If you aren't too comfortable with humor, you can use this bag of tricks

Playing the lecturer 

 Playing the lecturer

Yes, getting into the details is important… when the prospect asks for it. Demos are not product training. The whole point of a demo is to grab the prospects' attention, and then hold on to it. A lecture on the intricacies of this or that feature isn't how you do it. 

The best communicators in the world know that it isn't just about communicating what is right, but communicating it effectively. Neil Degrasse Tyson talks eloquently about this - as a science communicator, he can go to the nth degree of detail, but he tailors it to his audience. A 5th grader, a high schooler and a grad student can all ask about a particular phenomenon, but the degree of detail in Tyson's response varies with his audience. 

As someone who brought an entire generation of American kids into scientific careers, Tyson understands a thing or two about engaging an audience. And about communicating information, even in detail. 

When he has an audience that is interested in details, he doesn't pull back, of course. How does he know they want the details? Simple. He lets them ask for it

Spraying and Praying 

This is an approach that has had its day. It no longer works. Period. Prospects today don't have  the time, nor the inclination, to suffer through an irrelevant demo. Most will switch to other tasks that need their attention, some will end the demo early. None will be heard from again. 

If you haven't bothered to find out what the prospects' need, then the prospect doesn't need to put in the work to find the feature that they need. After all, you aren't the only fish in the pond. Particularly in SaaS, where the market is full of really, really great solutions, big and small, for every niche. 

How do you find out what the prospect needs? You run a great discovery. If they don't want to invest time in discovery, then at least, do a discovery demo


I've written a fair bit about running great demos. If I could give you just one tip though - it would be to be relevant. Start with what is most relevant to the customer, and keep your solution lens on. The customer isn't interested in your features, unless they're packaged as solutions to his very specific problem. Don't lecture, don't spray and pray, and don't dive into rabbit holes. Stay focused on the outcome - you want this prospect to see the value in your solution, right now. He'll get the details later anyway. 

We all want to be great at what we do, and we all develop blind spots from time to time. For me, personally, the approach that has worked best is to solicit feedback: I've always set time (be it monthly or weekly) with key stakeholders who are invested in my growth and performance, to give me feedback on what I'm doing well, and what I'm not shining at. It usually takes people a couple of times to open up, and in the meantime, it's been on me to keep myself humble, because I know the real feedback will come. 

None of us is on the money, all the time. The difference is that the best amongst us, are always learning from when we aren't.