Learn from my mistakes.

We say a lot of things during demos: some are scripted, some are improvised, and all are aimed at getting you and your prospect in agreement. However, not all words are equal, and there are some words and phrases that can push the needle the other way. 

a man asking for silence

I’ve already taken a deep dive into what you shouldn't DO in your demo, now let’s get into some things you can avoid saying. I want to preface this by telling you that I have said these things during demos. I have been there myself and I am not talking as a master, but as a learner. I have observed the effect of these play out firsthand. 

Let my mistakes light the road you needn't travel. 

Here goes: 

“I’m going to skip these slides” 

You’re in presentation mode, and skimming through your demo deck at breakneck speed. It's making your prospect dizzy. You come off as unprepared and it makes it look like you have a standard demo deck that you didn't bother customizing for this meeting. However, it does happen. There will be times when you will do just that (not out of choice, but a necessity) and you'll need to reframe how it comes across to the prospect. 

You can try saying, “We have limited time together today. So, I’d like to show you things that are of utmost relevance to you.” This is a stronger reframe that lets your prospect know that he's in charge, and it is his time and convenience that are being valued here. 

“That’s a Great Question” (after every question!)

So, so patronizing. Not to mention annoying, after the first two times you do it. 

Mix it up, and save “great question” for the truly great questions. Consider other phrases like: “That’s something I hadn’t thought about before,” or “I’m so happy you asked that question.” What I like to do is rephrase the prospect’s question to show my understanding. It helps clear up misconceptions and makes them elaborate their question which gives me more insight about WHY they are asking it in the first place. 

“As I said…” OR “Like I said before…”

This is a pet peeve of mine. The prospect asks a question, and you respond. And then the prospect asks you the same question again. Maybe you didn't answer the question to their satisfaction, or maybe you misunderstood the question or maybe the prospect didn't understand what you just said! If you start your response with, “Well, as I said…”, think about how insulting that is. How do you respond when someone does that to you? A prospect who is gritting their teeth isn't one who will give you business.  

It isn't the prospect’s job to understand what you’re saying, so when they ask a question, treat it as the opportunity it is. 

“Do we have a hard stop at xx?”

You have a meeting scheduled and the prospect has given you dedicated time for your demo. When you ask if the prospect has a “hard stop”, you put them off because then they assume that the demo is going to spill over into whatever they have scheduled next. It makes you seem unprofessional and it makes them impatient (and makes them want to multi-task already, given that you're going to spill into whatever they had planned earlier). 

Instead, ask, “We’re scheduled to go till 4pm. Does anyone need to leave earlier?” This elicits the same sort of response but in reverse. 

My advice? Always end your demo early. I've never had anyone complain when a meeting ends early. I generally schedule my demos with a buffer of 10 minutes. Then, when the demo ends before time and I give them back 10 minutes of their day, they are far more likely to schedule the next meeting with me. 

“I don’t want to go into too much detail about this”

Again, this comes back to the purpose of the meeting. The prospect is here to ask questions. If they ask something, ideally, you should answer it in the meeting. However, if the meeting is running over time or the question is too technical, or it warrants a whole other discussion, consider offering a brief response right away and offer a follow-up discussion (preferably offline) to discuss the rest.  

You can probably say, “Those are some very interesting questions but in order to make sure we accomplish our goal today though, I'll get back to you post the demo on that.”  Or, you can swap things out according to what’s most important to your prospect. Say, “Hey, if we go down that path right now, which we can, that means I won’t be able to show you the Accounts Payable module. Do you have a preference?”. Managing your time is crucial here. 

“We have a lot to cover!”

You’ve already made me anxious. Are we going to get through it all? Will this demo make me late for my next meeting? All you need to say is, “Here’s what we’re going to cover, today, in the next 40 minutes,” and take them through your agenda slide. 

“The competitor doesn’t do this”

Personally, I prefer to highlight my own value, independent of what the competition is offering. Particularly in SaaS, where things move so rapidly, it is a bad idea to compare your product offerings with that of the competition. Even if the competitor doesn't offer the functionality the prospect is looking for today, chances are, they will, by the time you're in implementation. Best not to comment on someone else's business, over which you have no control or influence. 

You can highlight and emphasize features that you can provide that you know are competitive advantages. Make them want to ask your competitors about what you’re showing since you know that what you’re showing is best.

Another way to address the competition but without badmouthing them is in the context of your customers. Say, “Many of the executives that I work with, who bought our software and also looked at our competitors said they chose our software because of this XYZ feature.” Direct and professional is the way to go here.  

“It’s easy.”

You’re in your solution all the time, of course, it’s easy for you, what about your audience though? Have you just taken them through a blinding array of screens and clicks till their eyes glazed over and it prompted you to say 'It's easy? Think about why you felt the need to say it. 

I recommend simplifying your demo, instead. If you need to tell someone that it's easy, it probably isn't. 

“This feature is amazing/so cool!”

It’s your product, of course, you find it cool. You’re biased (that's a good thing, by the way), and you need to be careful not to over-hype things. We know what happens there - your enthusiasm builds theirs up, and then if the feature doesn't deliver to those (heightened) expectations, you've got a flop on your hands. If the feature is exciting, let the prospect feel their excitement without you prompting them. It is much more appropriate to acknowledge their excitement and then build on it by showing them things that you know they’ll find cooler. 


Learn from my mistakes

Every demo, every meeting, and every email adds to the pros and cons, in the prospects' minds, of partnering with you. The smoother these interactions are, the less friction they have, and the more likely that the sale goes through. As a sales engineer, you're in it for the long haul - you're the guy who will probably have the most face time with the client organization. It is doubly important that they like you. 

And while the odd 'Like I explained before' won't cost you a deal, it will establish you as 'prickly'. Prickly is an adjective you want to avoid, as is cocky, over-enthusiastic, pushy, annoying, bombastic… you get my drift. Start with this list, but don't stop there. The best sales engineers I know seek out feedback from their sales reps on the softer elements of their demos. 

Feedback is our friend. Let it fuel you.