Traditional sales technique tells us to stick to the script and the sales are guaranteed. While this may be the most comfortable approach, it’s rarely the most effective or, surprisingly, the most efficient.

a teacher looking at a whiteboard

There are many kinds of shyness and confidence. Some of us are great in front of the camera, and some, like me, aren't. Put me in a one-on-one conversation, or even a small group, I'm a totally different person. Especially when it's a topic I am passionate about, or a topic I am knowledgeable about. 

This is interpersonal confidence, a trait that most of us salespeople share. This is also what our parents' generation called the 'gift of the gab'. It holds us in great stead when we're thrown into situations where we have to build relationships out of thin air - we're comfortable with small talk, with getting the prospect to open up and talk about their problems, and the most successful sales reps and sales engineers I know combine these skills with superior listening skills. 

Demos though are a whole other thing. Demos involve screens. And jargon. And glitchy bits. And inconvenient questions. And they're often custom. IMHO demos seem to involve 'public speaking more than they involve interpersonal confidence. You need to go in fully prepared, and preferably, with a script. Or so I thought. 

Script or no script? 

In my early days as a sales rep, I realized that having a script gave me much better results than freewheeling it. I knew all the things I wanted to say, I would work with my sales engineer to put them together in a punchy script (add in-jokes, even!) and then practice my heart out. This was possible because, in my early days, I wasn't thrown curveball after curveball. I also had more time to prepare. Moreover, my bosses were giving me the softer clients - the ones they knew were suitable for my skill level. 

However, as I worked my way up to more demanding clients and tighter timelines, scripts just weren't working. In fact, they became downright counterproductive. A client would jump in and ask a question I didn't know the answer to, or want to look at a screen I was new to, or just want me to 'skip to the good bit', and I would just bomb. All that flow and panache I had built into my script? Gone. All my confidence? Also gone. I would stumble through the rest of the demo, missing key bits because I was used to presenting in a particular flow. 

Scripts weren't adding to my confidence anymore, they were taking it away. We carry a heavy mental load during demos: making sure everyone from the prospect team is engaged, watching body language, keeping the conversation flowing when there are objections… It's a lot. Now add the burden of having to say everything you want to say from memory. You know the first thing that happens to me when I get nervous? I blank - my memory turns into an external hard drive that doesn't connect to the main device. And it's not just me. 

The right prompt, at the right time. 

Like all sales reps who get to this point, I found a happy medium between freewheeling and scripts: a guideline. Just enough detail to cue me in on what I wanted to talk about, but not enough to pigeonhole me into a particular way of saying it, or lock me into a particular flow. By this time, my improved product knowledge could easily compensate for the lack of a script. 

I would have all my cue cards ready in the form of a slide deck that I kept open, but didn't project. So now if the prospect wanted to jump all over the agenda, they could! As long as I had a well-organized deck that allowed me to jump along with them, it wasn't a problem. Even when I was pulled into last-minute demos, this was a much better approach as my sales engineer or I didn't need to edit a full-blown script! My trusty cue deck could be updated quickly, and it grew to fit the many custom demos I was increasingly involved in. 

That's not to say that the system was perfect. Far from it. Whenever the client messed with the order of things, it involved me madly flipping from slide to slide, to find the one I needed. It also created gaps - the client would jump from A to E to C to D, and by the end of the demo, I'd have lost sight of B. Moreover, it kept me from being present in the room (hard to do, when you're fighting a PowerPoint for information!). All of us salespeople have some variation of this system, and it fails us pretty regularly.

A second brain 

 A second brain

Where it doesn't fail us is in team selling. What the sales rep misses, the sales engineer covers, and vice versa. I love playing assistant to a strong sales rep: I get to keep an eye on body language cues and catch the subtext of everything that's going on, while my sales rep does the heavy lifting with the demo. I get to jump in and course-correct from time to time, answer questions in chat (if it's a virtual demo) and in general, act as a second brain to the sales rep. 

How often does this happen? Not enough. Because for the most part, sales teams are usually stretched pretty thin. Sales engineers, in particular, have several competing priorities, and playing the second brain to a sales rep is far, far down on that list. The expectation is that sales rep needs to be able to manage, by themselves. 

This was the need I set out to address with my SaaS baby, SmartCue. The idea came from, believe it or not, an Iron Man movie where Jarvis saved Iron Man from certain death by the right cue, at the right time. I remember thinking, this is exactly what sales reps need during demos! And then I spent the next 10 years refining the idea, and finally, building my product. 

SmartCue lets you put cues in context - so it pops up with cues in line with where your mouse is pointing. Believe me, you'll never need another script or guideline again. It also tracks your agenda - so now, instead of flipping through slide decks, you just follow the prospect into the screen they want to explore, and SmartCue brings you right back into your agenda. Also, it links with other demos you've made, so if the prospect wants to go into a screen you didn't prep for, that's okay! SmartCue can pull cues from other demos, and let you walk the customer through the screen with ease. Did I mention that creating your demo in SmartCue takes little or no effort? 

Why does it work so well? It's a tool made for, of and by the people who use it (Ahem)! I designed SmartCue when I used to be a sales engineer, and a lot of my sales rep friends have fed into it over the years. Now, I work with sales engineers and reps in my clients' organizations to continue to refine SmartCue to work with an increasing number of use cases. Like all good products, it is constantly evolving

Irrespective of the tools and systems you use for your demo, there are certain demo best practices that will always set you apart. The best salespeople I know are lifelong learners and they learn not just by reading or doing or through formal education, but by a combination of all these methods. So, invest in yourself. Experiment with different styles of learning, different tools and systems, different mentors and buddies… anything and everything that can give you the edge you need to bring your best to the job. 

We all have our gifts, it's time to let yours shine.