Pre-Sales Best Practices

22 Critical Lessons Learned for Conducting Pre-Sales Demo’s

Table of Contents

Pre-Sales Demo's

When it comes to selling enterprise class software, whether it is SAP, Hubspot, Oracle or any other complex system, you will almost certainly have to plan, practice and deliver what is called a Pre-Sales Demonstration. After having participated in well over 200 pre-sales demonstrations, the majority of which were for SAP, I’ve come up with a set of experience based ‘Pre-Sales Best Practices’ which I wanted to share.

 

A Complex Process

The basic process of delivering an effective Pre-Sales demonstration actually has several defined stages, some of which the customer is aware of and many that they are not. Broadly defined, those stages can be defined as the before, during and after. Within the SAP world, we refine that to become Discovery, Demonstration, Follow-Up and Closing. Let’s explore each further.

 

Discovery

 

  1. What's a discovery session?

    • For most large software purchases, there is some sort of requirements document that is generated by the client. Often, this process is performed by 3rd parties, but can also be conducted by internal team members. It is always a combination of people. As a rule, most companies do not maintain a staff of people on their own payroll whose only job is to perform this system level analysis. The larger a company, the more complex and formal the requirements will be. Conversely, the smaller the company, the more likely the requirements are incomplete.

    • That’s what Discovery is all about. Taking a look at the known requirements, seeing what else you can discover about the true requirements, and ultimately, mapping those requirements back to your own software or system’s capability.

  2. What are the elements of an effective Discovery session?

    • Thorough preparation by highly experienced experts is the number one element of success. Ideally, you want your discovery team members to be both experts with their particular piece of your software solution and experts with your client's business. Your team should, of course, be equipped with the RFP and your answers, if available. But the entire point of conducting discovery is to ask the questions that reveal the true requirements that your prospects actually have. The experience of the team should also lead them to asking questions that your prospect had not thought of before, and ideally, questions that lead to being able to demonstrate the highest value points of your solution.

  3. How do you connect the problems that you identified during your Discovery session with what you're going to demo during your previous demo?

    • A typical RFP or requirements document will run to thousands of lines of requirements. Practically speaking, you won’t be able to demonstrate your solution to every one of the detailed requirements outlined in the RFP.  But you will have been asked to provide written answers as to whether your solution covers the requirement. In those instances where you have stated it does not but can be covered by developments, you will be asked to provide some sort of estimate as to the development effort in terms of time, complexity and cost.

    • The reason you won’t be able to demonstrate your solution's ability to meet every single requirement is normally because the client has put time limits on how much time you will be allowed to demo. Therefore, your team will need to focus on demonstrating the key differentiators of your system, versus your competition. In many cases, the client will also have designated certain critical processes as ‘must see’ while others can be skipped but still must be answered. Keep in mind that all demo’s, statements, and documentation you provided throughout the process will ultimately go into the final decision-making process.

    • They will also normally be used to validate that what you said was covered during this phase is actually covered during the implementation. So it is absolutely critical that everything is accurate.

Demonstration Phase

 

  1. How do you prepare to conduct a good pre-sales demo?

    • In an ideal world, you will, concurrently with the your Discovery sessions, have also been working on your business case development. Therefore, keeping in mind you won’t be able to cover every known requirement and will be time-limited by the client, you must first decide on your demo SAP agenda (in the case of where you are demonstrating SAP). Let’s us say, for clarity's sake, you have a 4 thousand line RFP, and it covers all of the core functionality of Finance, Controlling, Materials Management, Sales and Distribution, Extended Warehouse Management and Analysis.

    • By now, you will need to have appointed a Project Manager, or demo team lead. If left to their own devices, every specialist will decide to demonstrate absolutely every capability of their module. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN.

    • Prepare an ERP software demo script that allows the key points of each module to be demonstrated in from one-to-three hours. Within each hour of demo script, assume for your demo process you can demonstrate about 1 key point about every 5 minutes. For a system like SAP, this means all of the configuration required to execute the erp sales demo script has to be done on your demo box prior to the actual delivery so you can dry run SAP. Never demonstrate live. Always make recordings. In years past, live demo’s were how we did it and often times, if we recorded it, clients would assert we were trying to fool them. Then, when it glitched, as live systems being used for a purpose for which it was not designed, which is as a pre-sales system, we would look bad. The solution was both simple and time consuming. Record the session. If you can’t prepare a recording that shows the functional point you want to show, then you don’t have enough knowledge about your client’s requirements. Even today, I still run across demo teams spit-balling it live, and sure enough, it blows up in their face.

    • With the data point I just provided, you can see that, if you let people ask you questions for about 15 minutes per hour, you can expect to hit about 9 points per one hour session. That’s why it is critical not just to put together a demo agenda, it is also critical to do dry-runs.  It's also critical to get this right so you know how to close a sales demo, which is on-time.

  2. Here's why I always insist on doing dry runs of pre-sales demos

    • You might think I am talking only about complex SAP demo scenarios. All of these ‘demo best practices’ and experienced based recommendations are equally applicable to Hubspot, the CRM platform I’ve used for 11 years and consider myself a master of. When you have a large pipeline of Sales Opportunities, it is often difficult to invest the time it takes to do this right. But preparation is critical to winning, and the dry-run is one of the pre sales best practices and is the equivalent of the practice games professional level sports teams play. What happens when you don’t conduct an effective dry run? Has this ever happened to me. Sadly, it has and cost me dearly.

    • One of my global customers had initiated a search for a new email marketing system. This particular entity literally covers the globe and thus, had an enormous email contact database. Frankly, they had not really done their homework when it came to requirements analysis. However, I brought in an enterprise email Sales Engineer and asked for time with her prior to the client demo. For this demo, sales despite repeated attempts, never had such a meeting, nor agenda, nor conducted further discovery. You can guess how this story ends. The client came to the meeting with many expectations that we could have demonstrated, had we known about them and taken the time to set up a demo that addressed it. Instead, the Sales Engineer spent most of the time trying to qualify the client for budget (global concern, essentially unlimited budget) and did not demonstrate the differentiating factors of the email system, of which we have an overwhelming number of. Needless to say, we didn’t walk away with that one. I am not afraid to let you know about a loss; you learn from them, however much it hurts.

    • Conversely, and I wrote about what I consider a highly successful pre-sales event in my recently released book, “KNOWING WHAT YOU SELL: THE KEY TO DOMINATE YOUR MARKET”. In this Pre-Sales demonstration, which would ultimately last for 3 weeks, things very went. In this case, we were demonstrating the entire SAP Solution Map for the Railroad Industry. I believe it was 32 different specific modules. To pull this off, we had first answered an extensive RFP, done inconclusive discovery, and finally, had decided to demonstrate the whole shebang.  When you demonstrate SAP software, it cost money, a lot of money.
      However, to get the maximum value out of it, I put my entire team in a hotel for a series of rehearsals. In short, I played customer and watched them conduct demo's every element in the SAP Solution for the Rail Industry. I asked every question I could think of, tried to take them off course. When I was finally satisfied that we were ready to play, we hit the field, and delivered the demo’s.
      For three solid weeks, my team delivered 3 hour demonstrations every day on the customer site. Even still, we did not come close to demonstrating every single functionality specified in the RFP. That was never the point. The point was to show we had the solution and could make it work for them, better than anybody else could. We won. Yes, we spent a lot of pre-sales dollars on it. But the payoff was, in hard dollar terms, more than worth it. Do you prepare for your pre-sales demonstrations with the same level of expertise?

  3. How do you conduct a good pre-sales demo?

    • There are really three core components to successfully conducting an effective pre-sales demo:

      • Environment
        • The environment for conducting a demo includes both the physical and technical infrastructure. If you’re going to spend thousands of dollars of developing and delivering a demo, which is not unusual, then you must make sure the conference room where it will be conducted is up to the task. If it is not, then you must move it to one that is, typically a hotel meeting room.

        • The technical infrastructure must also be up to the task or fit for purpose. That means you have your servers connected via high-speed internet, even though you will be delivering canned demo’s. Why? Because sometimes, you’re going to be forced to go off script and amateurs will allow it. You will also sometimes need to make updates to your recordings based on feedback coming in from preceding demonstrations.
      • People
        • The people part of this equation is probably the most difficult to solve for. From your side, you need people to deliver the demonstration who are experts with the software and are practiced at public speaking. The single most important skill they will need is the ability to listen to audience feedback and provide answers, on the fly. Some call this active listening. It is more akin to an actor delivering a live performance and adjusting his delivery based on the audience’s reactions. It’s a subtle difference, and comes only from practice. From the client side, you need the right people in the room. How do you know they’re the right people? It’s a judgement call, but at a minimum, the person who ‘owns’ the requirement on the RFP and that you will be demonstrating to, needs to be there. They can’t send their designated representatives. The higher up you go, as in the ‘C’ suite, the more likely you will encounter this. But stick to your guns. There’s also very likely to be third parties invited to these. Be very selective here about who you agree to allow in. Don’t be afraid to say no.
      • Project Management
        • Though the Sales person (no matter what they are called) ultimately has to be conducting sales activities and will close the deal, during the Pre-Sales demo, someone has to act as Master of Ceremonies throughout the process. During the pre-sales demo, someone needs to be monitoring, taking notes and otherwise making sure things are moving along. It is this person who has to know how to do pre sales and will know whether subsequent demo scenarios need to be adjusted. The Master of Ceremonies has to make sure everyone is following these presales best practices. In other words, this is the spine that ties the whole thing together.
  1. How long should a pre-sales demo run?

    • This depends, of course, on what you have to cover. That said, as a general rule, treat a demo as an Adult Learning Environment situation. In particular, I call upon my experience in the United States Air Force (USAF), where I ended up attending, during a 14 year career, three and half years of technical training. They had a very strict rule. Every class consisted of 55 minute sessions, maximum. If it was highly technical, such as the case with my C-130 Flight Engineer training, this was reduced to +_ 45 minutes. That turns out to be about the maximum a human brain can pay attention.

    • Given that in almost every case, your client’s people will have other jobs, I would target no more than 3 hours of demo’s per day, ideally in the morning. Avoid evening demonstrations.

    • If you have to demonstrate a single ‘thing’, such as enterprise email, it is rare that it will require more than a one hour demo, two at the outside, unless you’re demonstrating the same thing to different audiences.

  2. How many people should be a pre-sales demo?

    • Though I have been in demonstrations where 250 people showed up, which was ineffective, the usual is to have two or three from the client side, who are the Subject Matter Experts or SMEs. It’s possible that there will be more, but if there are, expect your script to run long or to get pushed off scheduled.

    • The secret to success here is to set up everything in advance by sending out meeting invites, and making sure you get firm commits. If you do not get the magic little green check box in your calendar, reschedule, no exceptions. Your client’s project manager will play a key role here. But you, the Pre-Sales Project Manager, must make sure this critical element is completely taken care off, well in advance.  This is the difference between pre sales and post sales demo's. 
      Once it sold, you may have to deliver demonstrations to keep it sold or to upsell something, but the client is now a paying client.  Another major difference between sales and presales is that presales is almost always focused on functionality vs sales which is focused on getting the signature on the line that is dotted.  This isn't the only difference between presales and post sales but is a key one to be aware of.  If not managed properly, pre-sales can stretch on far beyond 'demonstrating' and well into teaching.

  3. How do you keep from committing demo crimes and what are the demo crimes that have been identified in the past?

    • There is a fairly famous document floating around, 22 Demo Crimes, whose origin comes from a book, Demonstrating To Win!: The Indispensable Guide for Demonstrating Complex Products, by Robert Riefstahl.  There are many demo crimes outlined in both the document and the book. But two of the most critical ones are:

      • Going off script because you love your software and just have to show a functionality – even though it isn’t part of the script

      • Not tying what you’re showing back to the requirement specified by the client and ultimately to the benefit

    • If you read through enough demo "How to" books, and attend enough pre-sales demonstration like I have, you finally figure out that it all comes down to be thoroughly prepared with a definite goal in mind.  That can be tough especially if you're asked to demo SAP sales cloud or any of the nearly 1300+ products on the SAP price list.  You can't know everything, but you have know your stuff about what your demonstrating.

  4. What is the desired outcome of conducting a pre-sales demo?

    • Seems like an obvious question, but surprisingly, it is not always clear to everyone. But generally speaking, ultimately, it is to get your prospect to buy your solution. However, that’s just one goal. No doubt the most important goal. However, there are many other goals that are also being met, often accidently. For very large projects, where the list of requirements may run to thousands of lines and the demonstration may have cost many tens of thousands of dollars to deliver, there is at least one other goal – to define a future roadmap. You see, even if a client has the financial means to take on a major project, they may not have the risk tolerance to take it on all at once. For many projects, that may stretch on for years, it is best to get something live, then deliver additional functionality every so many months. That large scale initial pre-sales demo can help cement this plan in place.

    • The other major goal is to achieve that coveted ‘Trusted Advisor’ status. This is not something that you can just ‘target and acquire’, but rather, happens via accretion over time. Within the complex world of enterprise software, the acquisition of truly deep expertise takes a while and is highly valued by clients.

Follow-Up Phase

 

  1. When is it most effective to conduct a customer reference visit?

    • This one is tricky. In almost 100% of the opportunities I’ve worked, the first thing the customer ask for, with great insistence, is customer references. And with almost 100% assurance, even when I have had dozens available, I have found it best to push back for just a bit. Why?

    • First off, you must not abuse your customer references. They may be willing to be a customer reference, but they have other jobs. Customer references in highly sought out locales can find themselves overwhelmed with request for onsite visits by your prospects.

    • The right answer turns out to be, is when your prospect has been through your demo’s and is almost convinced, yet still wants to hear how other customers have fared with your solution.

    • There’s also a cost and timing issue. The further away in time a customer reference occurs, the less likely it is to be effective. Keep this in mind when planning these things. Trust me, it makes a difference to your outcomes.

  2. What's the technique to follow when setting up a customer reference visit?

    • Like all other aspects of the pre-sales process, of which I consider this a part, you need to set up and follow a script. That means your customer should want to see specific functionality versus just a general ‘feelzy’ visit. In my experience, there are really two broad categories of reference visits:

      • Functionality Focused

      • Implementation Experience Focused

    • For the functionality focused visit, it is best to provide your reference customer with a list of specific functionalities the prospect wants to see, while providing the reference customer with room to show them other aspects they consider important. This is because these are educational in nature visits.

    • For implementation focused visits, it is probably best to put them in touch with the reference client’s PMO if they have one, but if possible, the ‘C’ suite for a general assessment of the overall experience.

  3. Should you ever allow a customer to just have contact with a customer reference without a script? - the answer is no!

    • The short answer to this one is you can’t prevent it. Afterall, you most likely have your best reference customers listed on your website and your prospects will have found them and contacted them. There’s nothing wrong with this, even if it means you don’t quite have the level of control you would normally like to have.

  4. Why do you have to conduct pre-sales demos with sap software or any other software for that matter?

    • The short answer is, habit. It hasn’t always been necessary. However, for most large companies, a system like SAP or Hubspot, will radically impact their environment. As COTS or Commercial-Off-the-Shelf software, a concept that gained wide acceptance in the 1990s, such systems are designed to supplant existing legacy systems. Legacy does not mean bad. It usually represents systems that took years to develop and are highly functional from the perspective of the customer who has spent years building them. However, all such systems reach the end of their service life and eventually must be replaced. For many other scenarios, the business is faced with totally new requirements which are not currently covered by their existing inhouse systems. For many requirements, COTS software offers many advantages and prospects are searching for solutions that are only technically or financial feasible using a COTS approach.

    • For many of my smaller customers, they have only cloud based systems and do not spend much more time on making an acquisition decision than I do on buying yet another copy of office. They are generally below $100,000,000 in revenue and are very young enterprises, often founded on a system like Hubspot to start with.

  5. What are the goals that customers are actually trying to achieve by spending their time watching your pre-sales demo?

    • Typically, they are validating that what you said your software will do versus their requirements is actually true.  This is how define presales.  

    • They are also getting a ‘look and feel’ sense of your solution.

    • They are also getting some free education and also seeing if your team uncovered requirements they missed.

    • Most of all, it is part of the mutual ‘Trust’ building exercise. Both parties are deciding whether they want to work with each other. I’ve seen many times when we ultimately took a pass on a customer because the fit and feeling wasn’t there.   Within the IT space, the working environment is often very, very difficult, to say the least.

  6. What are the prerequisites for doing a pre-sales demo?

    • Aside from the items I mentioned about the proper set up and conducting of a Pre-Sales demo, there are business prerequisites that you must keep in mind:

      • Qualified in or out. As complex sales is very expensive, only large players can even countenance pursuing large deals. Given the cost of these deals, Sales Management will seek to qualify out as quickly as possible every deal. What does that translate into in practical terms? You may be familiar with terms like BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) or any number of other qualification frameworks and methodologies. All they are is a way to determine whether you’re speaking to a tire-kicker or a legit buyer. Keep in mind, tire-kickers often turn into legit buyers down the road. So it is a tough decision to kick them to the curb. But it has to be done. If you’re going to spend days, weeks or months of expensive pre-sales time preparing and delivering a demo, you better have a good feel for whether this deal is going to happen, and when. You will be asked to commit to it in a specific time frame, and it will be in your CRM as such. If you end up pushing more deals out instead of pulling more deals in, your trust worthiness as an Account Executive will soon be called into question.

      • Sales Process.  For a company like SAP or Hubspot, who have highly defined and refined sales processes, which ALWAYS include multiple business case type tools, a pre-requisite will be whether you are close enough to your customer to have been allowed to build the business case. If you cannot prove you’re the best solution from a business case perspective, then you’re not meeting the pre-requisites of qualifying a prospect for further pre-sales activities.

      • Exit Criteria.  Finally, your pre-sales team, who also get comp’d for successful sales, will have their own entry and exit criteria. If your prospect doesn’t meet them, expect the Demo Team to take a pass.
  1. How long after a pre-sales demo should the next step in the sales process be?

    • Ideally, immediately. Realistically, it will probably take from one to two weeks all the way up to six months for your prospect to consolidate their notes about your demo and view competitors demo’s. The secret to success with this question is for your AE’s to have a commit from the client on these dates, prior to starting any demo. Even if they subsequently get moved, at least you have something to measure. Knowing this is usually critical to managing the various team’s timelines on other deals.

  2. What's the difference between conducting a pre-sales demo online versus conducting it face-to-face?

    • From a technical perspective and given the experience of 2020-21 of doing it via Zoom, I’ve got to give it a fail. It’s really no challenge to demonstrate the software remotely. However, it is a huge challenge to establish and maintain the Human-to-Human contact that comes from the typical demo. That said, we’re probably going to see many more complex demonstrations delivered this way. I don’t expect to see purely cloud based systems, such as Hubspot to be demonstrated on-premise but this could change as they add more functionality, as they continuously do.

    • If given the choice, and physically allowed to, get in front of your customer every chance you can.

  3. When you’re conducting a demo online, you need someone to man the chat box versus just letting one person do the demo and answer the questions.

    • For many demo’s, you will be using systems like Microsoft Teams to deliver demonstrations. They work ok (just), especially when the teams are large and dispersed geographically. However, don’t expect the guy delivering the demo to do well if he is not supported by knowledgeable experts manning the chat. This is where the important functionality questions will flow in and most importantly, can be recorded so you can follow-up after the demonstration. It’s a newish way of delivering, but still requires massive preparation on the part of the demo team.

  4. What are some of the Technologies you can use to conduct an online pre-sales demo?

    • I’ve already mentioned Microsoft Teams, which is very common in the Fortune 500 and below. I’ve also used Skype (both the free version and paid) and of course, Zoom.  I’ve actually had great luck with Facebook and for quick, stable almost everywhere, Apple Messages. Whichever platform you use, make sure everyone has access to it before your demo.

  5. How much money should you be willing to invest in conducting a pre-sales demo?

    • As much as it takes. But realistically, this is a judgement call. If the value of the deal is ultimately small, say $100,000, then you can’t invest much in it. However, the right answer here is how much are you willing to invest to acquire a customer, which is really an accounting and finance question going back to what is your break-even. If it is for a larger dollar deal, say, $20,000,0000 and up, then you shouldn’t blink when you end up dropping a hundred g on it, as I have often had to do. I know you will, cause, you know, Green Eye Shade crowd.

    • The real question, though, is are you spending enough. If you have a ‘whale’ on the line, and you find that your team(s) are trying to cut corners to keep cost in line, you should be asking if you’re focus is correct. Perhaps you should be shelling out money on paying for user group attendance, executive level meet and greets, and all of the other tools in your arsenal. That’s why I practice detailed territory planning with my teams.

  6. Who should be on your Virtual Account Team or VAT?

    • First off, let me explain what a VAT team is. It’s really just a way to assemble, tag, track and coordinate all the members of the team involved in the pursuit. That typically includes members of the Pre-Sales Team, the Account Executives, Principals, Business Consultants, and 3rd Parties. They will all incur cost, and it all needs to settle back to Controlling so you can track your cost of sales.
      Within the enterprise software space, people typically get issued what are called Internal Orders, or IOs, which are tied back to the opportunity. An IO will typically be for so many hours at the individuals FLC or Fully Loaded Cost rate. It is also possible that external resources will be needed, and they will be issued SOs or Sales Orders, which will be priced at whatever price that resource charges, which is going to be much more expensive than procuring services from your internal resource pool.
      However, if you need those services, and you need them fast, then you must spend the money. This can become a huge point of contention that often gums up the works, especially among service providers who will focus on pushing down cost, no matter what the impact is on the sales. There’s a lot more to be said about this topic, but for now, this should cover it.

Summary

 

Those are some key lessons and observations I’ve learned from leading, conducting, practicing, managing and ultimately closing deals during the past 30 years of working in the SAP and Hubpsot space (and Oracle and i2). I consider them critical to making sales, especially using the Inbound Sales methodology, which is what I specialize in. If you need help with setting up your pre-sales demonstration teams, managing the process and exploiting the powerful Inbound Sales approach, just complete the form and request your initial free consultation.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lonnie Ayers

About the Author: Lonnie Ayers is a Hubspot Certified Inbound Marketing consultant, with additional certifications in Hubspot Content Optimization, Hubspot Contextual Marketing, and is a Hubspot Certified Partner. Specialized in demand generation and sales execution, especially in the SAP, Oracle and Microsoft Partner space, he has unique insight into the tough challenges Service Providers face with generating leads and closing sales using the latest digital tools. With 15 years of SAP Program Management experience, and dozens of complex sales engagements under his belt, he helps partners develop and communicate their unique sales proposition. Frequently sought as a public speaker in various events, he is available for both inhouse engagements and remote coaching.
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He also recently released a book "How to Dominate Any Market - Turbocharging Your Digital Marketing and Sales Results", which is available on Amazon.

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