Melissa Swartz | No Jitter | March 4, 2015

No-Jitter-Logo-borderDo demonstrations really win deals? Yes. And they lose them too.

As consultants, we see a lot of demonstrations as we work with our clients to find the best solution for their needs. Most of these are not at an Executive Briefing Center; they are done “out in the field”. Typically the system is presented at a location that is local for the client by people whose jobs are not centered solely on system demonstrations.

Here is a true story of three demonstrations that were given to our client. The client had a committee of 8 people (a combination of IT staff and business users) who were tasked with making the decision. After issuing an RFP and evaluating responses, they had narrowed the field down to the top three contenders who were asked to present their systems. Each company was provided with the same agenda outlining the topics that the committee wanted to cover, along with a time frame for each topic indicating the relative importance to the committee.

Demonstration 1
The customer committee was asked to come to the manufacturer’s demonstration center, which was a very high tech environment. The room had a large conference table, plush comfortable chairs, two large screens, and many models of phones at the edges of the room (behind the committee seated around the table). Most of the presentation centered around what appeared to be a canned PowerPoint presentation on the system and its capabilities. It was not tailored to the customer’s needs as outlined in the RFP. Many of the capabilities that were covered in the slides were not included in the proposed system, and were not relevant to the customer’s situation. When the presenter asked if they had any questions, one committee member asked which of the phones arrayed around the room would be the ones they would be getting. The presenter had to tell them that the phones that were actually proposed were not on display in the room, but he could show them a picture of the phone and tell them how it would work.

Demonstration 2
The customer committee again visited a manufacturer’s demonstration center. The center had a small conference table that was separate from the equipment demonstration area. The committee was crowded together around the conference table sitting in rigid metal chairs for a relatively short PowerPoint presentation. Then they were taken to the demonstration area to see the phones. The presenter demonstrated the use of the phones while the committee crowded around him trying to see what he was doing. He then demonstrated the desktop client on a 19″ computer screen, showing the presence and other UC features, while the committee again crowded together, straining to see over his shoulder. The committee was kept standing for almost an hour as they were shown how the system worked and the presenter answered their questions. When asked, “Can your system do …” the presenter explained how the system would provide that capability.

Demonstration 3
This demonstration was held at the customer’s offices in their conference room. The vendor arrived early and set up a small system in the middle of the conference table with various proposed phone models at each seat in front of the committee members. They used a large screen in the room to project a very short PowerPoint, then moved to demonstrate the system by having the committee members use the phones to experience how they worked. They demonstrated the desktop client on the large screen where everyone could see it from where they sat, and they had a couple of committee members create instant messages to each other and change their presence status. When asked, “Can your system do …” they set it up on the fly and demonstrated how that capability would work on the system.

And the winner was…Demonstration 3. They made their system seem really simple. The committee members didn’t have to ask themselves, “Could I use this phone?” because they WERE using the phone. They saw their peers using the desktop client and could see that it was easy to use. And every question was answered by showing them the capability, rather than telling about it.

So many times those of us who work in the industry lose sight of where potential customers are coming from, especially when there is a buying committee with a large percentage of business users. They aren’t familiar with technical terms. Even the most basic industry terminology can be confusing to them. And they don’t care about system architecture or how easy the system is to support–those are IT problems.

When demonstrating to such a committee, remember that to them, their individual user interface (whether it’s a phone, desktop application, or a mobile device) is the only part of the system that has relevance to them. All the rest is “technical stuff”, behind the scenes and complicated. Unless you know that the audience is technically oriented, you should focus on presenting your system in simple terminology with emphasis on the user interface.

Don’t overlook the environmental factors of a presentation. When people are unable to see what you are presenting (due to distance, crowding, or other factors) they become frustrated. If the environment is uncomfortable (rigid chairs, too much standing) then your presentation is associated in their minds with discomfort.

Tailor your presentation to the capabilities the customer is interested in, rather than the full feature list available. Ask yourself, “What problem are they trying to solve?” If you can’t answer that, you have homework to do before you present. No one goes to the trouble of replacing their communication technology without a reason; it’s way too much trouble.

While canned presentation materials may be a good place to start, it is very important to tailor them to the customer’s environment. Using customer terminology, site names, etc. lets them visualize your system in their environment–this is what you want! Failing to do this customization sends the message that you don’t care or are too busy, and makes them question whether you will really take care of them if they buy from you.

Remember that “showing” is much more powerful than “telling”. Many people tune out when presenters read slides to them. But an experience where they actually use the technology can be very powerful. If you can show them how to solve their problem in the demonstration, you have a great chance to earn the business.

Interactive presentations are much more engaging than lectures, so encourage questions from the audience. Their questions should give you an indication of what is important to them. This may lead you in a direction you had not planned on, but by addressing the interests of the audience you will be seen as someone who is concerned about their needs.

Be sure to build time into your presentation for questions and answers so you don’t exceed your time limit. You don’t want the decision maker to move on to another meeting before you are through presenting.

For the situations where the audience is a mix of business users and IT staff, it is wise to organize the presentation so that the material for the business users is presented first. Once that is complete, the business users can be given the option to leave while the IT staff remains for a more technical discussion.

I have seen many situations where prior to the demonstrations, the client was leaning towards one system. Afterwards, they decided to go with a different system. Demonstrations do win business.

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