Ali Mirza on how to improve your SaaS demo

Giving a demo can evoke mixed feelings. If you believe you’re good, you’ll be thrilled at the thought of presenting your demo. If you’re insecure, it will be a sense of dread that sets in every time your eyes glimpse that 45-minute spot on your calendar.

In either case, fear not. This cloud has a silver lining.

Love it or hate it. Regardless, you probably aren’t that great at giving a demo. I’m not basing the above assertion off any data or hard evidence. Wait – before you get your pitchforks ready, please read the rest of this article. If you disagree with me, that’s fine and if you agree with me, that is fine too.

Recently, my company has been evaluating our tech stack and looking to upgrade to premium plans or even switch platforms. This transitional period has led me to many demo meetings that are all eerily similar. That’s not a good thing.

Here’s what those calls looked like:

All of them were nearly identical. Sure, they talk to me about my business, so by default there will be some parallel conversations. So that’s something. Still, that’s par for the course. Amidst these parallel conversations, they all have the same standard, ineffective scripts.

Last month, I had 10 demo calls. Every single one of them started the same way. The salesperson would ask me, “Is this a good time to talk?”


I get it.  You’ve been taught that it’s rude to interrupt someone, so you ask permission to take up some of their time. But here’s the thing: all 10 of those calls were already booked on my calendar.

I asked them to call me.

Even when I cold call someone, I don’t ask them if it’s a “good time to talk.” That alone is a topic for another blog post. If I have a booked meeting, the thought never even occurs.

So, if it’s not a good time, I will tell you – trust me. Don’t take up my time with negativity and insecurity. Instead, greet me with a warm and friendly opener. Get the conversation off to a positive and confident start.

Back to the first scenario. After some initial small talk about the weather and our cats, the salesperson inevitably tries to get some level of upfront commitment out of me. It goes something like this: “So tell me, why did you book your time to talk with me today?”

I understand setting expectations has a place. Seeing what’s actually important to me certainly has a place, too, but when you sound insincere and scripted, I know you are trying to sell me. And I know what follows. Once I tell you what I am looking for, you will try the old school close by saying “If I can show you X, would that satisfy you?” I know you are not trying to confirm what I stated; you are using the Socratic Method and trying to illicit a “yes” response from me.

Here’s why it doesn’t work, for salespeople or otherwise:

I am in sales, so I can see that coming from a mile away and easily define it. Someone who isn’t in sales may not be able to define it, but they will certainly be able to smell that sales pitch coming. Rather than starting your pitch, take a step back and try to understand me a little bit more.

Chances are, you have not gotten everything out of me yet. That may not be my real challenge or I may have other challenges that are more pressing. Ask deeper, pointed questions, get me to open up and guide me through the discovery process. Examine what I know and what I don’t know. This is part of what separates a successful demo from a failure.

You are supposed to be the expert.

Most of the sales reps I spoke to stopped asking questions after only the first question which was a lousy one at that. They didn’t even bother to comprehend what I was experiencing or probe to see what I needed to solve my problem or anything that I had done in the past. They simply launched into their demo, highlighting their own favorite features.

While they may be great features, you have no clue if they are relevant to me. Worse, based on the scripted questions you asked, I know you hardly understand my business, my challenges, and my needs!

I would much rather that someone spend 20 minutes of my time understanding what my problem is. I want them to understand exactly what it is that I am trying to accomplish. That takes patience, the willingness to listen, and knowing how to ask the right questions. I would rather see one, specific feature after we come to that understanding, than all the features. The great thing about that is that I will be able to verbalize and understand my own problem. Just because I am experiencing a pain, doesn’t mean I know what is causing it. If you ask great questions, we will collectively come to a realization as to what the solution should be.

That’s very different from asking one rushed, scripted question and then hurling a barrage of features and capabilities at me.

When you take the time to drill down into my challenge and prove that your solution provides a 100% “fix,” you will have the sale. Showing me all the great features and horsepower of your solution is not necessarily going to move me at all, unless you happen to hit it home on the first swing.

It keeps going downhill…

From here, I get the typical hyperbolic marketing speech that I don’t understand. I am not a technical person and I barely understand what you are talking about to begin with, so when you start adding superlatives to the conversation, you lose me.

Tell me what it does in plain English. I don’t want to hear that it’s a high-speed transportation enclosure, powered by fossil fuels and sitting atop cylindrical spheres of synthetic rubber. Just say “It’s a really fast car.”

Simple yet profound.

As the demo nears its end, I am more confused than I was before! Further, I get more questions that show me that the rep has no clue what I do and what I would use their services for. What’s painfully obvious is the fact that the rep is fishing to see if I will sign up. 

If you had done your job correctly and asked the proper questions, you would know whether you could solve my problem. And the decision whether to move forward would also be obvious.

In all the aforementioned demos – all 10 – not a single rep asked me what I did. This tells me right from the start that they have no concept of what I might use their product for. Also, 9 of the demos were via screen share. With one in particular, I simply called in from my phone and the rep didn’t seem aware that I couldn’t see his screen.

This is how disconnected some salespeople are. They are so worried about sticking to the script or trying to follow some arbitrary process that they forget to be a human and have a conversation. I say this even though I am in the business of setting up processes. I absolutely believe that you should have scripts and processes, they do help to guide the conversation when used tactfully. However, scripts don’t give you free rein to act like a brainless order-taker.

Furthermore, often times (too many times) during these demos, the rep would simply repeat my own words back to me. They clearly did not understand what I said, but pretended like they did. This makes the situation even worse. 

Giving a demo is actually very simple.

First, understand the problems that your solution solves. That means truly understanding when you can help and when you cannot.

Second, come up with a list of 10-15 questions that would help you to assess if your prospect suffers from that problem. If you can’t come up with those questions, you shouldn’t waste my time by trying to figure them out on the fly, as it will come across as obvious.

You don’t have to ask me all 15 questions; it’s not an interview. It should be a conversation. So, ask me the questions that are most applicable and use each question as a mini conversation starter. Again, this takes time in getting to know the prospect’s needs and challenges, so you can work those questions around fluidly and apply them properly. Weave them into the conversation. Further discussions and questions should spin from each question.

If you can do that, you will be able to identify if you can help me or not. If the answer is yes, then share your screen and show me how. But, if you can’t pinpoint it, cut your losses. Please don’t waste my time with a fishing expedition, hoping to wow me and have me asking “how much?” in no time.

So what’s the bottom line to all this?

If you’re going to pitch a meeting via the scripted “I want to see if there is a fit,” make sure you know what your end of the fit is. Throwing a Hail Mary of a demo is sure to lead you down some long and dry sales cycles, ending with poor prospects and a list of failed pitches.

Ali Mirza - Rose Garden ConsultingAli Mirza is an accomplished Sales Master and Consultant at Rose Garden Consulting. Starting his career in sales at the tender age of 18, Ali quickly realized that he would have to become better because being terrible at selling was not fun. Since then, Ali has personally closed over $150 Million in sales for many companies from small local establishments to large multi-national organizations. Since 2012, Ali has taken his passion for closing deals to teaching others how to close deals. Ali currently lives in Atlanta and travels the country helping companies increase their sales.

Connect with Ali on LinkedIn.

Published On: October 16th, 2017Categories: Blog News, Job Search and Career, Sales Success

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