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During a recent Webinar I gave, I received the following question.  (I've edited it slightly to remove the name of a specific software product they're selling, but the essence remains the same.)

As a standard sales process, we like to first meet the prospect, understand his/her requirements and bottlenecks, get a clear picture of the business process flow for the organization, and then plan our demo and submit our offer.  But sometimes the prospect is not interested in this process.  Instead, the prospect demands to see our standard solution.  And they will be adamant that we must demo during the first meeting and then take a call later on the fit of our solution for their business.  If we refuse to demo first, they simply call a different reseller of the system and have them show it.  How do we handle this kind of prospect?

 Here’s my answer:

 The customer always defines the sales process.  In essence, they’re telling you how they want to buy.  If they insist on seeing a demo up front, there’s nothing wrong with giving them a demo.

 The question is: what kind of demo do you give?  If you simply run through screen shots and functionality, we’re giving them the exact same product-oriented information any other reseller could provide.  Here’s an alternative:

 Think about other similar clients and the specific business needs that they needed to address.  Do a little research on this client before you go in and look for potential areas of fit with them.  Contact anyone within the client organization who might coach you on the underlying needs and desired outcomes.  Then prepare your demo using this format:

 Provide an overview that focuses on the nature of the product and why it’s a valuable addition to the infrastructure.  Keep this very short and basic—two to three minutes.

Then move into a presentation of key features driven by commonly seen needs, as follows:

Needs or issue




“One of our clients…a company a lot like you…faced this challenge: [explain it]”

“The feature that helped them deal with this issue is:  [show it]”

“The benefit to them was:  [define it]”

--saving time

--saving money

--automating a labor-intensive process, etc.

Mention the client’s name or include a slide with a quote from them.

Second need

Another feature or set of features


More proof

Third need

Another feature



At this point, you’re about 15 to 20 minutes into the demo. 

STOP and ask:  Does this seem like a good fit for your specific needs? 

1.      If they will engage in a conversation, go with it.

2.       If you just get perfunctory responses, move into the next phase—a more detailed technical overview of the product, your implementation methodology, training approach, and a review of risk mitigation strategies. 

When you have concluded the demo, recommend next steps.  You should be in a position to get an interim close and commitment to move to a more detailed review of needs and requirements.


Final comments: 

  • If the customer insists on seeing a demo only right at the start, they apparently see IT as a commodity.  Can you help them reframe the purchase toward value?  If not, you may want to walk away from this opportunity because it will inevitably be price driven.
  • Who is controlling this process?  If you are dealing with Purchasing or with an IT group that sees itself as strictly a service function, you probably need to gain the ear of users and senior management.  It is possible that the people asking for the demo are not in a position to see the product as anything other than a piece of technology they’ve been instructed to buy.  If they don’t understand its usefulness, they can’t understand its value.
  • Customers seldom want to answer questions about problems/needs and potential outcomes right at the start of the sales process.  Our job early on is to develop trust so that they open up and are candid about their current situation and what they want to accomplish.  If you demonstrate that you think like a business consultant (which is the purpose of the presentation format outlined above), they may begin to develop the trust necessary to share insights with you.

Good luck with your sales efforts!

To order the world's best-selling book on writing winning proposals, Persuasive Business Proposals , click hereFor Dr. Tom's fascinating study of the origins of the most important ideas in professional sales and the individuals who first came up with them, The Giants of Sales, please click here.  To improve your writing, take a look at Tom’s most recent book, The Language of Success, which you can order here

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To order a copy of Persuasive Business Proposals, please click hereTo order Dr. Tom’s new book, The Giants of Sales, please click here.  To improve your writing, take a look at Tom’s most recent book, The Language of Success, which you can order here.


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