Tag Archives: demos

Should Your Website Drive Prospects to a Demo?

TLDR:  Think twice before you do and three times about how you do it.  While it’s a very common practice, I think it’s often a lazy one, done by default, and without regard for either the buyer or seller downstream.

When I visit enterprise SaaS websites these days, I see two primary calls-to-action (CTAs) in widespread use:

  • Try it:  used by the product-led growth (PLG) crowd, and a great CTA — provided the company is actually executing a PLG strategy [1].  While we won’t drill into this large topic today, know that I am working on a PLG post to go up soon.
  • Get a demo:  in use by most others and typically promising a personal demo, but sometimes offering to watch a video or join a weekly live webinar.

See below for three clipped examples of both demo and trial CTAs from enterprise SaaS websites (read across) [2].

The question:  while it’s certainly a common practice, is it a good one?

My answer:  often, not.  Using a demo as your primary CTA, whether weasel-worded (e.g., “request demo”) or not (e.g., “get demo”), can frequently lead to problems:

  • Double qualification.  Typically, the prospect first speaks to an SDR who does preliminary qualification (e.g., BANT) and then passes the prospect to a seller to deliver the demo.  The buyer thinks:  I didn’t click a button labeled, “speak to two people,” I clicked one labeled, “get demo” [3].
  • Raising expectations.  The SDR often justifies their call by saying, “I’m here to gather some information to ensure we personalize the demo to your needs.”  That’s great if the ensuing demo is actually tailored in some way; it’s criminally bad expectation-setting if it’s not.
  • Horrific second-calls, reminding me of a quote from Fail Safe: “what you’re telling me, I’ve been specifically ordered not to do.”  We tell sellers to do qualification and discovery, understand and solve business problems, and under any circumstances never to spew features — then we walk them in front of a largely unqualified prospect with whom we have set an expectation that they’re going to see a feature demo [4].  It’s a wonder they don’t revolt.
  • Hampering sellers from doing their jobs, which at this point in the sales cycle should be discovery and qualification — i.e., asking a series of open-ended questions to determine if this is a real sales opportunity with a qualified buyer who has a business problem that our product can solve.
  • Super-awkward situations, where the seller thinks they’re having a basic 1-1 demo and the entire buying committee shows up for “the demo” of your product, which will be delivered unprepared and without context.  I’ve seen that happen; it’s cringeworthy.
  • Wasting sellers’ time.  Doing a standardized demo is arguably not selling, but marketing — and your marketing team can likely do it as well as your sellers [5].  If sellers are doing lots of 1-1 demos for lots of semi-qualified prospects, marketing might be generating a lot of activity for sales, but don’t forget the old saying about processionary caterpillars confusing activity with progress.

The root problem here is not that get-demo is somehow inherently an evil CTA [6], but that this may reveal a deeper problem in sales and marketing alignment.  In a siloed company, where sales and marketing are not working together, the above problems can and do develop because marketing is trying to maximize clicks on get-demo without thinking enough about either the seller or the buyer downstream after they do.  Think:  we passed 47 get-demo oppties this month, we’re not the problem.  Buzz off.

There’s an easy way to determine if this is a problem at your company:

  • Listen to Gong recordings of the first-calls with sellers (where they are notionally delivering this demo) and do so from the perspective of both the buyer (e.g., are they getting a demo?  is it good one?) and the seller (e.g., are they doing qualification and discovery?  are they spewing features?)
  • Talk to sales leadership.  Bring your knowledge of the generic problems along with your learnings from the Gong recordings and have a discussion about how you can work together to improve the early sales cycle process for both seller and buyer.

Note that win/loss reporting will likely not catch these problems because this activity typically occurs upstream of opportunity creation, so there are definitionally no lost opportunities due to a bad initial demo [7].

Improvement Ideas for Get-Demo Calls To Action
Here are some ideas on how to mitigate these problems, all offered in the spirit reducing friction in the buyer journey while maximizing efficiency for the seller:

  • Always have an ungated 30-60 second explainer video that explains what your product does so curious people can quickly understand what it is.
  • Publish a 2-3 minute ungated short demo video of what your product does for those who want more information.
  • Publish an as-long-as-necessary deep demo video both on your website (possibly gated) and on your YouTube channel [8].  Remember David Ogilvy:  “long copy sells!”  If you solve an important problem to which I’m seeking a solution, I’ll have plenty of time for a long, well-executed demo.  Just make sure it’s well-executed.
  • Hold a weekly live demo which (1) gets the buyer block time on their calendar to see the solution, (2) gets us the buyer’s contact information, (3) offers the buyer the opportunity to ask live questions during the event, (4) gives us the chance to spot target accounts expressing interest and the chance to engage with them about that, (5) provides SDRs with an alternative CTA to “do you want to speak to a seller?”, (6) provides a broad indicator of interest over time (i.e., weekly demo attendance), and (7) gives us a platform we can easily build upon — think:  on Tuesdays, it’s the product overview; on Wednesdays, it’s the demo for retailers; and on Thursdays it’s the demo for use-case X.

Basically, I’m trying to let the buyer decide what they mean by get demo, potentially let them get that right away, and provide a way to drive interested prospects who don’t want to speak to a seller to a periodic live event where I can deliver a high-quality, in-depth demo while driving scale economies in so doing.

After the weekly live demo, the SDR calls and says, “how did you like the demo?” and “did you see anything relevant to the challenges you’re facing?”  If those answers are positive, then they can pass it to a seller for discovery and qualification.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a huge believer in also having a clear call to action that says, “have a seller contact me.”  I understand that it won’t get pressed very often, but oh, when it does — it’s likely to be a pretty interested prospect [9].

My Three-Point CTA
I’m aware that many marketers today don’t want to paralyze buyers with choice, so there is a general preference for the fewest possible options in a CTA, but that notwithstanding, if I had to solve the problem myself, I’d use this as my default CTA [10]:

When is Get-Demo a Great CTA?
The first revision of this post prompted some questions along the lines of, “I understand you don’t like get-demo as a CTA, but when is it appropriate?” to which my answer is:

  • I’m not against get-demo as a CTA.  I just think we need to put more thought into what it means, the options we offer, and what happens to both the buyer and the seller when someone presses it.
  • For most companies, the vast majority of people who press get-demo are not worth investing in a personalized demo.  If you want them to self-demo, adopt a PLG strategy and let them use the product.  If that’s not possible, then they’ll need to see a demo somehow and my ideas above provide numerous options for doing that.  I like the weekly live demo because it’s cost-effective way to let everyone see the demo while allowing sales to focus on the handful of attendees who are most interesting.
  • If, somehow, you’re in a model where you think it is worth doing a live, personalized demo for everyone who wants one, I’d first remind you about processionary caterpillars, and second say to set up a call center and drive people live into that call center.  The key to velocity sales is friction elimination, so if someone wants a live demo, and you’re willing to give them one without any real qualification, then get ‘er done — don’t let any time lapse in scheduling.

(Revised 11/22/21)

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Notes

[1] And if it’s not, marketing trying to do PLG on their own (because they want to, the investors want to, or the company would like to be PLG but isn’t), with a product that’s not designed to be easily adopted and sell itself, is a bad idea.  In this “PLG is the new black” era, the only thing worse than not doing PLG is trying PLG tactics when you don’t have a PLG company or PLG product.  To mix metaphors, you could likely end up putting your best foot forward into your mouth.

[2]  Note the wasted space by having login in this zone of the page.  I’d put login buttons or icons somewhere else completely (e.g., top right, page footer) so as to make room to have 3 calls to action as presented below.

[3] Sometimes, it’s actually triple qualification:  the SDR does worth-passing qualification, the seller does worth-accepting qualification, and then the seller and a sales engineer do a deeper discovery call — all before the buyer gets their demo.

[4] The results in sellers spinning plates — doing qualification with one hand, demoing with the other, and doing a bad job at both.

[5]  I’d argue generally that doing standardized things is definitionally marketing while doing personalized things is sales.  Think:  given what you’ve told me about your unique situation, here is how our product can help you meet your goals.  That’s selling.  If you just want the White House Tour, then that’s marketing.

[6]  To which many website types were quick to object in my first revision of the post — but it gets clicked all the time.  Well, perhaps that’s because people actually do want demos and also because we give them no real alternative CTA!

[7]  That is, the bad initial demo resulted in no opportunity being created.  That said, you might get wind of it in your win/loss reporting from opportunities that made it into the pipeline if you ask customers about their high-funnel experience through both ratings (e.g., “what was your impression after the initial demo”) and qualitative questioning (e.g., “how was your experience from when you first contacted us until you were put in touch with your seller?” or “how did your first meeting with your seller go?”)

[8]  Which I know makes it semi-gated, but it also enables people to find and watch it directly via Google/YouTube search.  Have some faith that if they like what they see, they’re not going to forget to find our contact-us form and fill it in.  (And you’re going to remind them to do so at the end of the video, of course!)

[9]  When you’ve truly internalized that marketing is about generating sales via the creation of valid sales opportunities you stop caring only about how often something gets clicked (or how many leads we got) and start caring about how fast we can get qualified hand-raisers through the process and off to sales.

[10]  Perhaps more interestingly, if you forced me to drop one, it would be stay-in-touch, not contact-us.  I’d make stay-in-touch a backup offer on the get-demo page.

Just Effing Demo

I remember one time reading a win/loss report that went something like this.

“We were interested in buying Host and it made our short list.  When we invited you in for a demo with our team and the CFO, things went wrong.  After 20 minutes, your sales team was still talking about the product so the CFO left the meeting and didn’t want to evaluate your solution anymore.”

Huh?  What!  We spend a few hundred dollars to get a lead, maybe a few thousand to get it converted to a sales opportunity, we give it to our sales team and then they ‘show up and throw up’ on a prospect, talking for so long that the key decision maker leaves?

Yes, salespeople love to talk, but this can’t happen.  I remember another time a prospect called me.

“Look, I’ve been using EPM systems for 25 years.  I’ve used Hyperion, Essbase, TM1, and BPC.  I’ve been in FP&A my entire career.  I have an MBA from Columbia.  I am fully capable of determining my own needs and don’t want to play Twenty Questions with some 20-something SDR and then play it again with some sales consultant before I can get a live demo of your software.  Can we make that happen or not?”

Ouch.  In this case, our well defined and valued sales process (which required “qualification” and then “discovery”) was getting in the way of what the eminently qualified prospect wanted.

In today’s world, prospects both have and want more control over the sales process than ever before.  Yes, we might want to understand your requirements so we can put proper emphasis on different parts of the demonstration, but when a prospect — who clearly knows both what they’re doing and what they want — asks us for a demo, what should we do?  One thing:

Just effing demo  —  and then ask about requirements along the way

Look, I’m not trying to undo all the wisdom of learning how to do deep discovery and give customized demos, espoused by world-class sales trainers like Barry Rhein or in books like Just F*ing Demo (from whose title I derived the title of this post [1]).  These are all great ideas.  They should be your standard procedure.

But you need to remember to be flexible.  I always say don’t be a slave to metrics.  Don’t be a slave to process, either.

Here’s what I’ve learned from these situations:

Avoid triple-qualifying prospects with an SDR, then a rep, then an SC. Make SDR qualification quick and light.  Combine rep and SC qualification/discovery whenever possible. Don’t make the prospect jump through hoops just to get things started.

Intelligently adapt your process. If the prospect says they’re an expert, wants to judge for themselves, and just wants a quick look at your standard demo, don’t try to force a deep discovery call so you can customize – even if that’s your standard process.  Recognize that you’re in a non-standard situation, and just show up and do what they want.

Set expectations appropriately. There is a difference between a “Product Overview” and “Demonstration.”  If you think the right meeting is 30 minutes of slides to frame things and then a 30-minute demo, tell the prospect that, get their feedback, and if everyone agrees, then write “Product Overview” (not “Demonstration”) on the agenda.

Don’t make them wait. If you say the presentation is a one-hour demo, you should be demoing software within the first 5-7 minutes.  While brief personnel introductions are fine, anything else you do up-front should tee-up the demo.  This is not the time to talk about your corporate values, venture investors, or where the founder went to school.  Do that later, if indeed at all.

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[1] A great book, by the way.  My favorite quote:  “in short, I stopped trying to deliver the perfect demo for my product and starting trying to deliver the perfect demo for my audience.”