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In today’s world, so much can be done online.  You can close high value business deals with people who live on the other side of the world, buy just about anything online and have it delivered to your door within a matter of days, and even tour the beautiful Scottish highlands, all without leaving the comfort of your home or office.  Whilst these can all be considered ideal for convenience and the fast-pace of life we all now expect (and seem to crave), it can limit some of our senses.  I'm sure plenty of people now cherish the ability to enjoy the splendour of the Scottish highlands without having to endure the wind and rain, but what about closing high value deals with someone you’ve never met?  Many years ago, asking someone to part with (tens of) thousands from their company's coffers without an in-person meeting would have been unheard of.

My expertise lies in closing these types of deals, from which long-term relationships commence without ever meeting the people my company is (and numerous colleagues are) going to work with and support for years to come.

I’ve been selling Software as a Service (SaaS) for about seven years, and in that time I’ve delivered nearly 3,000 online demos.  The products I've sold have been relatively complex, and by that I mean multi-module systems, with several permission layers, deployed nationally or internationally over various implementation timescales.  Regardless of ‘complexity’, when it comes to demonstrating software online you have three main tools at your disposal:

  1. Your screen.
  2. Your mouse.
  3. Your voice.

I’m sure you could argue that meeting and selling online has more to it, and I’d be inclined to agree, but when you strip it back to basics it's those three tools that are going to convince your prospect that you are worthwhile.

I’d like to share 10 useful tips that that I hope will help you when delivering online demos, or, if you’re a recipient of them, help you think about what to look out for.  The tips primarily relate to demonstrating software in a sales capacity, but I’ve included many good-practice tips that you should follow when delivering customer-focussed or training demos, too.

1. Know Your Audience

Staff

If you’re meeting is about eventually making a sale, qualifying early is a big deal.  How you qualify your prospect or lead can differ from industry to industry, but if you’re meeting online it’s important to know as much about your audience as possible.  Aside from your obligatory reading of the company website, you should know:

  • Who is in the room.
  • Which department they represent.
  • What their specific needs are.
  • What their current solution doesn’t achieve.
  • What they’re expecting to see from your presentation.

That is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a starter for 10 when it comes to profiling and understanding your audience.  If you don’t know who is in the room and what their motivators are, you can’t pitch or present to your maximum effectiveness.

2. Temper the Technical Chat

Sticky Notes

Unless you’re demonstrating a very technical product, it’s likely most of your audience will be non-technical.  With that in mind, avoid technical terms and using too many acronyms.  Even if you think the audience will know most of the acronyms you use, I guarantee plenty of them won’t.

If your demo involves explaining how your product can integrate with other systems or websites and you have to 'go technical’, keep it simple and save the in-depth technical chat for the technical people.  If you’re speaking with the latter and don’t know the answer to a technical question, it’s always better to get more info and consult your technical team before answering.  “Let me get back to you on that,” and following through promptly, is much better than providing inaccurate or wrong information.

3. Be Prepared and Punctual

Writing on pad

I don’t mean be prepared in in the Cub Scout Motto sense, I mean it in the always prepare for every demo sense.  Being prepared for a demo might mean displaying an up-to-date task list on your product’s homepage, and it could mean bookmarking a page you’ll need to show during the demo.  It most definitely means testing your Internet connection (and any feature demos that you think could go wrong) ahead of the meeting.

Think about it through the minds of your audience - would you want to see a half-baked demo with out-of-date examples, too little data, or data that’s irrelevant to your requirements?  No, I didn’t think so, and it’s no big surprise that you audience doesn’t, either!  When attendees join your meeting, they want you to be there, ready and waiting.  You should be sharing your screen, ready to discuss their needs, with up-to-date and relevant feature examples, showing software that works as advertised.

Importantly, your audience doesn’t want the session to end incomplete or abruptly, so manage your time to make sure everything they want to see, and everything you outlined at the beginning, is covered.  Put yourself in their shoes and think about how a presenter would impress you on a live demo.  How you end the meeting is how they’re going to remember you.

4. Limit Distractions

Hiding behind hat

Having your screen shared and paused on the appropriate page is the best way to start a demo, because your screen will be more prominent on your audience’s monitor.  Only when you know what your screen-sharing software looks like from the audience’s point of view can you accurately instruct them how to activate full screen view.  If they have applications open in the background, going full screen is your best attempt at eliminating those potential distractions. Think about your own experiences during a webinar, when you leave to ‘check email quickly’ and don’t return.

5. Control Their View

Laptop

Controlling what your audience focuses on when viewing your screen is just as important.  Almost every session I host commences with a page on our website that succinctly summarises the three main components of our solution.  I’m a mac user and I demo using Google Chrome, so I hold cmd+shift and tap F to go full screen, which removes my dock and hides bookmarks.  Regardless of your setup, figure out how to go full screen and learn the keyboard shortcuts for opening, closing, and navigating between tabs in your browser.

When you start the demonstration, move through your software at a steady pace and don’t rush if a particular feature requires more time to explain.  When I’m on a particular page, I find highlighting words is a great way of making sure the audience looks where they need to.

Equally, if I’m not performing an action or highlighting, I don't move my mouse.  Many times on webinars and personalised demos I’ve seen 'manic mouse syndrome', which is when the demonstrator’s nervous energy is channeled through the mouse and it moves non-stop or frantically.  It’s the worst type of distraction.  If your mouse isn’t doing something, let it rest. Your voice is one of the three main tools I mentioned earlier, so it’s ok for your screen and mouse to be stationary when you’re explaining how a feature works, or why it was developed in the first place.  The latter is great for context!

6. Welcome questions

Raised hands

Personally, I’m a big fan of receiving questions during a demo, but I explain to my audience that, although I welcome questions, certain features need to be demonstrated in a particular way and therefore some questions may need to be answered in the next part of the demo.  Even though you’re inviting questions, remember that you are the expert and you’re driving the demonstration, so if you’re more comfortable not being disturbed, explain to your audience that you’ll pause periodically or every X minutes to answer questions.  Audiences like to know questions can be asked.

However you feel most comfortable fielding questions, the golden rule is to not let your audience forget what they need to ask (especially if it’s a sales demo).

7. Engage

Team

“Does that make sense?”, “What questions do you have about that feature?”, “What value do you think that will add?", and “Can you see yourself using the system like that?” are all great questions to ask during your demo to make sure your audience is engaged and taking everything in, especially as your tools don’t include the ability to see the audience’s reaction. Webcams can be used in some cases, but I don’t find them as effective for demos as they are for video calls.

The most effective form of engagement comes as a result of using relevant and contextual examples, and this comes from your understanding your audience.

Other ways to keep the audience engaged are to mention features that are coming next or shortly, especially if you know they are killer features of your product.  Your audience will most likely know they exist, so acknowledging them and mentioning when they’ll be unveiled helps everyone remain attentive.

8. Keep it Brief

Clock

This point refers to a first demo, which, when selling software, is often how your prospect will decide whether to shortlist your product.  Unless you're lucky enough to be in a super-niche industry, your demo is probably one of 15-20 that your prospect is viewing.

Keeping the demo brief lets you focus on their needs and makes sure that you keep the audience engaged. It is the first demo after all.  Think back to demos that you’ve received, how much of a first demo do you remember? If you remember 40-50% of a first demo, I bet you’re not alone!

Keep the first demo as brief as realistically possible. Don’t leave anything out, but don’t labour over the less-important features, and go into the finer details as part of a free trial and full evaluation, which you’ll help the prospect manage.

9. Mute

Man using string telephone

If your headset doesn’t have a mute button, buy one that does.  Hearing someone cough loudly down a microphone is not a pleasant experience, neither, for that matter, is hearing someone clear their throat several times or hold back a runny nose by snorting.  Don’t risk your presentation by letting awful sounds take centre stage.

General communication should be clear, so if you work in a busy environment and your headset doesn’t block out background noise, I suggest you book a meeting room for the duration of the demo.  Invest in your hardware if you’re serious about what you do; trying to save money on a cheap headset may cost you customers.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice!

Thumbs up

We’re all busy, so if you don’t have time to practice, record your live sessions and watch them back. The only time this is not ok is when you are demonstrating a new feature or you are new to your product. In such cases, you have no choice - find time to practice or you can’t do your job.

If you take the recording option, make sure you watch it back.  I’m my own biggest critic, so I still find it painful to watch my own recordings. However, I do it, and will continue to do so if I can find improvements in my delivery. I’m not proposing you record and watch every demo, but 1-2 per month is good for an experienced person. Use your own judgement.

As an upside, these recordings can double-up as sales aids to share with your prospect/customer, and as training tools to share with colleagues.