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A Tale of Three Product Demos

We talk a lot about the theory of demos - the right way and wrong way to do them - on this blog. But I recently had a purchasing experience that really threw the whole into sharp relief. 

Let’s call it a tale of three demos. It was an illustration of the issues we talk about here that was almost too good to be true, because the whole experience varied so widely. What I, as our Ops founder, wanted and what the vendor sales teams offered me sometimes seemed to be totally at odds with each other. 

My background is in sales, so I’m used to looking at things from that side of the table. But recently I needed to buy some software to help us coordinate with our tech team, so I got to see the other half of the equation. 

And boy - it was all over the place

It was an SMB purchase (under $10k total for the contract). I had done my research and knew exactly what I was looking for, and what features I needed in this software. So I asked around to find some potential vendors who might offer what we need. 

I was having a busy week, and I just wanted someone to listen to my requirements, tell me if their product could do that, and then have a look at the software myself. This was a business operations purchase - I wasn’t particularly in the mood to have a long chat with a sales rep where I share my story and they give me a fluffy pitch. I just wanted to buy what I needed and get back to work. 

Onto the three possible vendors: from their websites, I found three where it sounded like they might offer something that would work for us. But none of them had demo videos or anything like that, so I couldn’t quite see if their product would work for Reprise. 

I reached out and asked for a product demo via their websites, and lined up calls with three vendors back-to-back. And here’s how they went. 

Vendor number 1: 

My call ended up being with a BDR, so they couldn’t actually give me a demo. Since the button I clicked on to schedule this call on the vendor’s website was “Book a demo!”, this was disappointing.

I know why discovery calls are important to the sales teams - they’re not trying to make my life harder, they just need info to tailor their demos and the sales pitch. So I was very forthcoming with the problem I had and why I needed a solution. Even after that, the vendor still insisted on a discovery call - even though I’d provided the info they would get from that call upfront. I didn’t really want to waste anyone’s time on a discovery call - I knew what my problem was, and I just wanted to know if their software could solve it for me. 

But we went through that process anyways - all discovery, and not a demo in sight. We scheduled the actual demo for the next day at 4 pm. Fine - but not what I wanted, and not what I had asked for. 

Vendor number 2: 

They gave me a demo right away, which was positive after the disappointment of the previous call. While the demo was helpful, it was also generic and obviously uncustomized - not unexpected, but I had provided some background on my requirements in my initial outreach and spent the first 5 minutes of the call explaining my situation and needs. 

It still didn’t address the pretty specific requirements I had, but at least I got to see the product in action and get an idea of how it would work for us. 

Vendor number 3: 

This is where it got great. They also gave me a demo right away - awesome. It was generic like the second one, which is expected but not as helpful as I would have liked. 

But here was the real game-changer - they gave me a log-in after the demo so I could actually test the features myself to see if they’d work for my needs. This was just what I needed: I logged in, went right to check if they had the features I needed, and saw the features would work for us. 

But the story doesn’t stop there. 

The Wow Moment

I work with a team, so I had to get the buy-in from my co-founders before we made an unbudgeted spend. Our CTO was on board for purchasing this software, but our head of product needs a little extra convincing that we actually need this product. Can’t we just do it manually, he asks? A fair question, to be sure. (He’s good at those.) 

And since I have the log-in to the third vendor’s site, I pull it up and show him how much time it will actually save us on these recurring tasks. It’s well worth the investment - and I have the demo in front of me to show him. He immediately agrees, and we’re now going with that vendor. 

(Keep in mind, at this point I haven’t even seen a demo of any kind from that first vendor. When I talk to them the next day, that BDR hasn’t passed on any of the info I gave him in that discovery call, so I had to tell my story all over again. And it turns out their product didn’t offer anything I needed. So we all wasted our time and no one got what they needed. Not great!!)

What This Journey Tells Us

What are my key takeaways here? 

  • When your website offers a demo, and I call you to ask for a demo, and you schedule a meeting to demo and then you… don't give me a demo, that sucks! Your potential customer is annoyed, and you’ve wasted time on both sides. That rep from the first vendor could have spent his time selling to someone who will actually buy his product, and I could have spent that time doing pretty much anything else.
  • Sometimes you’re not going to have a lot of info upfront about a prospect, and discovery calls are important then. But that wasn’t the case for me here - I wanted to be cooperative and helpful to the sales team at all three vendors, so I sent them a note before booking my demo telling them what my problem was and why it was a problem. I had hoped this meant they could offer me a tailored demo - but vendors 2 & 3 just gave me a generic one, and vendor 1 made me go through my story three separate times. That’s not a great buyer experience, and time was wasted on both sides. 
  • If you’re selling a B2B product to an Operations leader like me, your customer already knows what they want and often has very specific requirements in mind. They don’t want a feel-good sales story - just to get their requirements met. Letting me see exactly how a product would work for my exact needs seems basic, but only one vendor could do that for me. You don’t need to talk to every prospect for half an hour here to give them a tailored demo experience if you have a simple strategy in place, as my co-founder Joe talks about here.  
  • Buying happens by committee - the vendors only met with me, but they needed to convince my whole team that the purchase was essential and they were the right fit. Obviously they’re not going to meet with all of us, so they needed a way to show value without being in a meeting with everyone. The realtime log-in, or a customized demo I could review later, filled that need. But that was really rare. 

Obviously, every sales motion has nuances - after all, with an enterprise company you’ve got a longer decision and sales cycle. This was basically decided in a day because our team is small so we can move fast. 

But it so clearly showed what is wrong with much of the existing demo process out there for software companies. There’s a big disconnect between what buyers want in a sales process, and what sales teams are actually doing - and that creates frustration and wasted opportunities. That’s exactly what we’re trying to fix at Reprise. 

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash