7 Tips for Giving Meaningful Technical Demos

Communicating the value of a security solution in a crowded and often homogeneous marketing environment is a real challenge. Sales processes are carefully calculated engagements, and the technical demo stage can often make or break an opportunity. In my career I have given nearly 5,000 technical demos in person, over video conference, or at trade shows. In building my craft, I have given both great and terrible technical demos (just ask any of my past sales reps for the horror stories). What I learned from it all is a set of principles that allowed me to communicate complex technical concepts most effectively and more often than not give a good demo.

Now as an analyst, I find myself on the other side of the conversation with the fascinating new perspective of listening to complex technical concepts in which I have no expertise. Being an analyst has given me exposure to many different presentation styles that I would never have had the opportunity to experience as the presenter. Setting aside the fact I appreciate some styles more than others, the best demos I have seen all include the same principles I found from my years of presentations. Below is the list of the principles I have found to lead to successful technical demonstrations.

Develop a cohesive narrative

The goal of a technical demo is to support the narrative you and your sales partner have been building from the first engagement. The demo is a story that acts as a visual aid to facilitate discussion or as the first step in providing proof for the claims in your sales pitch. The common mistake here is thinking that showing all the features of the product tells the story. Meandering feature tour demos are counterproductive and will at best lose the attention of the audience and at worst completely confuse the value proposition in the narrative.

Not to mention you don’t have time to do a feature tour—you often have less than an hour to show your product, describe how it fits in their environment, address applicable uses cases, and answer any questions they have. Focus on the core aspects of the product that tell the story you want to tell

A good narrative addresses the business value of the product and should focus on answering questions like, “How will this make the job easier”, “How is this implemented”, and “How is this maintained”. At the end of the demo, a good narrative enables a technical champion to have personal investment in your product and management to see how it makes their team more efficient.

You control the demo; the demo does not control you

Your narrative should not be influenced by what is on the screen. Stick to your story and if the demo does not show it (because live demos will always have issues) then ignore what is on screen and keep to the story. There is no need to draw attention to issues or say “Oh, wasn’t expecting that”. This makes your product look immature, incomplete, or unstable. You should be able to be just as effective delivering the narrative presenting a blank screen than if you have a working demo.

Be confident

Practice, practice, practice. If you are confident in your presentation you will receive less challenges to what you say (unless you are horribly off-base) and will have a stronger command of the conversation and message. Remove filler words like “um” and “uh”. Also remember that you are going to be the unchallenged expert in only one thing—your product. Know it well and know your click track so you don’t fumble around in a UI looking for something. Projecting confidence and competence is key when presenting concepts or ideas that might be new to the listeners.

Be humble

It’s easy to blur the line between confidence and arrogance. You want listeners to view you as an authority on the topics being discussed, but your goal is not to be the smartest person in the room. If you talk at a level over people’s understanding or degrade them, then they will ignore you and you will lose your ability to be a trusted advisor. No one wants to be made to feel small or unintelligent.

We have all been in situations where someone wants to be the smartest person in the room, and it is important to remember in this situation that no one wants to be challenged by a vendor. At best you look arrogant, at worst you build a detractor to your entire sales process. Keep control of the demo by acknowledging the points that are brought up and moving on. Oftentimes the points raised aren’t part of the problem the product is designed to solve, so it’s a perfect time to reiterate the purpose or primary goal of the product.

Fully address questions

It’s imperative to always answer questions to the best of your ability, and it’s OK if the answer isn’t completely positive for your product. Admitting to shortcomings makes your more trustworthy and allows you to establish a role as a technical advisor. Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” You won’t know everything and will often present to people who know more than you and are smarter than you. That said, it’s very important to follow up with the answers once you are able to find them after the demo. This provides a perfect opportunity for another touch point to continue the conversation.

It’s also a good idea to ask clarifying questions as needed. Asking why something is important or what the reasoning behind a question is often reveals preconceived notions that someone has that may be addressed in a different way than they are used to in your product.

Keep it interactive

No one wants to be lectured. You might also be presenting concepts that the listener has not considered before and needs time to digest. Don’t just plow through the words of your story. Pause after particularly technical or conceptual points to allow the listener to digest and ask questions. Prompting your audience for questions allows you to address any confusion and ensures they are following your story. Perhaps most importantly, leave time for discussion. Post demonstration discussions allow you to uncover requirements that will allow POCs to be completed quickly and without issue or address any remaining barriers to progressing the deal. Remember that time is extremely valuable, and you may not get another opportunity with your audience to get this information.

Be adaptable

If you keep getting the same questions each presentation, adjust your narrative to address them. Even if it is an objection, if you address it first, you control the narrative around it and won’t seem as defensive as when you wait until the prospect brings it up. Also pay attention to areas that might be harder for the audience to accept or digest. Removing objections brought up by listeners by preempting them in your narrative will also lead to an overall positive feeling about your product to the listeners.

Signs you are successful

Having a way to measure success is just as important as developing the skills. You know you are successful in your demo if you stop getting questions about how the product works and instead get questions about solving particular use cases. This means the listener has bought in to your narrative and approach and is now looking for ways to use it in their job. This should not be mistaken as a closed deal, but you have succeeded in the purpose of a demo if they understand what your product does and begin to think how it would apply to their specific problems.

The key takeaway should be that the technical demo is not about showing how well designed or engineered the product is. Rather, it is there to show how the product solves a problem. This nuance is extremely important and is often at the core of what determines a good versus a bad technical demonstration. The common misconception is that the product will sell itself and sales will be generated by just showing how well it is built. However, you can have the most well-built and clever product ever to be designed but if the prospect doesn’t see how it solves a real need, you’ll never make a single sale.