Bad Demos Can Kill a Sale. You can Do Better.

By Michelle Bruno
November 21, 2023

Technology product demos are a blessing and a curse. In event tech, they are mostly a curse. They start well enough—hopeful, exciting, food for the curious—but can also make your ears and eyes bleed. There are ways to make them better.

How long is too long?

It’s surprising that in a world where the human attention span is now between eight and 47 seconds, some event tech demo-givers would carry on for 20 to 30 minutes without taking a breath. The length of some demos is especially egregious since nearly every other interval in both live and online events is shortening from event check-in times to breakout sessions. 

Thinking more is more

Of course, giving a demo online versus a demo at an industry trade show represents two different scenarios, the latter demanding that the demonstrator get right to the point spit spot. Nevertheless, whenever possible, most event tech providers lean into a “more is more” modus operandi.

Getting into the weeds

There is another area of wrongdoing for event tech companies: showing every. single. feature. in the belief that buyers are as interested in the product as they are. Unfortunately for tech firms, most buyers aren’t interested in how the sausage is made.

One-size-fits-all demo

Another example of where demos go wrong is when companies give templated, one-size-fits-all demonstrations, i.e., they don’t take the time to understand who will be on the demo and their specific needs so they can adjust the presentation accordingly.

When casual is too casual

We all understand the concept of Casual Friday, where hoodies and T-shirts are de rigueur. Still, the demo can derail before it starts when prospective buyers pay more attention to the presenter’s hair, dress, and background (unmade bed et al.). 

Trying too hard to impress

Dahlia El Gazzar, tech evangelist and idea igniteur of DAHLIA+Agency, begs companies to ditch the “logo parade”—a lineup of past and present customers—on a demo as it can potentially be an instant disqualifier for buyers. 

“Many times, medium or small organizers don’t want to see the names of large firms like Informa or Reed on the screen because, psychologically, it tells them they’re not in the same league.”

Forgetting to engage
Some salespeople treat demos as one-way streets, moving consistently in the direction of traffic but never stopping to make sure they’re going the right way. Sure, they ask customers periodically whether they have any questions, but it’s not enough to keep viewers engaged.
Skipping the tech check
But the classic “take the cake” mistake that event tech firms make is to point to a feature or capability on a live demo and discover that it doesn’t work. Ruh Roh.
Keep them short 

Experts say there’s a better, more buyer-friendly way to do a demo. Besides keeping them short, companies should inform viewers of the length in advance. For example, to respect prospects’ time, Rachel Stephan, CEO of Snöball, keeps her demos to 17 minutes. Why 17? “It’s a question I get asked a lot,” she says. “I only need 17 minutes before a prospective client sees the added value; the number 17 intrigues people, and we’re in marketing [so we can take some creative liberties].”

Also, Stephan doesn’t show her platform during the demo. Instead, she shows use cases and results.

“We keep demos very high level. [Potential buyers] are there to understand what they can do with the platform. They want to get ideas and be inspired by other use cases. And they don’t have to know how to set up a campaign or how to import a list because we are a fully managed solution,” she explains.

Know thy buyer
To customize a demo, El Gazzar suggests embedding questions in the demo-request form like, “What are your challenges? Where are you at and where do you want to go? What is your role at the company? And what level of technology experience do you have?”
Be human and authentic
Online backgrounds matter. People understand that many tech employees work from home, and it’s not unusual for the kitchen sink, closet door, or kids’ refrigerator art to appear in the frame. While Stephan is flexible about where she gives a demo—even outside—she draws the line on virtual backgrounds. “Because you’re already in a virtual space meeting with someone virtually, don’t add another element of virtuality to the whole thing,” she says.
Look for audience cues
To get and keep demo viewers engaged, El Gazzar has some suggestions. “Look for audience cues. Silence is a cue. When someone says, ‘let me digest this,’ it’s a cue, meaning they didn’t take in anything you just showed them.” That’s an opportunity to ask participants about their pain points and redirect the presentation to how the platform solves their problems. Stephan recommends that demonstrators learn how to read the room. When prospects are looking down or multi-tasking, she sometimes stops talking. When they refocus their attention on the demo, she politely notes that they’re probably busy and asks whether they would prefer to reschedule.
Take them on a buyer’s journey
Keeping prospects engaged during a demo is a fine art. El Gazzar advises trying a bit of storytelling. For example, take buyers on a journey through the platform from the exhibitor’s perspective or through the eyes of a first-time attendee. Craft a “journey” around the responses viewers provided during signup.
Make sure it works. That is all.
There is no remedy for failing to check whether the product, Internet connection, or the demo platform are working before the demonstration starts.
Close with “next steps”
A discussion of next steps at the end of the demo is a solid “must-have.” Stephan closes out demos with a promise to send them a copy of the demo video and transcript, suggesting that they share them with team members who could not attend. She also sends her presentation deck, case studies, a summary of how Snöball differs from other solutions, and pricing.

Event tech providers may be especially prone to giving bad demos. Sometimes, they are startups with little experience presenting or in the event industry. Often, the presenters are the company founders and tend to focus more on the product (aka beautiful baby they have birthed) than the prospects.

Knowing what the audience wants from a demo (and newbies to events may not) helps event tech firms refine their demos. Sure, prospects want to know what the technology does and how it can help. But based on recent history, they’re also looking for companies they can trust and those that will be around in a few years.

“They want to know you’ve got their back, and the platform isn’t just smoke and mirrors,” El Gazzar says.

Event tech buyers don’t want to be sold to. Who does? So, the least tech providers can do is design a demo  with the buyer in mind. In an industry of human-centered everything—design, thinking, leadership, you name it—event tech demos should be at the top of the list.

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