Earlier this week we sat down with Peter Cohan (The Second Derivative) and Brian Geery (SalesNv) to discuss how software vendors can best position themselves in relation to their competitors during demonstrations.
Some great insights were shared on the webinar and we've created a 'highlight reel' of some of the key takeaways from the call.
Our speakers were:
- Peter Cohan - Principal - The Second Derivative
- Brian Geery - Managing Partner - SalesNv
- Richard Smith - Co-Founder and Head of Sales - Refract
- Matt Hayman (Moderator) - Marketing Manager - Refract
You can also find a full transcript of the webinar highlights and audio version for download below the video.
You can download the audio version here.
Matt Hayman: What, from your perspective, are the sort of the absolute must haves in a good demonstration? So beyond looking at competitors, what for you, if you had to sort of come up with a checklist or a couple of absolute must haves, what should be in a good demo from your perspective, Brian?
Brian Geery: Sure. Well, when you think about it… When a prospect comes to software demonstration, they want to know why should I purchase your software? So we need to tell them that and there's kind of three things we need to explain. How does the software solve the prospect's business challenges? That's number one. If you don't get that, forget the rest. The next is, is it affordable? Does it make business sense? If they're going to give you money, what's their stack of benefits in return? The next is how do I get from here, not using software to there installed up and running trained good to go, and then finally, and that's what today is whole conversation is all about, why is your software better than any other options - which include competitors doing nothing and remaining status quo or we see this less and less, I think, but it does happen sometimes develop in house. So if you can nail those points in your demonstration, that's a good demonstration
Matt: And Peter?
Peter Cohan: So ask the question again?
Matt: From your perspective, what would be the absolute must haves in a good demonstration? One of the things that you really want to see in order to for it to be considered a good demo from your perspective.
Peter: From a standpoint of being a customer or the standpoint of being a vendor?
Matt: I think for the people on the call, probably more as a vendor to begin with.
Peter: Okay. By the way, notice what I just did? And that's actually the fun of it. I ask questions back. I think that there is a recurring thing that that will, will happen throughout this webinar. The single most important thing to do to execute a great demonstration is to execute terrific discovery because that will avoid scenarios where you sold too much, you sold too little, you attacked competitors that are more important. You were outflanked by competitors that were more important. Discovery is the key to success. Brian set it in slightly different words. The way I want to phrase this as if you were a doctor, how could you possibly offer a prescription if you had done an insufficient job with diagnosis and questioning? So that's the end result, but I'll offer something else and that's actually modeled right here. Can you guys see what I'm holding up? We call this as a piece of ancient technology. I found it in one of my archives. It's called a newspaper. And newspapers have been presenting information for several hundreds of years and the way that they organize and present information, it's just like the way we might want to do it in a demo. It uses, I'm just going to sort of introduce the idea, it uses a concept called inverted pyramid where you put the most important things at the top and then you go as deep as the customer in this case the audience has interest. So that's a structure for applying what you've learned in the demonstration from discovery.
Matt: How would you guys suggest that the people on the call or people generally vendors would talk to or should talk about competitors during a demonstration now? How should they bring competitors into that conversation from your perspective? Peter, how about you first?
Peter: So as I said at the very beginning, the very best place begin to outflank and manage your competition is during discovery. Most of us know who our competition is or is likely going to be. And a few key questions can understand exactly - is your customer where those competent competitors, are they already talking to them. Assuming they are, discovery is the best place to ask questions that bias the entire conversation towards the capabilities that either you only offer or capabilities that you offer better than let's say a competitor. So that would be, I think, one of the major keys. In a way that I like to teach this great demo workshops is to suggest to our participants, suggests that for every key feature or capability you offer in this software, you should have one or more discovery questions that are designed to determine whether or not those key features are important, not important or sort of, eh, as far as the customer's concerned. Because once you've laid those out, then you have a clear roadmap of how to manage the competitive landscape. Does that make sense?
Matt: That's makes sense. Yeah.
Peter: All right. I'm done for now.
Brian: And I would add to that, and I agree with Peter on discovery. In fact, in prior webinars we've talked about the importance of discovery and then in fact I think we've all concluded if you don't have discovery, is it even worth doing the demonstration? That said during discovery, there's so much we need to learn and I believe that asking about the competition, like something flat out, what competitors are you looking at, or I think better, what other options are you considering or really way down on the list and if you never get to that question in the discovery process, it's okay. You need to ask questions that you can understand their needs so you can talk about your strengths over competitors, but I just hate when I hear a discovery call where people three, four questions into it say, so who else you're looking at? So much we need to ask about purchasing process, business challenges, consequences, status quo, cost justification, so execute a good discovery. And then kind of a hybrid of your question, Matt. People often ask, should I talk about competition in the demonstration? Any answer is yes. However, I'm going to state the obvious. I think everyone on the Webinar knows what. We don't want to bad mouth the competition, oh, ABC company is not good because... No, it's about presenting and present our strengths and one great way to do that is say, well, when I talked to our customers who purchased about why they selected our software, some of the things they tell me are… and now talk in terms of what customers have told you about why they purchased and just talk about your strengths when you know you have unique competitive advantages, bring them up multiple times throughout your demonstration.
Richard: I find that often when it comes to competition, but there's kind of two buckets that people fall into. One that are really genuinely interested in your competition, who they are, how do you, how do you fare against them because that's part of their due diligence and that's the kind of the way that they buy things. The second one is that they're not really that bothered about who your competition are, but they just feel like they're doing, they're doing their bit by asking that question, so who else are your competitors? It's almost like a little check in the box, a question that people ask, but it doesn't really affect the buying process of what they think about you and your product. And for me, I find the best way of dealing with competition, and again, I think this theme is going to come up consistently throughout the webinar, is all around in the way that we ask questions, the way that we discover our prospects. The way I combat that is asking the customer questions or the prospect questions about, so before I touch upon how we compete, I just want to know first of all, what's actually going to be important for you. So what are the key features that you're hoping for me to share during my demonstration that you think is going to be crucial for you for this to be a success or what are going to be the some key decision making, buying decisions or that the top three buying decision criteria that are going to be important for you there. By putting the question back on the prospect, it makes them actually tell you things that are probably not even that back connected to competitors and the demonstration becomes there on a method of you showing them exactly how you align with those top three decision making criteria to the point that competition doesn't become a thing anymore.
Matt: What do you guys think about that when the prospect is asking proactively, maybe they don't know who the competitors are, but maybe who you consider to be competition, how would you deal with that type of situation? Brian, how about you?
Brian: Sure. I'd say companies whose names I tend to hear fairly often are and then list two or three. That would be it.
Peter: So the question is, you know, there's a capability that is competitively advantageous. Customer does not yet know about it and you suddenly realize in the middle of demo you want them to know about it, how do you introduce that capability with minimum risk of the customer, saying oh, that's too much stuff in your software. Let me paint the opposite picture. Have you ever had a demo where the customer at the end of the demo, after you brought in all these great capabilities, competitive outflankings, customers said, yeah, well, uh, do you have a light version of the software?
Richard: I think, I think it's a very real risk because the more that we show features and functionality that doesn't necessarily isn't relevant to a prospect, they immediately think that, you know, by nature of the fact that we're only using 25 percent of your software product, why should they pay the full price? In some cases they have a genuine case for that. I think, think for me, for my experiences, it is a very gentle balance because you don't just want to show people a feature that you think's cool and amazing and different from the rest if it isn't actually going to be a applicable to the customer, isn't going to be adding value to the conversation. The way I tend to do it is I almost just tease the prospect with it. So I that stance that I'm not just going to show you something here that is definitely you're irrelevant, but I will say something along the lines of, one of the new features that we feel is one of our key differentiators helps you do x and I'll kind of summarize that in a very brief sentence. Now, I don't want to show this to you if it's not going to be adding value to the conversation. What appetite do you have for me to introduce that today? And I kind of just put it back on the prospects for their choosing. If they say, actually that sounds really interesting, then that will give me the permission to get into it. But if they say, listen, I don't think that’s really adding value, then I'll stay away from it. There's no point clouding the conversation unnecessarily. Let the prospect decide what they want to see.
Brian: Rich, what you're doing is terrific because you're introducing the capability in the form of a question back to the customer. Traditional reps will simply say, hey, we've got another highly differentiating capability, we’re so proud of it's this…blah. And they talk about it, and then they show it in the software and the end result has risks because the customer might likely say, nah, that's not interesting to me. And what we've done in that case is we've basically added a capability that customer does not say they need and we are effectively buying it back, causing the customer to say, Rich, what you just said, I'm only going to be buying 25 percent of this so I want to only want to pay 25 percent of the cost. Instead, if you could offer a biased question, you look thoughtful, the middle of the demo, like you've never thought of this before and you take the capability out sort of from behind your back and you offer it sideways. You say, you know, Brian, many of the other customers we've worked with in very, very similar situations what you've outlined for us so far, found that the capability to be able to blank, you described the capability, and then you offer a reward. You say that capability, what we've heard from other customers enabled them to recover five days, save hundred thousand dollars, become heroes in their own neighborhoods whatsoever. And then you ask, is that something that might also be of interest to you? And what you've done there is you've basically said we have a capability, you might be interested in it, other people have found it useful and like they had a tangible reward, but I'm not telling you whether or not it's in our software, if it's in something else, I'm just introducing you. So, the customer then says, Oh yeah, that actually sounds interesting. I could see that could be helpful. You then say, Ah, well we have that capability. Would you like to see it? And then you can go ahead and demo with the if customer says. That's called an unbiased question and it works delightfully. And Brian and I have actually practiced this in real life. So there you go.
Matt: Can I get some thoughts from you guys in terms of how do we, how do we differentiate our time in terms of features and benefits and what should we be focusing on? He makes the point, we should focus on the what the software will do for the prospect and he he makes an analogy, people don't buy hammers because of its features, they buy it to hammer the nail in. So what are your thoughts in terms of benefits?
Peter: The point is, Peter, and thank you for having the same name as me because that's not confusing. They don't buy a hammer to pound a nail and they buy a hammer to build a fence or they buy a hammer to build a house or they buy a hammer to build a piece of furniture - that's the top level issue. The problem they're trying to solve is that how they get that metal into that piece of wood, which could be a piece of fencing. And so, Peter's actually correct. You want to look for what's the higher level objective they're trying to achieve and that's the difference between features and benefits and if you will the what as he calls it out so nicely.
Brian: Yeah. Picking up on that. And it does go really to competitive advantages, feature benefit, feature, benefit. There's elements of the demonstration where that's important. What's also important, and I believe more important, is remembering that sales is a conversation and having a conversation. And when you think about it, just think about your own conversations. If you're out socializing, storytelling comes into play all the time. So, telling stories about successes of your clients, what life used to be like before they had your software and what it's like today, now that they have your software and really talking about the end results whenever possible, dollars, numbers, percentages, and getting off the keyboard in into the conversation, and I'll add one other thing too that for all of you to consider when you're doing your online demos, you're not in person demos. Turn your camera on just like we have and even if it's a little thing up in the corner, maintain eye contact all the way through and that experience is uniquely different than your competitors because very few companies, very few sales professionals turn on their cameras during demos and it works quite well.
Matt: Rich, I think that's something you should definitely do. I know that's something that you're very, very keen on.
Richard: Yes, this is something that we've started doing in the last sort of six months or so, and obviously you have to have the relevant technology to help to enable you to do this, but most web conferencing platforms out there give you the ability to turn your webcam on. The problem with.. because what we're talking about now, what Brian's touch upon is the competitive differentiation from the actual experience of in a demo rather than what's being said, which I think is very important because as soon as you turn the webcam come on, if you’re lucky the prospect has there's on it, it feels much more like a conversation. There's less distractions. You have more confidence that they're not kind of clicking away or looking on their emails. You've got them more engaged. By nature of having to have in the more engaged, you’re having a higher quality of conversation. And it serves as a constant reminder as well to make the demo a conversation an interaction. Because you can see yourself. You can tell the fact that, listen, I've been looking at my keyboard and my mouse and what's happening on my screen for too long now. I need to get the prospect engaged in the conversation and just being able to see kind of where your eyes are, where what you're focusing on is a constant reminder to make sure that the demo is a conversation. It isn't a sales training session where you’re training prospect on how to do this and how to do that. And we've noticed a huge difference since we've been doing that at Refract - a much higher quality conversation where we spend less time demoing and more time interacting with prospects.
Matt: How can you explain your competitive advantages in a manner that's persuasive, compelling, and memorable? Have you got some tips for everybody on the call around that?
Peter: Well, number one, Brian brought this up. Anytime you can use a customer success story that the consumer has volunteered, key capabilities that resulted in wins or successes for that customer… Anytime you can relate a story that way, that's a fabulous way to communicate the importance and the impact of competitively advantageous capabilities and to make them memorable and sticky in the customer's mind, so having in your mental stockpile stories that actually focus on those competitively advantageous capabilities is a good plan and be able to use them as you need them. Number two, we just introduced this idea of a biased question, which is a very elegant approach for introducing capabilities. It had three components. Number one, you're drawing the similarity to other customers in similar situations. Number two, you're describing the capability itself, and then number three you’re are offering a reward that other customer enjoyed as a result of consuming that capability. That's a terrific approach and it's a structure you can learn and practice and apply. Anyone else?
Brian: Short, compelling, brief story. Years ago, as a sales manager, I went into the CFO to ask about spending some money on a particular initiative. And the CFO said stop. What, what? He said, talk to me in numbers. So, I left the room and came back the next day and I presented the business case and the CFO said, let's do it. The point of the story has dollars, umbers, percentages are compelling. You can't argue one plus one equals two. So, if you are stating your case with dollars, numbers, and percentages, it's much more compelling.
Richard: One thing that Peter taught me some time ago, which I think has transformed the impact that we can demo key features and differentiators in our demo is simply creating a situation slide as part of the demo just to explain what this is. It’s essentially a one slide summary of the discovery conversation that you had before the demonstration which achieves a couple of things. First of all, it just shows the prospect that you've actually listened, which instantly is a massive differentiator to the competition. Because I can guarantee most of the competition won’t be doing this. They'll just be rolling straight into their demo. They probably haven't even done a discovery from my research. So, it shows the prospect that you've listened, that you've understood, it gives the prospect an opportunity to add anything additional to what you've documented on these slides and maybe some additional insight and information that you didn't necessarily have. One of the key things that does… it actually outlines the key challenges that the prospect has mentioned that you believe that you can solve using your software and that situation slide just becomes this base that you can switch between your demo and the slides to almost cover off the key points. So again, this is helping you to demonstrate to the prospect that you've listened, but you’re just talking about features and functionality that's relevant to their specific situation. It shows that you're not just there to show up and throw up. By nature of doing that, it’s amazing the responses that me and my team have had with prospects that say literally, wow, you really did listen on the first discovery call or wow, I haven't got anything to add to that. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to any software sales professional on this demo, stop putting situation slides before your demo. It will transform the way that you present to your customers and it will just naturally stand yourself out from the other salespeople who will be just showing up and throwing up on the same prospects.
Peter: Let's talk about situations where as far as the customer's concerned, when they're comparing you and perhaps two other vendors, they perceive that as far as your feature set is concerned, they are basically equal. How do you differentiate in those cases?
Richard: So, for me, if I'd come in there because this just does come up quite often, where it’s clear that there is very strong similarity between other technologies in our space. It comes back to putting it back on the prospect shoulders by asking them, you may be familiar with this technology or similar technology if you've been looking at other suppliers. But I just need to know from what is key, what is it that's going to be key for helping you achieve your goals and what's going to be the most important things in your buying decision. And it might be that they say, well, you know, really if I'm being totally honest, functionality wise, you all are very similar. So, then it comes to is cost a key factor, is support, onboarding, is the physical location of your support team? Can you talk through how you actually provide consultancy as well as the product? So, one of the things that we do Refract is, you know, we're not just giving you a piece of a piece of software and letting you, let me run with it, we're going to give you advice on, how to configure it, how to set up some of your key words, sharing some best practices about how other customers have got strong results. And I think ultimately that has to become a differentiator. You have to look past the software at that point you feel like the customers are comparing apples for apples and it has to be well what else do we offer as a business that's actually going to be effective and that usually comes from a support after sales and all the rest of it.
Peter: How many times have we heard a customer by the software that was the most expensive? It was probably more than they needed, but it was from the vendor that was the market leader. And although other software products were better, they were cheaper, there are more vigorous in other ways, the vendors were probably more responsive. The customer still went with the market leader. Now why did he or she go with a market leader? Well, for numerous reasons it was safe. It was blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah blah. But it has to do with whole product analysis and understanding of what the customer is buying beyond the software. So that includes things like, as Brian said, relationships with the individual people, includes things like a transition vision as Rich suggests. That's the process of helping a customer see how they're going to go from their current painful state through implementation to the point where they're operating and they can actually declare an internal small win, a victory. It's things like your product roadmap. It's things like other products. It's things like users’ groups, if you have them. It's things like support offices - your services team. All of those represent, if you will, rows, that can be added to a virtual evaluation matrix to outflank your competition. So, when everything else is equal with respect to the software features and functions, you may want to think in terms of biased questions does to introduce things like, well, you know, many of the other customers, and Rich we've worked with very, very similar situations to yours, found that the single most valuable aspect of the entire relationship with a vendor had nothing to do with the software itself, but everything to do with the users’ community that was working with that software. That users’ community - people found answers to questions that they we're working on to try to solve. They found solutions to problems they didn't even know they could solve using the software. And what we hear from our customers is as a result of those interactions with other users, they've been able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. How important is a users’ community in your analysis of, let's say assessment of a vendor? And Rick says, well, that's really important. I hadn't even thought about it. And you respond, well, we have a terrific users community. I'd be delighted to introduce you to some of the key members of the steering committee so you can begin the process of really learning and building those relationships. Boom. You've just added a row that's biased in your favour versus the competition - having nothing to do with the features and functions.