Demo Skills 101: The Top 5 Skills

Demo Skills and Sales Skills

There are so many books, trainings, webinars, podcasts, methodologies, carrier pigeons (ok that one’s made up) out there about sales skills, it can make anyone’s head spin. And each one of them is written by someone who is 100% convinced that they are right that it’s the way sales HAS to be done. Until the next person writes a book that is.

Sales methodologies are fine, but, regardless of which you use, there are “Table stakes” skills that every salesperson and demo professional needs to bring to every demo or presentation. These skills are the ones that help us communicate with other humans who, at the end of the day, are the ones who are listening to us and making decisions.

The top 5 demo skills:

  • Demo skill 1: Listening
  • Demo skill 2: Empathy
  • Demo skill 3: Brevity
  • Demo skill 4: Self-awareness
  • Demo skill 5: An eye for design

Demo skill 1: Listening

An old boss of mine (old as in former, because if I called him old I think he’d get mad) used to find that describing presales could be a daunting task, particularly to those not in the tech industry, so he would say that he “talks for a living.” And while that’s true, I think most sales and presales professionals need to learn to listen before they talk.

People like to talk, because they like being listened to. We have a primitive psychological need to be accepted. To be part of the group. To be heard. So let people talk in your sales meetings! Instead of wasting the first 10 minutes talking about yourself, your company, etc, let them talk. Learn about their goals, their challenges, their needs. They’ll think the meeting went better, because they’ll feel good as they talk. And you’ll learn a whole bunch about them, so you can tailor your approach.

Bonus tip to level up this demo skill: Listen with more than your ears. Yes, your ears hear words (assuming you’re not part of the deaf community), but people communicate in other ways as well. Look at their body language. Listen for subtext. Watch their reactions. I promise you’ll learn more than by just hearing their words.

Demo skill 2: Empathy

Sales can sometimes have an element of machismo (which is a much larger topic that will be covered as we discuss more about inclusivity in demos), which ignores the emotional aspect of sales. I keep saying it – we’re selling to people, and people are emotional. And, as discussed in demo skill 1, people want to be heard.

Empathy is NOT the same as sympathy or pity. Sympathy or pity is when you feel bad for someone. I’m writing this in the summer of 2020, also known as the year that America was lit on fire, so there’s plenty of sympathy and pity to go around. There are plenty of stories that make us feel sympathetic to someone else’s cause or troubles. But what I’m talking about is being empathetic to them.

Empathy is all about seeing the world from someone else’s perspective. To try to understand what they’re thinking (cognitive empathy) or what they’re feeling (affective empathy). No one is asking you to feel bad. No one is asking you to feel pity. Or sad. Or anything else. What I am asking you to do is to consider how your prospect is viewing things. To understand what emotions are driving them, and how that’s impacting their judgment. Then, and only then, can you make a connection with them. You can validate how they are feeling. You don’t have to agree with them, you can think that they’re being ridiculous, but that’s irrelevant. You need to show them that you hear them, that they are a human who has opinions on things, and that you understand.

By making an emotional connection, you can become a trusted resource to your prospects. And people don’t just buy from people they like – but also from people they trust.

Demo skill 3: Brevity

Mark Twain said it best – I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.

Brevity is HARD. It’s much easier to just vomit a bunch of words than it is to curate the words that you’re using. And this is even more evident in sales presentations.

We’re going to drive digital transformation by leveraging big data analytics to deliver a single source of truth in a single pane of glass. We do this with our proprietary AI and ML that our founder developed that support multivariate analyses with all types of unstructured and structured data. Using all of this technology we will help you understand the end-to-end customer journey.


Try this instead: We’re going to use your data to show you how your customers are behaving, in one screen, so you can make better decisions without disrupting your daily routine.

See the difference? Normal, clear language. I don’t need to add more sentences. I don’t need a bunch of complexity to try to sound smart. In fact, the more you use complex language, the more audiences tune out. So just communicate succinctly, and like a human.

This skill takes practice – it’s much easier to regurgitate a bunch of marketing copy than it is to process and put in your own words. So before getting in front of your prospect, practice! Record yourself. See how long things take you. And then see if you can get the same idea across in less time. Make a game out of it – for every minute you shave from your pitch, treat yourself to beer, coffee, juice, chocolate, or whatever it is that gets you going.

Demo skill 4: Self-awareness

Self-awareness can be a bit tricky. It’s sort of like empathy, but instead of trying to see the world from someone else’s perspective, you’re seeing yourself from their perspective. But the goal of self-awareness is not to beat yourself up, it’s just to understand.

The key to being self-aware is humility. To be able to take a step back, and view your “weaknesses” (for lack of a better word) and understand them. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change anything, you just have to be aware.

The self-awareness demo skill was the core idea behind our Demo Identities. For example, I’m a comedian. I’m very off the cuff and say what comes to my mind in meetings. This means that I can adapt well, but it also means that I run the risk (more than others) of saying something I shouldn’t to a prospect. So in some rooms, I need to be extra cautious.

Note – I’m not saying I should be someone else. That, my friends, is an exercise in futility. As the great Popeye the Sailor man said, “I yam what I yam and dats what I yam.” Instead, the skill here is to understand who you are and play to your strengths. That way you’re not fighting your personality, but making it work for you.

Demo skill 5: An eye for design

I’m not a designer. Not even close. I can’t draw, and my handwriting is at the same skill level of your average 5 year old. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize good design when I see it.

Think about the average slide deck that’s out there. They usually have so many problems. Too many words. A bad balance of colors that make them hard to read. Graphs that represent eye charts. They’re awful.

Instead of just making them better, many sales professionals apologize for them instead.

“Well, I know this is an eye chart, but…”

“I didn’t design this slide, but…”

If you hate your slides, your prospect will too. So if you’re not a designer, the real skill here is to make better use of white space. Like demo skill 4, you want to have as little on the page as possible. For example, when I’m presenting, almost every slide is a gif or a meme. Besides being fun, they’re simple and help me prove my point. Plus, then the audience is focused on me, not the deck.

There you have it – the top 5 skills every sales and demo professional needs to have. What are the others? Let us know in the comments! Want more demo tips? Check out the Demo Tool Box!

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