Demo Rules – The Deal Closers

Some rules are OK to break. These ones aren’t.

Demo rules? Why would I need demo rules?

Demo Rules are the basis for Demo Solutions coaching and the foundations for delivering a killer demo. The rules are:

  1. Always demo like yourself.
  2. Never make anyone feel left out.
  3. Never use big words when small words will do.
  4. Never assume that the client cares about your company.
  5. Always conduct discovery before the demo. And during. And after.

Demo Rule 1: Always demo like yourself.

Let’s try an experiment. Get a book off your shelf. Any book. I’ll wait.

OK, stand up and read a paragraph or two. Out loud. I’ll wait.

That felt kind of awkward, didn’t it? And not just because you probably just read a book out loud to yourself. Reading someone else’s words out loud can feel weird. That’s because it doesn’t feel like you.

Most salespeople are given a script and directed to use it verbatim during a demo or presentation – “just stick to the script.” But that script is either too generic, too specific, or both. (We offer a service for perfect demo scripts) Even if the words are “perfect,” the delivery won’t be authentic.

An authentic presenter who doesn’t hit all of their scripted points is significantly better than an inauthentic demo that has all of the right words. That’s right. Better to miss a few points and skip a few lines authentically than to hit all of them while sounding like a robot.

People buy from people they like, and the more we are our authentic selves, the more the audience will like us and then buy our products. Take our quiz to determine your Demo Identity, and that identity will help you be your best, most authentic self in front of an audience.


Demo Rule 2: Never make anyone feel left out.

Inclusivity is important in almost every situation, business or otherwise.

The Table stakes of inclusivity present as demographics such as gender, race, or age and no presenter (or human, really) should make someone else feel uncomfortable or excluded based on their demographics. We teach leaders and engineers to connect with audiences, however in doing so some clients try to hard to connect on the wrong levels and risk exclusion. On top of which, there are other versions of exclusion that happens during presentations that is much more subtle.

Let’s say you’re in a sales meeting with the decision maker and their team, and you only speak to the needs of the decision maker. By speaking to the decision maker’s needs, you communicate that the team doesn’t matter. That their needs are not important. But you want them to pay attention to you, and to advocate for your products/deal/service when things are all said and done with the meeting. Good luck with that.

Some more ways of leaving people out are even more subtle. We here at Demo Solutions love fun gifs and pop culture references, but we also recognize that not everyone likes the same references as us. But if someone in the audience doesn’t get our reference, they are going to feel left out of the joke – and no one wants to be left out of the joke. Humor can be a wonderful leveler amidst a group of executives and lower ranking team members, but it also can fall really flat, fast. We coach on this.


Demo Rule 3: Never use big words when small ones will do.

Long words and complex sentences are intended to add importance to something unimportant.

Jack Mabley

In 2005, Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University (now at Carnegie Mellon) published Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology. In that study, Oppenheimer found that people tended to rate the intelligence of authors who wrote essays in simpler language, using an easy to read font, as higher than those who authored more complex works. That’s right, people who wrote using big words to sound intelligent were perceived as less intelligent than those who didn’t.

Oppenheimer noted that the issue wasn’t necessarily about big words, but it was about using long words when they aren’t necessary.

There are plenty of times that big words can make sense to use. In front of a technical or scientific audience, when everyone knows the words being used, then of course that language is acceptable. But in a mixed audience, that tactic makes a lot less sense. If the audience doesn’t know the words that you’re using, they will feel excluded, and will start tuning you out. And, if they do know the words but have to think about it, their mental energy will shift to defining the words and they’ll stop paying attention. Either way, you’ve lost them.

And, as we discussed in the Demo Killers, avoid buzzwords as much as you can. They tend to have the same effect as unnecessary big words.


Demo Rule 4: Never assume the client cares about your company.

Anyone in a long term relationship likely understands the mistake being made by walking in the door and just talking about their day without letting their significant other speak. People want to have conversations, not just sit and listen – especially when it comes to sales meetings.

But how many sales meetings start with 20 minutes about the company – who is the founder, why did they found the company, who are the investors, who are the clients (with the classic NASCAR slide filled with logos), what are the features, etc. Then, there’s a demo that shows the software at a high level. But what’s missing here? the client.

You aren’t brought into a sales meeting to talk about yourself. You’re brought in to talk about the client. What are their challenges and opportunities? How can you make their life better? What will you do for them? They aren’t giving you money because you’re cool, but it’s because you bring them value. And you need to very clearly define what the value is.

To paraphrase a famous speech: “ask not what your client can do for you, ask what you can do for your client.” A pitch that shows you understand your customer’s needs shows that you can make their life better. And that’s what it takes to close the deal.


Demo Rule 5: Always conduct discovery before the demo. And during. And after.

There’s a certain phone call that’s almost a joke in the presales community, because every sales engineer has gotten this call. More than once.

AE: Hey, we have an important meeting on the other side of the country on Friday. Can you make it?

SE: Maybe, can you tell me more about the opportunity?

AE: Oh it’s a great opportunity – huge company, they’re about to issue an RFP, we need to be there.

SE: Do you know what they want to show? Have we done discovery?

AE: No, but they just want to see what we have.

SE: Right, but it’s only an hour long meeting – how do I know what to show?

AE: Just do that demo you always do…

A simple rule that avoids this trap is “no travel without discovery” (well, it was in a pre-coronavirus world).

Why is discovery so important? Because most salespeople have software that has lots of features. But how do you know what to show if you haven’t been given guidance from the customer?

No one wants to see the “30,000 foot view of the whole platform.” They want to listen to WIIFM – what’s in it for me radio (credit to Roy Wollen for that line). And the more things we show that aren’t for them, the less likely it is that we’re going to win our deal.


Now that you know the demo rules how will you use them?

We know rule reading can be a kill joy when you just wrote a demo script or delivered a demo that didn’t land and you lost a deal, why didn’t I see this sooner. But start with these rules, then sign up for our service, and you will see your demos start to close deals.

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