Paul Sylvestre's Business Strategy and Marketing Blog

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Web Based Demo: Proceed With Caution

For web based software and ASP solutions, online meetings (including web based demos) are an invaluable step in the sales process. Online meeting services such as Webex, Microsoft Live Meeting and Raindance allow a deeper level of interaction with your prospects, which can enable you to develop more rapport than could be achieved with just phone and email correspondence. These systems also provide a backdrop to more easily qualify prospects, clarify the main top-of-mind issues, and when demo'ing your offering, provide proof points to your positioning.

There are very compelling productivity gains by demonstrating your offering over the web. Reps don't have to visit each and every potential buyer in person. Thus, more time can be spent focusing on filling the pipeline with additional opportunities, and more time on high value opportunities where face-to-face meetings could bring the most benefit.

Sound great? It does for most, but for sales that require a consultative process, here are a few words of caution when using these systems for online demos.
  1. Consultative selling requires that the Rep get to the root of the problems and needs before presenting a solution. It is tempting to lead with an online demo. In fact, many potential buyers expect it. However, when the Rep performs the demo too soon, they have no understanding of the problems or goals of the prospect, since no meaningful discussion took place before the meeting. With no understanding of those specific problems or goals, it is unlikely that the online demo will address these “top-of-mind’ issues that will make or break a sale. In addition, the prospect has no vision of the offering for their organization,and the Rep has no understanding of the value the prospect sees (or doesn’t see) in the offerings. With no agreement as to how your offering can help, it is unlikely the Rep will win the business.
  2. Online demos, by their very nature, tend to focus on features and functions. The Rep is moving through a potential minefield at this point without knowing the background on the organization he is trying to sell to. The prospect may view a capability as not needed, not user friendly, etc. and raise objections. Your prospect may conclude, "This is not for us.", and will immediately disengage. Once this occurs, it is extremely difficult to reestablish dialogue with a prospect who has already concluded you can't help them. Even if this doesn't happen, the prospect may still see that parts of your product has value, but sees other features as of no interest at all. When the time comes to negotiate, the prospect will want changes to the system to remove those unnecessary features or demand a discount.
As VP of Sales for my organization, web based demos were an integral part of the sales process. However, we instituted a mandatory "first call" that comprised of an in depth needs analysis, which teased out the specific challenges the target organization faced before we presented the solution during the online demo. In addition, if more than one prospect from the organization was to be present, we pushed for those attendees to be of a similar level to provide even more focus to our product positioning. For my organization, doing this meant the difference between a successful sale and almost guaranteed failure.

If you are using an online demo in your sales process and typically perform this as the very first step in your process, try adding a needs analysis step first and let me know how it goes for you.