Overcoming Three Common Sales Demo Challenges

Even the best SaaS sales representatives sometimes struggle with their sales demos. Not all aspects are in their control, and factors like technical difficulties, challenging personalities, and surprising time constraints arise. Here, we cover how to overcome three common sales demo challenges.

Overcoming Three Common Sales Demo Challenges

Sales demos are an integral and critical part of SaaS sales. When the account executive delivers a winning sales demo, the opportunity takes a notable step towards a successful closing. However, some hurdles might prevent reps from running great sales demos. Here, we cover three common sales demo challenges and how to overcome each one.

In this article, we focus on sales demo-specific challenges. We leave out those generally present in any sales process, such as failing to secure the next steps, inadequate preparation, or not communicating clearly how the company differs from the competition.

Defeating the Dreaded Demo Effect

“Oh, sorry! I think I have run into a demo effect here…”

If you work in tech sales, you have probably encountered the demo effect. If you are among the lucky ones who have not, the term means that a product feature fails to work at all or as intended during a demo session. This is bad as it can lead to a loss of credibility, frustration for the prospect, and potentially losing the sale due to the perceived unreliability of the product if the demo effect is managed poorly.

The remedy here is twofold. Some steps can be taken to mitigate the demo effects beforehand. First, sales representatives should be trained to use the product's features, as the demo effect may also happen due to salesperson actions (wrong settings, etc.). Before an important or customised sales demo, the sales rep should test that the most critical features work as intended. Lastly, the importance of communication can’t be overemphasised here. If a feature is known to be buggy, sales reps should warn each other and convey the information to the development team for a quick fix (a bug might also impact customers).

Secondly, what to do when a demo effect strikes mid-demo? A pretty common reaction is to repeat and try the intended feature again. Depending on the severity of the failure, trying multiple times confirms to prospects that something is broken. If the failure was a minor one, there is a change prospects didn’t notice (they do not know how the product should work). If you repeat and repeat, they do see the issue for sure. So, pivoting to other features and potentially circling back to the troublesome feature later in the demo might just safe the day (if an easy and quick fix is available). Alternatively, admit there is an issue and move on. Honesty is the best practice, after all. Following the demo call, a proactive sales rep can follow up with a personalised demo video of the feature.

If you are looking at critical failure in the product or key feature, reschedule the demo rather than setting yourself up to fail.

Engaging Unresponsive Prospects

“Does this make sense?”
“Yeah, I guess.”

One reason sales demos work so well is because sellers and buyers can interact and have a dialogue during the session. However, suppose the other side engages only in a bare minimum. In that case, it is difficult for a sales rep to learn more, personalise the demo experience, and provide value for the prospect. Speaking to a silent prospect with the camera off is an experience every SaaS sales representative hates!

First, asking a prospect to turn the camera on during online meetings is okay. Both sides having the camera on already increases the engagement and lowers the threshold for having an actual dialogue during a demo.

There are ways to reduce the risk of prospects becoming disengaged. The first is to ensure they understand that you, as a seller, are doing your best to help them. To be able to help and personalise a demo for them, you need to ask some questions. There is a delicate balance to this; too detailed discovery risks losing some of the audience while waiting for a demo that seems never to start. Still, jumping on the general non-personalised demo telling how great your product is, you’ll surely lose them as the demo does not speak to their needs. So, when the audience is tough, leave some questions out before the demo and ask them on the way.

During the demo, don’t let the prospects lose focus. Start with what is vital to their needs and hook them in. If you feel you are losing them, remind them of their pain you are solving. Keep the conversation going by asking questions one can't reply with a simple yes or no. Rather than asking every once in a while, “Does this make sense?” try asking questions like “How do you see your team using this feature?" Precisely, with your questions, you force prospects to pay attention and discuss with you.

Managing Time and Stakeholders Effectively

“Sorry, I need to leave after the first 15 minutes.”

As the sales rep running the sales demo, you must manage time and participating prospects. You have a specific time set to do your thing, and you have multiple attendees with their various interests and questions looking after their interests.

So, one needs to manage two connected risks. First, failing time management can cause critical parts of the demo to be rushed or missed entirely, reducing the overall impact and effectiveness. Running behind the demo agenda causes prospects to become impatient, or some might need to leave before seeing the entire presentation. Second, taking time to focus on the needs of a selected few (the most active prospects usually), the demo fails to address the specific concerns of all different stakeholders. You might accidentally lean too much on IT's many questions about technical implementation and not have time to address other executives' interest in expected cost savings for the business case.

Things get especially tricky if one of the decision-makers joins the meeting and announces that he or she, unfortunately, has just half of the agreed time. There goes your well-planned agenda!

How to mitigate the situation then? Again, we return to preparations and the need for good research and discovery. Especially when facing a surprising time restriction, the best practice is to focus on solving the prospects' most significant pain. You buy more time and attention by showing you can solve the main issue before letting prospects' questions take you off course. By knowing the roles and priorities of all stakeholders attending the demo, one can prepare an agenda and demo plan that addresses the specific concerns of each participating group, such as technical details for IT and ROI for executives.

How do you spend the time during the demo? Focus on delivering key messages clearly and avoid overwhelming the prospect with unnecessary details (remember always to explain “why”). Use clear and concise language, and break down complex concepts into understandable pieces for people with various backgrounds and interests. Highlight the most important features and benefits, and be prepared to dive deeper when prospects show interest and time allows.

If you're running out of time, divide and conquer. Agree on a separate call to address technical details and another for the business case. With a specific, narrow agenda, you can have an in-depth discussion without losing the rest of the audience and win each decision-maker on your side one by one.

Overcoming these common challenges and others like them during sales demos is crucial for winning new logos and achieving sales goals. It would be a good habit to practise encountering these scenarios with one's sales team, as even the best sales reps can run into situations that are not within their control.

We’d love to hear about your experiences and any additional tips you might have. Feel free to share them in the comments below.