How many PowerPoint presentations have you attended in your lifetime?
You’ve likely been to a lot. I know I’ve watched quite a few in my day. I’ve even given some.
I remember none of them.
Your recall of these one-sided, overlong lectures is likely about the same as mine. People reading off slides of text, word-for-word, isn’t memorable? Huh, who knew.
Sales product demos can be just as bad. The chances of converting leads into paying customers with a boring, disorganized, and way-too-long demo are slim.
So what’s a good way to ensure your sales reps are giving effective sales demos? Structure them like an episode of your favourite TV show.
Storytelling is the key to persuasive presentations
Your sales team needs to build and present kickass demos. You want to leave prospects wondering how they ever lived without your solution. And telling great product stories is the way to do it.
They say we’re living in a ‘golden age’ of television. So why not channel some of those prestige storytelling techniques into your sales team’s product demos?
When we hear a story, our brains light up like fireworks. We all just love stories! More feel-good brain activity means a more memorable and enjoyable experience. Plus, it allows us to connect with other people on a deeper, more empathetic level as we put ourselves inside the story.
Sales demos are all about making connections with prospective clients. Harnessing the power of TV storytelling can help your sales reps build those relationships and close more deals. Here’s how to make that happen.
Have a conflict and a resolution
How can your salespeople rescue a dry sales demo? By adding a little conflict.
A story without conflict is boring. It’s a tale as old as time. A modern example is reality TV: it’s conflict-heavy, whether organic or instigated by producers, and one of the stars will usually get the “villain edit”.
In a demo, you’re not pitting two sides against each other. Your salesperson and the prospect are on the same side, working against a common enemy. The prospect’s biggest pain point provides all the conflict required.
Your sales reps need to be connecting to that pain, even pressing on it a little more to make sure the prospect really sees and feels the problem.
Say the pain point is a disorganized process that’s eating up way too much time for the prospect. Your salesperson could lean into this, talking about all the opportunities they’re missing out on because of it.
Go ahead, make it sound grim. This is the big, bad, time-eating monster your salesperson and the prospect are about to battle.
Of course, that battle needs a resolution—your product. The resolution has to be clear and attainable. We all roll our eyes at the last-minute hero-saves-the-day scenes, “it was all a dream”, an evil twin, and other unlikely endings.
The solution should speak to fit. If the resolution appears far-fetched or difficult to the prospect and they’re unsure about it, it might not be a good fit.
Keep in mind, it’s more about stopping and preventing pain than getting a reward. As in, the resolution should be more about defusing the bomb and saving local citizens than getting the key to the city from the mayor.
Present one big idea
In TV screenwriting, the most important story and the one that takes up the bulk of the running time is called the A plot. Most shows will have an A plot, plus maybe a smaller B or C plot in each episode.
Many traditional sitcom plots function this way. For example, in the Friends episode “The One Where No One is Ready” the A plot revolves around Ross trying to get everyone dressed and out the door to an important work banquet.
The B plot deals with fallout from Monica’s recent break-up, and the comic relief C plot has Joey and Chandler fighting over a chair. A new viewer could probably watch and enjoy the episode without any more backstory or character details than those provided in the episode. The episode could also function without the B or C plots.
Now think about a prolific, complicated show like a soap opera. It needs to have many storylines running at once, with quick cuts back and forth between them, to hold viewers’ attention every day.
Which kind of show is easier to follow?
Your sales reps aren’t going to be in front of the same audience every weekday afternoon like the soaps are. Sales reps get one shot to grab the prospect’s attention. So demos need to be focused, without attention-sucking tangents. Unnecessary digressions muddle the message and confuse potential customers.
I know, I know—your solution does more than just one big thing for customers. However, that doesn’t change the fact that your salespeople should pick the most important benefit to highlight during a demo.
The demo’s A-plot benefit should be based on the pain point information received from the customer during the discovery call. For example—the main pain point is spending too much time on tasks your solution streamlines. The demo A-plot, in this case, is the story of how your solution saves time. All the features shown during the demo should tie back into time savings.
There is no time right now for a convoluted B-plot about design or budget or whatever else your product can do. There will be an opportunity to go over all that later.
This might appear oversimplified. but simplicity is what makes it work so well. Humans are not wired to multitask. (Psst—even if you think you’re good at multitasking, you are actually just good at quickly switching between tasks.)
Presenting too many big, overarching ideas at once can cause a similar kind of multitasking brain overload. There are TV shows that need wikis for fans to keep track of all the plots, subplots, side-plots, and so on.
I mean, Game of Thrones has more than 100 characters existing in a world that has its own kingdoms and continents, plus a vast history that’s vital to the story. That takes dedication to stay on top of. More casual viewers might give up and stop watching.
That’s exactly what can happen when people get overwhelmed during a demo. They say no and opt out.
Present one big idea—the one the prospect cares most about—and the features of your product that support it to move the deal forward.
Let the prospect engage in and drive the narrative
A demo is sometimes referred to as a sales “presentation”. It really isn’t, though.
‘Presentation’ brings to mind a one-sided lecture, where one person is speaking, the other is listening, and these roles never change. It makes the presenter the hero of the story because theirs is the only point of view the audience gets.
In a successful demo, the prospect should be the central figure in the story. They should drive the ‘narrative’ of the demo and they must have dialogue.
Dialogue means a conversation has to take place between the salesperson and the lead. Both sides should speak. Both sides should ask and answer questions. The prospect should talk just as much as, if not more than, the salesperson.
What’s the secret to making the prospect the ‘hero’ of the demo? The salesperson has an agenda for the demo, a roadmap if you will, but lets the prospective client drive.
Hand over the ‘keys’ to the demo by asking the prospect to steer it ‘choose your own adventure’ style.
Basically, this is set up as a multiple-choice question. Your salespeople say something like, “I know you’re looking to save time in your widget-making process. I’m going to show you features A, B, and C so you get a better understanding of how our tool accomplishes that for you. Where would you like to start?”
This gives the client the agency to be able to say, “I’m really interested in feature B. Let’s start with that one.”
This gets that collaborative buy-in from the prospect and provides a feeling of control and customization without taking the demo off-course. Plus, it gets them talking. By choosing the route for the demo, they are saying their first yes of, hopefully, many.
Fill the time slot
The human attention span is about 20 minutes. The run-time of most half-hour TV shows is about 21 minutes, plus commercials, if they’re not streaming. Coincidence?
Like primetime sitcoms, many sales experts recommend a 30-minute limit for demos. This allows for about 15-20 minutes of “presentation,” with a 5-minute introduction and some time for questions and wrap-up at the end.
This isn’t the time for an in-depth review of the backend of your SaaS product or to click on each and every link in the menu. Avoid a deep dive, unless you regularly demo to a highly technical or niche audience that would appreciate a closer look.
A short window of time doesn’t mean rushing, though. It means creating content that will fit within the time allotted. It means keeping the demo on track and not allowing it to go off on tangents.
An effective tip for keeping a demo pace on target is to remind the prospect that there is a hard stop at the half-hour mark. This will set up expectations that everything will be covered in that timeframe. It also gives the salesperson something to point to if they need to move the demo along when it gets stuck at a particular point.
Don’t leave them hanging
Cliffhanger endings are great for TV finales, but not so much for demos.
Your sales reps can’t have prospects looking at their screen after a great demo, thinking, “Okay, what now?” They need to know what the next steps are.
The original Batman TV show had it right. Once Batman and Robin were caught in some dangerous situation, the audience wasn’t totally left hanging. The show told them what they should do: tune in next week. Same bat-time, same bat-channel.
At the end of a demo, salespeople should ask what the buying process looks like on the prospect’s end. What are their timelines? Who is involved in the decision? Using this information, the sales rep can set concrete next steps, like sending a proposal, and let them know when to expect it.
Then put it in writing. Send a short email recap that mentions the major prospect pain points and solutions features. Add relevant resources if applicable, like case studies/testimonials. Content is especially important if other decision-makers who didn’t attend the demo are involved. Outline the next steps and the timeline.
Product demos are the perfect opportunity to channel TV storytelling into sales. Spoiler alert: people will stick around for a good story, especially one that revolves around them.
Does it still require a spoiler alert if it’s at the end of the post?
Anyway, try thinking about demos like they’re the hottest TV series of the season, with your prospect as the hero, and your sales team as the supporting cast. Then, get ready for primetime.