Demonstration skills training (Part 1)

Demonstration skills training: why, when, how

Demonstration skills are one of several “proof sources” to call upon as needed. What IS a proof source? It’s whatever will “prove” that your product or service not only does what you claim it does, but—no less important—that it fills the needs that you and the prospect have agreed upon are significant.

That may seem to be restating the obvious: that we use proof sources (like demonstration skills) to prove points to the prospect.

Obvious, perhaps, but sometimes forgotten. A lot of (usually ineffective) sales people use their demonstration skills early-on, as a sort of general sales “thingee.” If you’re demonstrating a magic trick it maybe does make sense to demo it before you talk about it.

Otherwise, you’re best to find just what needs proving, and then focus your time and energy on demonstrating and proving that. A lot of prospects have sat through demonstrations that made no sense because the demo didn’t fit what they wanted to know, or seen proven. As a result, they tuned out, and no sale was made.

Again, use proof sources, such as demonstrations, proposals, and formal presentations, for one reason: to prove that what you are selling can meet the needs that are of prime importance to the customer.

Your product (or service) may do many things, but probably only certain of those capabilities will really matter to this customer. Normally, those will directly tie in with the needs that turned out to be of particular importance during your earlier sales work with this prospect, as you asked questions, listened to the prospect’s responses, and then matched those needs with aspects of your product.

Thus if the prospect agreed that certain needs were vital, then your demonstration should prove how your product can fill those specific needs, in ways that are both effective and cost-effective.



As we’ll be discussing in another section that will be coming to this web-page soon, before you invest the time in preparing and presenting a demonstration, you first need to lock in precisely what is to be demonstrated. The best way is by means of a “Gentleperson’s Agreement,” which we will explain and provide a link to.

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Demonstrations are about demonstrating, not just talking

A key to effective demonstration skills is that you DEMONSTRATE — that is, show. Don’t let your words get in the way. Let the product or work sample do most of the talking.

Demonstration skills: six key “gates”

As we begin, we assume that you have finished all the preparations and preliminaries, and the day of your demonstration (or presentation) is here.

Demonstrations and formal presentations are much alike in many ways, so what we say here applies to both. The key difference is that in a demonstration, you are demonstrating how something works or looks, while in a presentation you are typically leading the group through a proposal or other documentation, such as a report or study results.

Once the Decision Maker and her team of Decision Influencers are in place, you have six key phases to work through. (Actually, it may help to think of these as “gates” to go through, rather than as a rigid series of steps. Be flexible: sometimes you may be able to combine the functions of a couple of the gates into one.)

1: Set the context with an Opening Benefits Statement.

A “Benefits Statement” is a brief, “netted-out” summary of what you intend to prove, and of what it ultimately DOES FOR the organization.

A model Benefits Statement follows. Note how it’s direct and to-the-point. Note also how it speaks in terms of what the product DOES FOR the client, not of what it IS, nor of technical details.

“I’m here today to demonstrate the GEM 4000 business mini-computer . . . specifically to show how it can increase your unit’s productivity in turning out the monthly ABC report, as well as in balancing the weekly output totals.”

2: State and confirm the objectives. Check for completeness. If appropriate, add any others suggested.

Here’s a model for stating and confirming the objective of this present demonstration. Feel free to adapt it as appropriate:

“On the basis of our earlier discussion, I believe that these are the three major objectives of greatest importance to you. First . . .”

Whenever possible, print these agreed-upon objectives in advance on a flip chart or other visual aid, so you can point to them to buttress your words.

Then ask of the group, “Are there any others that should be added?” If there are, print them on the visual so you can tick them off as you cover each point. (See item 4, below).

Generally, any additional objectives suggested by the group will be refinements of ones earlier agreed upon, or at least objectives you can adapt to.

But listen carefully as they are suggested. Make sure they are ones within the scope of what you had agreed to in the earlier “Gentleperson’s Agreement.” You don’t want to inadvertently commit on the spot to some new aspect that you have not prepared for, or that is outside the scope of your demonstration.

If that happens, be direct: “That’s raising a wholly-new issue, beyond what we had earlier agreed upon as essential to be covered in today’s product demonstration.” The prospect may intervene on your behalf, saying in effect that the sale can go through without that item.

But what if the prospect herself raises that new objective, or determines that it is important, after all. You could stand on your rights under the pre-commitment. But there are obvious risks to that approach.

A better approach is to pause at that point and treat the proposed new objective as you would an objection: that is, PROBE, RESTATE, RESPOND POSITIVELY, then MOVE ON.

In your PROBING, begin by finding out why that new objective suddenly seems important to the prospect.

Perhaps you can show how the same end can be accomplished in other ways through your product. If it’s not something you can easily deal with, PROBE to find how important it really is. You may well find that it’s only an afterthought or a “nice-to-have,” not a “must-have.”

You may be able to point that out to the group. Indeed, your questions may well defuse the issue: as you probe to find how important it is, the issue may deflate itself.

In any case, deal with it and move on. If you can solve it, say so. If you can’t, say that, too. Then get the demo back on track showing how your product does fill the agreed-upon objectives.

Don’t let yourself get bogged down on this or any other question, objection, or side issue. Deal with it, then move on.

3: Confirm the Pre-Commitment you obtained earlier.

“We agreed earlier that if I can prove to your satisfaction how the GEM 4000 can meet these objectives, you’ll be prepared to order it now for your use. Are we still in accord?”

The answer will normally be yes, since you already obtained the commitment before scheduling this demo. But if the answer is No, probe why before proceeding. Find what is holding back a decision, and deal with it.

But, as always in dealing with objections or hesitations, don’t let yourself get bogged down. If you get back on track and move on, chances are that these minor concerns will be forgotten. But if you let them take over, the sale will be lost.

To go on to Part 2 of this module on Demonstration skills training

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