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Leverage Hands-On Demonstrations Within Your Sales Presentations

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This post is part of a series called Presentation Fundamentals.
How To Pace Your Sales Presentation
How to Process Customer Questions During a Sales Presentation

As you go through your sales presentation inventory, you are confident that you have everything you need to close the deal. You sell widgets for industrial cleaning facilities and you know that every industrial cleaning facility needs widgets. Your products are the best in the business and you are already spending the commission check in your mind.

By the time the presentation is over, you get a half-hearted “maybe” from the chief purchasing agent and from the COO as well. You can’t believe it. You thought that you had every base covered. You had a video of the widget in action, you had pictures of it from every angle, and you even had rave reviews from real customers who have bought several of them. Despite all of that compelling information, you could not get the customer to commit.

Suddenly, your spirits soar and your demeanor changes when the chief purchasing officer starts to approach you with a puzzled look on his face. Does he want bulk pricing? You have never sold more than two widgets at a time, but you would be glad to give pricing on bulk numbers. Maybe he and the COO want to discuss a custom widget to fit their applications overseas. You could certainly accommodate that request with no problem. That would even mean a bigger commission check for you.

You are shocked when the chief purchasing officer approaches you and asks you how the product actually works. You have no response for him. You want to ask if he was able to follow your video, but you are afraid that would be too insulting. That is when it occurs to you that a hands-on demonstration would have really helped to close this deal and bring you the sales you were looking for.

No matter how great your product video is or how impressive the customer reviews appeared to be, your customer just could not comprehend how your product works without a hands-on demonstration. That is when you realize that a hands-on demonstration must be included with all of your future presentations. 

A hands-on demonstration during your sales presentation can be a valuable selling tool, but only if it is used properly and only if it is appropriate for your pitch.

Good Types Of Hands-On Demonstrations

The best sales memories are always the ones that involve big sales and happy clients. When I was just establishing myself in my professional career, I was asked to sell scanning equipment to one of the largest chemical companies in the country. I decided that a hands-on demonstration would do the trick, so I worked with the tech engineers to set one up.

Back when this happened, document scanners were not the $30 devices you see today. Back then, scanners were the size of ovens and the storage devices we were using were as big as refrigerators. I have never worked with this equipment before, so I spent a few weeks getting used to it.

By the time my presentation got around to the demonstration, the decision makers had the furrowed brows of interest I was hoping for. When I put a stack of documents through the scanner and the results showed up clearly on the computer screen, I was able to close the sale. That is how a good demonstration can enhance your presentation.

The best types of hands-on demonstrations are ones that can be easily set up, easily presented, and easily put away. Your hands-on presentation needs to be quick, effective, and safe. The need for a safe presentation cannot be overstated. Any injuries that result from your demonstration would not only lose you the deal, but they could also bring about a lawsuit as well.

Bad Types Of Hands-On Demonstrations

My habit of practicing and memorizing presentations and hands-on demonstrations has served me well over the years. But I learned my lesson about using products that were too big for a facility when I was selling servers and server storage equipment.

In my warehouse, the demonstration went great. But I never really took the time to transfer the demonstration to a conference room, which would prove to be my undoing. I had the product packed up and shipped to the customer location. When I got to the customer location two hours before the presentation, the product was still on their shipping dock. Why? It was too big to move into a conference room. 

If you want your hands-on demonstration to be effective, then avoid these situations:

  • A bad hands-on demonstration is too large for one person to handle safely.
  • The product being demonstrated should be easy to use and enhance your presentation. 
  • If your demonstration product takes a while to use, then do not make it part of your presentation.
  • A hands-on demonstration that is extremely loud, gives off any kind of offensive odor, or requires special power requirements is a bad idea.
  • Prototypes make horrible demonstration products. (We will discuss this in detail later in this article.)
  • Never use previous model versions of the product you are trying to sell. If you cannot demonstrate the current model, then do not do a demonstration.

If you need assistance in putting on your demonstration, then bring extra help with you. Never rely on an audience member to help you demonstrate your product. It may be a cute idea to try and engage the CEO of your client in a demonstration of your product, but it could also be the worst idea you ever had if anything goes wrong.

Always Test The Product Before Doing Your Demonstration

Just because your demonstration product worked great in your presentation two weeks ago does not mean that it will work now. Your demonstration piece has been shipped, handled, and possibly even dropped a few times in between the last presentation and this one. Never give a demonstration with a product that has not been fully tested first.

As you are setting up your presentation, check your demonstration product and make sure that everything works properly. It always helps to have some sort of backup plan in case the demonstration product does not work. Never point to the malfunctioning demonstration piece during your presentation and announce that you wanted to show it to everyone, but it does not work. Nothing puts doubt in your clients’ minds faster than a demonstration product that does not work.

The backup plan should be another demonstration piece that you carry with you in case of just such an emergency. This is a full unit, just like the original, and has all of the same functionality that the original piece has. If you do not carry a backup with you and you have a demonstration as part of your presentation, then you are setting yourself up to fail.

Have The Audience Sign A Non-Disclosure Agreement Prior To The Demonstration

Whether your demonstration is for a new product or a product that has been on the market for some time, you still want to get your audience members to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Your presentation may include classified company information about your product that you use to make sales, but you don’t want your competition to know.

A non-disclosure agreement allows you to do your hands-on demonstration without the fear of having it winding up on Youtube for your competition to see. In the business world, a little bit of mystery is always important when it comes to fending off the competition. A good NDA will make sure that your secrets are safe while you sell your products.

Never Use Prototypes For Your Sales Presentations

Prototypes for products that are going to be released are essential parts of presentations to potential investors and even key personnel that are considering bringing their talents to your organization. But you should never use a prototype as a demonstration piece for your sales presentation.

The most embarrassing moment of my career occurred when my arrogance decided that I could demonstrate a prototype and make a sale. It was a moment that was akin to the time when Bill Gates went to demonstrate Microsoft Windows and he got the blue screen of death.

The prototype worked fine, but I was unaware that there were certain engineering processes that needed to be done to make sure the product would be durable enough to use in recommended situations. In other words, I didn’t wait for the prototype to be completely finished before I demonstrated it.

I shipped the prototype to the customer location and the box was sitting on the floor of the conference room when I got there. This was one of only two prototypes in the entire company and my sales manager and I did not bother to get approval from the head of engineering to use it as a demonstration.

My entire presentation was geared around the demonstration at the end and I knew this prototype inside and out. But when I pulled it out of the box, I could tell right away that something was wrong. It would not power up and parts of it looked caved in. When I called engineering and asked what I could do to fix it, I was transferred to the head of engineering who gave me a few choice words as to why prototypes are not to leave the building until cleared by engineering.

I did the best I could with the presentation, but I made the cardinal mistake of pointing to the prototype and announcing that I would have demonstrated it if it had worked. The presentation did not yield any sales and my manager and I were banned from the engineering department for the remainder of our time with the company.

If your customer really likes the product, then he is going to want to buy it. If it is still in the prototype phase, then you may not be able to sell it to him for several months. All you have really done is piqued a client’s interest and then dashed his hopes for having your product against the rocks. There are faster ways to lose clients, but none are more frustrating to a client than being given the wrong set of expectations.

Prototypes, by their nature, are imperfect products that still need some refining and fine tuning. The last thing you want to do is present something to your client that may or may not work. If you did that, it could very well be your last sales presentation for that client.

When Should The Demonstration Occur In The Presentation?

Always put your product demonstration at the end of your presentation. Your entire presentation should lead up to the demonstration and that should be the thing that closes the deal. You should have your demonstration piece on display throughout the presentation to get your audience more and more interested in what it does and how it works.

When you do your demonstration at the end of the presentation, then you can take your time in showing off the product and allow your customers to get a real feel for it. If you put your demonstration in the middle of your presentation, then you will need to cut your demonstration short to get back to the presentation and that is going to frustrate your audience.

How Long Should The Demonstration Go?

The demonstration should go as long as your audience wants it to go. If your audience is extremely interested in your product, then your audience will make time to see a full demonstration. 

You can use your demonstration as an indication as to how well the presentation went. If the demonstration gets your client to put out his hand to shake on a purchase order, then the demonstration served its purpose. But if the client cuts the demonstration short and it does not lead to a sale, then you either made the demonstration too complicated, or you set the wrong expectations during the presentation.

Putting The Demonstration Into The Presentation

Your hands-on demonstration is the star of the show when it comes to your sales presentation, and it should be treated that way. It is always best to refer to the demonstration piece throughout the presentation by pointing out features and referring to the piece as you discuss its capabilities. This will help to build up the audience’s anticipation for actually seeing the piece in action.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using the old “and now for the moment you have been waiting for” approach when it comes to introducing the demonstration. Ask the audience if they are ready to see the product in action and pay close attention to the response you get. If you get an enthusiastic response, then you know that you set the demonstration up properly. If the response is lethargic, then your presentation needs work.

Keep in mind, the hands-on demonstration is not going to close the sale for you on its own. If your presentation was poor, then the demonstration is not going to salvage it. 

What Kind Of Printed Material Should Accompany The Demonstration?

It is common for sales professionals to group all of their presentation handouts together and just give them to the audience before beginning the actual pitch. But you can have a little fun with your presentation if you have a hands-on demonstration that you will be using.

You can give out most of your presentation materials before you begin, but hold onto the demonstration handouts until it is time to actually show the product. The handouts can include the product brochure, the technical specifications, and pictures of the product in use. Be sure that your demonstration follows those pictures because that will help enhance the effectiveness of your demonstration with your audience.

You should include a sheet of safety instructions for your demonstration that you should go over thoroughly with your audience. Safety should always be your primary concern with any product demonstration.

The Right and Wrong Of Hands-On Product Demonstrations

Do:

  • Do reference the demonstration piece repeatedly throughout the presentation to heighten anticipation.
  • Do have the demonstration piece in a place where the audience can see it, but do not allow any audience member to have contact with the piece until the actual demonstration.
  • Do allow each member of the audience to use the product, if they would like to.
  • When you are arranging the presentation, do tell your client that you will be doing a hands-on demonstration and let your client know if you will require anything special to do the demonstration safely.
  • Do practice the demonstration on your own until you have it memorized.
  • Do understand your product completely so that you can attend to any situation that may come up during the presentation.

Don’t:

  • Don’t try anything new with your product while doing a hands-on demonstration. Stick with the script and demonstration that you have memorized.
  • Don’t allow more than one person at a time to try the product, unless it can be safely operated by multiple people.
  • Don’t allow anyone to use the product unsupervised.
  • Don’t leave the product out and available when you are out of the room.
  • Don’t count on your audience to understand your product. Explain it thoroughly before allowing anyone to use it.
  • Don’t go beyond the confines of your meeting demonstration. In other words, if you sell cleaning equipment, then don’t offer to clean the rug of another conference room in the building. Keep your demonstration confined to the meeting area.

Touch The Future

A product demonstration can be a great way to reinforce the points you made in your presentation and get the customer emotionally involved in wanting to buy the product. Always plan your hands-on demonstrations out completely and never count on that demonstration to save a bad presentation. 

A good hands-on demonstration should be the exclamation point at the end of a great presentation.

Resources

Graphic Credit: Presentation designed by Alexander Bickov from the Noun Project. Hands designed by Michele Zamparo from the Noun Project.

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