Is the Product Demo Actually Product’s Responsibility?

Imagine: One of your sales reps pings you to ask if you’ll hop on a sales call to give a product demo to a prospective customer. It’s a Fortune 500 firm, your rep tells you, and he’d really prefer to have you do the walkthrough. You know the product so well, after all.

You give the demo. It goes well. The prospect’s team seems very interested. Your sales rep sends you a “Thank you” message with four exclamation points and a dozen thumbs-up emojis. But then…

A couple of days later, that rep calls you again. Turns out the prospect has another big team interested in a product demo. Can you do it? You say yes, and again it goes well. Same positive vibe from the prospect’s team. Same thank you note from your sales rep.

Then it happens a third time. This time, though, your rep asks you to run the call and give the product demo alone—he won’t be there. Oh, and could you let him know how it went afterward?

Let’s stop here. Is this okay? Are you truly helping here, or are you making things worse? Who actually has organizational responsibility for giving product demos to prospects? Is it sales or product management?

Our Take: The Product Demo is a Sales (or Pre-Sales) Function

We at ProductPlan are product managers ourselves, and we work with thousands of PMs around the world who use our software to develop better product roadmaps.

We’ve even offered our interpretation of the product manager’s job description. And although it’s jam-packed with responsibilities, the PM’s job does not include giving product demos to prospective customers. That is a sales responsibility.

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“Although it’s jam-packed with responsibilities, the product manager’s job does not include giving product demos to prospective customers.”

Of course, if your company is very small or just getting started, you as a PM might also take on the product demo role. That’s just how small companies often have to operate. Nothing wrong with that. Get it done.

But if your organization is big enough to have a full-time sales force, those reps should take responsibility for giving their own product demos to prospects.

And if your organization is well-staffed enough to have a pre-sales team—such as sales consultants and sales engineers (SEs)—then those might be the right team members to own the demo.

What to Do if You’re Getting Stuck with the Product Demo

Let’s go back to our hypothetical in the introduction: Your sales rep keeps asking you to give product demos on his sales calls. Eventually, in fact, that morphs into the sales rep just asking you to start scheduling your own sales calls to deliver product demos to his prospects.

How should you handle this situation? Every situation is different, but here are a few general suggestions.

Step 1: Identify the problem (because, yes, there’s a problem).

First things first: Why does your rep want you doing the product demo? Doesn’t he know the product enough to give a compelling walkthrough of its key features and benefits? And if he has an SE on his team, doesn’t that SE know how to do a compelling demo?

Maybe not, and maybe that’s the problem. If you talk this through with your rep, you might discover he doesn’t feel confident enough handling the product in front of prospects to do the demo himself. And maybe he doesn’t think his SE does a great job of it, either.

So now you’ve uncovered your next step.

Step 2: Train the right people.

Your role as a PM does include training your internal teams (in conjunction with product marketing) on how to demo your products. So perhaps the best way to solve this problem is to train your sales reps and their pre-sales teammates on how to deliver a powerful product demo.

As well as you know your product, and as confident as you might feel about delivering a kickass demo to a room full of prospects, it’s in your best interest—it’s in your entire company’s best interest, in fact—to make everyone on your sales team capable of doing a better product demo than you can.

Step 3: Establish an ongoing internal training schedule.

Even after you’ve done a great job of training your sales and pre-sales teams to deliver a compelling demo, your training job isn’t done.

Your product will change over time. Some people on your sales team could get rusty at giving great demos if they’re not called on to do them frequently enough. So you’ll want to create a regular schedule of product training sessions for these teams.

This should include, for example, a new product training every time you push out a new release of your product—or at least every release that includes any new features or changes to existing functionality.

You’ll also want to train all new people who join your sales organization, so they’re ready to deliver a great product demo as soon as possible.

Step 4: Watch your ego.

Finally, just as we suggested you should try to figure out why your sales rep wants you to do his product demo, instead of someone on his own team, you should also try to understand why you feel compelled to say yes.

If your only reason for jumping in heroically and doing a demo for a prospect is to help out a sales rep in need, then you can just proceed with the other steps here: train the right people at your company to take ownership of the product demo themselves.

But if you’re being lured into these responsibilities because they flatter you, that’s another problem. And we’re all vulnerable to this one.

Remember, these are salespeople. They know how to influence. Your rep might tell you, “You’re the product demo genius here.”

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“Product Managers: Resist letting your ego lure you into taking on additional demanding, time-consuming roles that other people in your company are responsible for.”

That might even be true. But you have to resist letting your ego lure you into taking on additional demanding, time-consuming roles that other people in your company are responsible for.

Your smartest course of action, the one that will pay the biggest dividends to your company over time, is to place product demo responsibility into the right hands—your sales department—and train them all to be “product demo geniuses.”

You’re a product manager, after all, and you have enough on your plate already.