The Counterintuitive Truth About Your Product Demos

Nobody watching or listening to your product demo actually cares about your product, your company, or you. That’s why one counterintuitive truth about product demos is that you should always start them at the end. No backstory. No linear explanation of your company’s history. No buildup. No suspense. Give away your big finale right up front, and make sure that finale is focused on your audience: “Here’s what our product is going to do for you.”

If you can do that effectively in the beginning moments of your product demo, you’ll earn your audience’s attention. In fact, it’s really the only way you can expect to earn your audience’s attention, because they don’t care about anything else.

And that’s just one counterintuitive truth about product demos. Let’s explore a few of them—and discuss why most of what you’ve probably been taught about giving demos (or training your team to give them) is flat-out wrong.

Why Most Product Demos Fail

Product demos fail more often than they succeed for a litany of reasons. Here are a few of the most common.

1. They’re focused on the product

We know what you’re thinking: It’s a product demo; shouldn’t it be focused on the product? No. Your demo will obviously feature your product, but only as a tool to tell a larger story about the audience itself.

Your prospects didn’t entrust their time in you just for the privilege of oohing and aahing at the shiny new whatever-you’re-selling. They showed up because they hoped the product you’re going to show them can help solve a problem they have. They’re at your product demo for themselves, not for your product. That’s what your demo needs to be focused on: solving problems.

So when you make your demo all about the product itself, when you show your audience screen after screen of your product—without bringing your presentation back around your prospects themselves—do you know what they’re thinking? It probably sounds something like… Zzzzzzzzz.

2. They’re too analytical

Again, this sounds counterintuitive, right? Shouldn’t a product demo analytically walk a prospect, step by step, through the product’s features and capabilities? No.

We return here to one of our favorite books on selling: Pitch Anything, by Oren Klaff. As Klaff explains, humans have had millions of years to hone and sharpen the survival-instinct centers of our brains, but just a relatively few years to develop the higher-order processing capabilities of our neocortex, which we use to think through things like “synergy” and “profit potential.”

As you drone on and on about this feature and that screen, your prospect probably tuned out long ago—because their highly evolved “croc brain,” as Klaff calls it, decided within seconds of your opening that nothing you’re going to present is either a huge opportunity or a threat worth worrying about.

In other words, your product demos shouldn’t be designed to appeal to your prospects’ analytical thinking. They should be geared to capture your audience’s imagination and trigger their emotions.

3. They’re linear

If you recently read our post on why product managers should be great storytellers, this one might be confusing. A persuasive, engaging story often follows a linear, beginning-middle-end format, no?

Sure, conventional storytelling has its time and place in product management. But we also advise storytelling with a twist, particularly for your product demos: start by giving away the ending. Tell your prospect immediately—before launching into the demo itself—how and why things are going to turn out so much better for them if they start using your product.

You can’t afford to wait until the end to reveal how your product is going to save the day for your demo audience. If you do that, you’ll have allowed them to shut off their croc brains (nothing to get too excited or worried about here), and they probably won’t be engaged at all for your demo’s finale.

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“The secret to a great product demo: Immediately tell your prospect how and why things are going to turn out so much better for them if they start using your product.”

4. They’re given by a product expert

Here’s where many product and sales teams go wrong with their demos. They assume the person most qualified to give the demo is the team member who knows the most about the product’s features, capabilities, layout, interface, etc. Wrong.

In a demo context, knowing your product really well means only that you can speak analytically about its details—which is exactly what you don’t want to do.

Again, your demo should tell a story (that starts with the end) about how your prospect’s personal or professional life or business is going to be enhanced or made better in some way by using your product.

So find the person on your team most skilled at telling that story—hitting emotional triggers, capturing the audience’s imaginations, making your product seem like a goal to aspire to—and let them demo your product. Then beg them to train everyone on your team to do the same.

The Worst Ways to Start a Product Demo

If you think we’re overstating the case for how easily a demo can fail, put yourself in the shoes of your audience for a moment. How would you respond to a product demo that started in any of the following ways?

“Before we jump into our demo, let me give you just a brief history of ABC Software Company. We were founded in 1998 and…” Zzzzzzzz.

“I’d like to start by introducing myself and then telling you a little about the rest of my team here today….” Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

“Let’s jump right in. If I can direct your attention to the screen, I’m going to walk you through our product, starting with our welcome page.” ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!

Awful, right? And yet, isn’t this how most product demos kick off? The typical product or sales professionals giving a demo think they need to open with a little background about themselves, their company, or some other fluff before they transition into the actual demo—which itself is usually just a boring, analytical slog through every little feature and tool the product has.

The counterintuitive truth is that as soon as you start talking about your founders or your team’s resumes or your organization’s 20-year history of developing blah, blah, blah, you’re turning off your audience’s all-important croc brains—which you need engaged—and instead sending everything you say up to the analytical centers of their brains, which should be avoided at all costs.