Don’t Build a City When a House Will Do

Early in my presales career, I had a big POC to present to a Fortune 100 company who would end up being our firm’s first 7-figure client.  Given the high profile of the opportunity, our company’s senior management were closely involved with the deal, with both our VP of Sales and CEO at the meeting.  There was considerable pressure on me to build and deliver a stellar demo to help prove that we could compete, and win, large enterprise deals in our space.

The prospect had provided 8 different compensation plans for me to automate in our solution (each over 10 pages long), along with reports and workflows for each.  Not knowing any better at the time, I spent three weeks diligently building out every single one of the requirements asked for.  When we got to the 6-hour meeting, we reviewed an agenda they had previously provided, and proceeded to dive into the first compensation plan.  After I had shown the third plan, the client finally realized that our ability to handle the initial three plans likely meant our solution could handle the other five as well.  We never showed the last 5 plans.  I was both relieved (to not have to show 5 more plans), and also secretly a little disappointed (I had, after all, spent over 3 weeks of prep on those plans and wanted to show all the great stuff I had built).  My disappointment was short-lived as not only did we win the deal, but I learned a valuable lesson: don’t build a city when a house will do.

Prospects will typically create lists of requirements that are meant to be exhaustive to reduce the risk of buying a solution that can’t handle their needs.  When presented with these heavy sets of requirements, a typical temptation for many new SEs is to try to build everything asked for.  While admirable, this isn’t necessarily the best use of your time – remember that everything has an opportunity cost.  With that in mind, here are three techniques to help lower overly burdensome demo requirements.

  • Consolidate Duplicate or Overlapping Agenda Items – In almost any POC, RFP, or requirement-heavy demo, there will be items that will be handled similarly or even identically in your solution.  The client may view them as distinct asks because they don’t know how your solution works (e.g. if it can re-use elements) and they’re trying to cover all their various scenarios.  The best way I’ve seen to get a client to cut down on overlapping requirements is twofold:

    1. Let them know that you want to make sure that you have enough time in the meeting to address all their various requests (you’re making this request to ensure the meeting is as successful for them as possible), and
    2. Tell them that your while your solution can handle all of their compensation plans (I’m continuing with my example from above), they will all be built, administered and reported on in a similar fashion.  Instead of reiterating the process 8 times in the demo, we suggest that you pick your 1-2 hardest plans such that if we can adequately handle those, it’ll be evident that we can also handle the easier ones.

    In most cases, your request will be positively received.  No one wants to sit through overly repetitive demos, and this will give them more time for the other demo sections and for Q&A.

    If they do agree to your proposal, here are a few suggestions to consider when consolidating multiple demo requirements:

    1. Absolutely get the buy-in from the Project Manager/Sponsor ahead of time.  This is not something you want to unilaterally decide then show up and only have a fraction of the requirements built.
    2. Offer the PM a Dry Run ahead of the demo, especially if they push back on consolidating items.  This will give the PM the chance to see how you’re going to demo the requirement ahead of time and allow them to coach you in case you’ve made a mistake, missing anything, or need to course correct.  Dry Runs are invaluable exercises for a slew of reasons that we’ll explore in a later Blog post and they should be an integral part of your sales methodology if they’re not already.
    3. Make sure the audience knows you’ve consolidated items when you cover the agenda at the start of the agenda – the PM may not have informed them already.  Ensure you let everyone know that you and the PM together came to the conclusion that this was a useful approach so they know their own colleague was involved in the decision.
    4. Especially if there’s a fixed agenda for the meeting, create a revised agenda for distribution to all the meeting participants, and/or make sure to reference the original agenda items you’ve consolidated as you cover them so the demo team knows you haven’t missed anything.

    Consolidating multiple agenda items will improve demo flow, simplify your demos to make them easier for the audience to follow and avoid boring the audience with repetitive items, even if they were the ones that asked for them in the first place.  They’ll appreciate your consultative approach to ensuring the demo agenda is making the best use of both their and your time.

  • Leverage Existing Demo Models – Unless you’re giving your company’s first demo, there’s a high likelihood that your presales or sales team has built multiple models for other sales opportunities.  Hopefully these demos are being centrally stored for reference and reuse, but even if they’re not, wherever possible you should be leveraging existing demo assets before building new ones.

    Prospects or clients from the same industry will often have similar requirements.  Even if an existing demo model isn’t a perfect fit for your current prospect, it might be easier to start from that similar model than build from scratch.  In many cases, you may only have to re-skin a report with updated branding or colors to make it work for the new prospect.

    If there’s no central database of demo models, message your colleagues to see if they have anything on their local machines that you can re-use.  And don’t be afraid to tell the prospect that you’re going to leverage multiple demo models to cover all their scenarios and requirements.  They won’t care as long as you can show them what they want to see.

    Important note: If you do re-use a demo from another prospect, always remember to scrub the data of references to that original prospect (company name, client and product names, company-specific jargon, etc).

  • Pull an Emeril – You’ve all seen those cooking shows.  The chef tells you about some glorious dish they’re going to prepare, shows you the first 2-3 preparation steps, goes to commercial break, then comes back and pulls the finished product out of the oven 2 minutes later.  The audience never seems to mind that the chef skipped some insignificant intermediate steps or the full cooking time in the oven.  As long as they saw the gist of how the dish was prepared and the final product, they’re satisfied.  The same concept applies to most demos.

    Consider a data entry requirement.  The prospect wants to see how you capture required data as part of some complex process.  Your solution might accomplish that via a Data Entry wizard to import data or manually enter in a record, open a new record for entry, then enter in 16 required data points to get to the next screen, and so on.  In a demo, you would never enter in 16 data points – no one wants to watch your typing skills for that long.  Instead, you might simply mention that you need to enter values for all the required fields, and then switch over to a second instance of your solution that already has a pre-opened data entry screen with all values already populated (or better yet, you have a keystroke saver app loaded that auto-populates the fields).  In either case, the audience will appreciate that you’ve saved them from watching you type for 3 minutes.

    Wherever you can avoid table stakes functionality, do so.  Only demo the aspects of your solution that add value for the client or differentiate your solution from your competitors.  For everything else, you can often get away with simply telling the prospect that your solution can handle the requirement without showing it.

Any time you’re asked to demo a considerable number of requirements, always make sure that you’re using your, and your audience’s, time effectively.  Rationalize agendas, re-use existing assets where available, and take short-cuts where appropriate.  You’ll have more time for the important parts of the demo, and your audience will appreciate that you didn’t waste their time.

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