Deal Demolition

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Sara was in the hot seat. That’s the term her sales team uses for the monthly account strategy session they have with their sales manager. The manager calls it rigorous. The sales team calls it torture.

Whatever you call it, I was there for this one.

Sara actually seemed almost excited about her hour in the hot seat. I soon learned why. Unlike previous visits to the seat, this time she had a plan for her account. It appeared that she was quite excited about her plan.

After providing her boss and me with some brief background to the deal, she became quite animated as her excitement boiled over about an impending meeting with a key prospective account in Chicago. Sara, who is in Houston, had scheduled a demo to the marketing manager. For Sara’s product, marketing managers can be important players in the buying process.

"And," she proudly exclaimed, "Chico and Paul (two customer-tested techies from Sara’s company) will be flying in (from San Jose, Calif.) to support me in the demo."

Her manager stroked his chin in apparent approval. After all, their company’s product superiority in its space was comparable to the iPod’s superiority over an eight-track player.

I was in the meeting to coach the manager on his coaching and analysis skills, not to participate actively in the account review process with the salespeople. So, I had to bite my tongue until the end of the session. But I thought to myself, "Surely this opportunity was in the advanced stages of the sales cycle." Nope! This was going to be the first face-to-face meeting this contact was going to have with Sara’s company.

Surely, there had been plenty of conversation with the contact prior to this meeting to confirm that the opportunity was real and to confirm the fit. Nope again! Sara had only had a few application environment conversations by phone with the contact to make sure there was basic technical compatibility with her product.

Surely, Sara had made sure that this particular marketing manager was a high-influence contact in the company. Strike three! Sara was going strictly by the marketing manager’s title, with no political insights into this contact’s real "muscle" in the company.

When the session was over and I had a chance to chat with Sara’s manager, he spoke up before I could even ask him
how he thought it went.

"I know what you’re thinking, a little trigger-happy with the demo, right?" he said.

"Why did you let her get away with that?" I said.

"You see, Jerry, with our product being so superior to anything out there, a demo can be all it takes to win the deal," he said.

I paused and looked at him long enough for him to know that it was the are-you-listening-to-what-you’re-saying look.
"I know, you’re right," he said. "It’s a product pitch sale. I guess we have a little demo dysfunction going on in our company, and I’m an enabler."

Bingo! He went on to acknowledge that their hit rate on demo-driven sales like this one, "was – truth be told – disappointing."

This manager’s company was in the enviable position of having a demonstrably superior product. And even it couldn’t thrive with a product-driven approach. Last time I checked, there weren’t a lot of companies out there with iPod-vs.-eight-track product superiority. Clearly, the demo is even less powerful with such companies.

Demo-happy salespeople seem to be the rule, not the exception. It’s understandable. Most companies, and the salespeople who represent them, are proud of their products and want to show them off. Unfortunately, this mindset leads to the demo dysfunction that the manager referred to. It’s like there are unspoken marching orders within the sales force to, "just get the demo."

What should Sara have done with this opportunity? What, then, is the role of demos in a sales campaign?

One good option for Sara would be to reframe the meeting from one of a demo to one that is requested along the lines of getting together one-on-one with the marketing manager to take a step back, go into "homework mode," and get a better sense for the business issues behind the prospect’s interest in Sara’s product, saving any demo for a future meeting.

The demo will remain an important step in the sales process. But salespeople – and the company cultures that influence them – will be well-served not to put too much stock in a demo’s power. The demo should be a confirmation of what’s been communicated in other ways earlier in the sales campaign.

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