How to Survive Your Next Software Sales Demo…


It doesn’t have to be a waste of time. Really.

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I just sat through my 11,569th software demo. It was all I could do to not flee out the window.

You’ve been there, right? As a business owner or a manager, you’ve gone through the agony of selecting an accounting, customer relationship, management, order entry or some other type of software for your company. My company sells software and helps our clients find applications for their business, so I’ve been on both sides of the screen. Most of the time it sucks.

Granted, it’s gotten better. My dad used to sell IBM-based software back in the 1960s and ’70s. He had to arrive on-site at a prospective client two days before to set up both the hardware and the software (which usually crashed). Today most demos are done with online platforms like GoToWebinar and, and the audience can be located in different places.

But that hasn’t made this experience any less painful. I attended the demo last week on behalf of a client after being brought in at the last minute. I numbly watched as a rambling salesman in his early 20s clicked through dozens — wait, dozens and dozens — of screens, boxes and windows in a monotone, dismembered voice. Forget Ambien. Next time I need some help going to sleep, I’m calling this guy.

But do software demos really have to be that horrible?

No, they don’t. You, the prospective customer, have more control than you think. So darn it, take control. Get back your life. Make this a better experience. All you have to do is just break down the demo into two, more productive parts.

Related: The Do’s and Don’ts of Giving a Killer Presentation

Part 1. The 30,000-Foot Demo

This is the salesperson’s demo. Go ahead and let them do their thing. However, be draconian about time. Never allow more than 30 minutes for this first demo. Why? Because this is a 30,000-foot overview. It’s their chance to show you all the pretty bells and whistles, how their software is going to change your life, make you rich and — in my case — grow hair. Oh, well…

You and only you, the project manager, should be on this demo. Don’t subject others to this…yet. Your objective here is to disqualify the product as compared to its competition based on look, feel and what the salesperson is telling you it does. Here’s your chance to hear their spiel about cost, performance and user-friendliness. It’s a commercial. Use this opportunity to get the big questions out of the way: Does it integrate with your internal system? How does support work? Does it perform certain core functions you desire? Do you like the salesperson and the company?

By keeping this demo to 30 minutes, you are forcing the salesperson to focus on the main screens and talk you through how things will work instead of just click-click-clicking. There will be another time for them to prove that what they’re saying is true. For now, take everything at face value.

If the demo sucks and you don’t like what you see, then disqualify. It’s important to narrow your options down to two or three from the 8,000 choices we seem to have when we buy anything today (what ever happened to you can have any color you want as long as it’s black?).

If your demo is sufficiently persuasive to avoid disqualification, then it’s time for part two.

Related: Before You Purchase Software for Your Business, Consider These Do’s and Don’ts

Part 2. The Deep Dive

Now it’s time to really test the software, the company, the salesperson. Do they have the chops to make it through the Deep Dive?

For this demo, allow one to two hours. That may seem like a lot, and if it does, then maybe break it up into separate days. The goal is for everyone attending to have a clear head.

I say “everyone” because this is the one when you invite the team. Ask the salesperson to take 10 minutes for a quick overview, then dive into how the software does specific tasks. As the business owner, you want to know what the system will do for your company. Your employees just want to know how much change this will bring to their lives.

To do this, you have to move the cheese. Tell the salesperson you want the demo done with your company’s data. Ask each individual team member to submit sample data and also list the three to five ways they would use this software for to do their job. Make the salesperson show them how it would work. Software is an individual experience. The salesperson has to take the time to specifically address the individual needs of each key user.

It’s not your job, but you might want to advise your salesperson to bring on an actual service person — the project manager, implementation professional, etc — for this demo. Your people will be working with those people long after the salesperson has cashed the commission check. This is useful for the software company, too. As a person who implements software, it helps me in advance to know the culture and personalities of the people I’ll be intimately working with so I know whether or not to include a bottle — or three — of Jack Daniels in my budget.

Related: 5 Sales Presentation Tips From a Self-Made Millionaire

This is how you make demos productive. Of course, there is still plenty more due diligence that needs to be done before you select your software. You’ll need references, estimates, project plans. You might also need to see another demo, or two or three. This is not uncommon, so don’t be shy about asking. Hopefully, you’ll only suffer this agony once or twice in your life. Sigh…I can only dream.

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