10 Common Mistakes Sales Engineers Make When Giving a Sales Demonstration

Uncategorized Oct 10, 2018

I've sat through hundreds of technical sales demonstrations, and delivered hundreds and hundreds more.  Over the years I've observed the same mistakes over and over again.  (And made all of them myself, from time to time.)

The truth is that as sales engineers, although some things that affect our sales demos are out of our control - and of course there's nothing we can do about that.  But there are many, MANY things that we can and should be doing during the context of a demo - that are completely and totally WITHIN our realm of control - that either make or break the demo.

In today's post, allow me to share with you 10 common mistakes that I see time and time again.  Mistakes that are totally correctable.

10 Common Sales Engineer Mistakes

1.  Failing to set expectations up front.  Too often when the sales engineer takes center stage to deliver their demo, they launch right in to what they plan to show, rather than set some expectations as to what it is they are going to demonstrate.  As a result they run the risk of being caught off guard by unexpected questions or requirements.  Or worse, they run the risk of completely missing the mark and boring or aggravating their audience.

2.  Not knowing the audience.  Another common mistake is treating every demo the same, every audience the same.  In order to give an effective demo, the sales engineer needs to know who the players are - the decision makers, the technical leads, who the "users" will be.  They also need to understand the context of their problems, objectives, business scenarios, etc.

3.  Being ill-prepared at the start.  Typically a sales engineer will give his or her demo after the sales rep gives a brief introduction or presentation.  All too often I see sales engineers ill-prepared to take over the meeting when the spotlight shines on them.  They have to log in, fire up a server, set up a configuration, etc. etc.  This is particularly true over the web.  It's really quite simple - be set up and ready to go when called upon.

4.  Assuming the audience knows their terminology.  Another common mistake is that sales engineers forget that the audience may not be familiar with their terminology.  Especially if referring to a specific feature or capability in a tool or platform.  Be sure not to use words that may be misleading.  I've seen entire demos go completely south, because the audience didn't understand a key term and got completely and totally lost. 

5.  Over-explaining.  During a demo, the sales engineer - if well trained - should be looking to read the room to see if what he or she is presenting is being understood and well received.  Frequently, if we sense that the audience is not getting what we're showing, we're sensing that there is some confusion, what do we tend to do?  Talk more!  We tend to over-explain points.  Especially complex technologies.  And especially when we sense there is confusion in the room.  We need to learn to be concise with our messages.  And when we sense confusion, pause and ask for feedback rather than explaining further and deeper.

6.  Focusing too much on the product.  We are experts in our field.  We are experts in our technology.  And we LOVE to demonstrate our knowledge and how wonderful our tools or software packages and platforms are.  Here's the problem.  Nobody cares.  Not really.  What they really care about is themselves.  They care about their issues and objectives.  They care about what they are trying to accomplish.  So when giving a demo, pay less attention to the wonderful things that your software can do and more attention to what the customer needs.

7.  Forgetting to pause and seek feedback.  Another mistake that SEs make is that they simply don't come up for air.  They get into a monologue and roll right through their presentation or demonstration without pausing for feedback - to ensure that the audience is following along, understands what they are seeing, and likes what they are seeing.  As a rule of thumb, you should never find yourself talking for more than 3-5 minutes without any questions or comments.  If you do, pause yourself, and ask for feedback.

8.  Going to FAST.  A related mistake is that we tend to go to fast.  This happens for numerous reasons.  One because we know the tool so well we like to show how quickly we can navigate around the UI and get things done.  Sometime we're in a rush to cover all the things we had prepared to cover.  And sometimes we get anxious or eager - and it manifests itself in speed.  Remember to slow down.  The goal is not to cover as much ground in as little time as possible.  The goal is not to show how slick you are with the mouse or how well you know the tool.  The goal is to show the audience what the tool can do in such a way that they understand what they're seeing and more importantly, like what they are seeing.  Remember, a confused mind, always says no.

9.  Aren't prepared for or don't know how to answer questions.  Arguably the most important part of a demo is how well we answer questions.  So naturally, the biggest mistake we can make during a demo is not being prepared to answer questions, or answering them poorly.  First, we need to go into a demo expecting questions - in fact, welcoming questions.  I've seen some SEs almost seem offended by questions.  Remember, the goal is to sell software.  No one has ever bought software without asking lots of questions along the way.  We also need to know how to answer questions effectively.  This is a very broad topic, that I cover in other blog posts, but in short, assess the person asking the question and the question being asked.  If this person is key to the purchase decision and it's a pertinent question, be sure to give it your undivided attention and answer succinctly.  On the far extreme, if this person is not critical to the purchase decision making team and/or the question is off topic, don't spend much time - if any - going out of your way to address the question.

10.  Mistake a demo for product training.  And finally, a very common mistake I see sales engineers to make is that they don't realize (or just forget) that there is a BIG difference between a pre-sales product demonstration and training.  (And by they way, they come by this honestly, as many SEs come from a consulting or training background.)  Remember, the goal of the demo is to achieve the Technical Win.  We need to show what the tool can do and convince the prospect that the solution will help them address their needs and meet their objectives.  It is NOT the time to show them how to USE the product - that comes AFTER the sale is made.  In similar context, we are not there to solve all of their problems - then and there.  Not yet.  We are simply there to convince them that we can.

So there you have it.  Ten of the most common mistakes I see sales engineers make when they are in front of a room delivering a pre-sales product demonstration.  Avoid these mistakes and I can guarantee you will sell more software, engage better with clients and become very popular with your sales counterparts.  Happy Selling!


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