Are Product Demos a Waste of Time?

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Garin Hess

bigstock-Bored-businessman-looking-at-h-28840406You’ve just finished your product demo to a big potential client; when you ask if there are questions you hear…nothing. After a lukewarm exchange of pleasantries and a timeline of follow up meetings, you can’t shake the feeling that the prospect was bored and uninterested.  The lingering question comes to mind, “Did I just waste the last hour demoing to someone who doesn’t care?”  Chances are, the prospect wasn’t paying attention.  They were thinking about all of the other things they would rather be doing.

Self-service tools and content pieces are becoming the preferred methods to educate new prospects.  Simple sales process? Complex sales process?  Either way, live product demos just aren’t as effective as you think.  In most cases they are wasting everyone’s time, and here’s why: 

1. Demos cut into scarce and valuable selling time

A 2011 report from CSO Insights found that as little as 41% of a sales person’s time is spent selling. Even worse, Pace Productivity, a Toronto-based consulting firm found this number to be only 22%!  The reality is likely somewhere in the middle of 22-41%, but the takeaway is still troubling.  Your salespeople likely spend much less time on selling activities than you would like.

sales time use

Source: Pace Productivity 

In demo appointments, sales professionals educate prospects about the wonderful features and functions of their products.  The hope is that the prospect will be so amazed by the presentation that they will be one step closer to a purchase decision. However, a sales person would be better off using that valuable face time to ask and answer questions, and overcome objections instead of teaching the prospect a laundry list of functions.  Educating customers on the functions of your product is a waste of potential selling-time.

2. Prospects will do everything they can to avoid talking to you

Studies have shown that prospects have completed as much as 60% of their buying decision before contacting a sales professional.  Another interesting statistic is that 90% of prospects will watch videos about the tech products they are interested in buying.  According to Forrester, “72% of US online consumers prefer to use a company’s web site to get answers to their questions rather than contact companies via telephone or email.”  What does this mean?  Prospects want to learn about your product on their own time, at their own pace, and most importantly without you.

So what is your competition doing about it?  The internet has made self service alternatives more and more popular over the last 15 years.  Many leading companies are providing prospects the chance to watch a short video, skim an infographic, read a white paper, or read a blog that is personally relevant to their problems.  With a solar-system’s worth of content available at their fingertips, customers are more educated than ever.  Demos have become less relevant as a result. Harvard Business Review said it best in 2012 with, “In this world the celebrated “solution sales rep” can be more of an annoyance than an asset.”

3. Most product demos are…boring!

Think back to the last time you sat through a gotomeeting or web-ex demo.  Did you feel your eyes glaze over and hit the mute button in order to take a quick power-nap?  Did you impulsively check your email or social networks to fill the time?  You may be in the growing population that is opting not to engage in the demo in the first place.  Studies have shown that the average office worker checks their email 30 times an hour.  To make matters worse, according to Nancy Koehn, Harvard Business School historian, the average attention span for an American in 2013 was about 8 seconds.  To put that in context, that’s 1 second shorter than the attention span of a goldfish.

The pressure is on sales professionals to keep demos as engaging and entertaining as possible.  If a product demo seems irrelevant at any point in time, the prospect has probably shifted their attention elsewhere.

An interesting contrast to this is in the case of video content.  Viewers spend about 2.5x more time watching personally relevant videos. 80-99% of website visitors will click-to-play a personalized video.