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One of the biggest fears of sales reps – what happens when demo fails – could be rather simplified or even eliminated altogether. It is all about your own perception of the demo. For majority of sales reps it could be very stressful if demo suddenly fails and the situation could not be fixed. In this article we provide real life examples of demo failures, some of them were from major companies. And at the end we include a video with some suggestions on what to avoid and turn your demo failure into a success.

1. Microsoft: Windows 98 Demo by Bill Gates

Even if you are a big corporation, you still cannot control how ‘live’ demos span out. And sometimes unexpected things happen. Just like it happened to Microsoft during the Windows 98 demo. It certainly eases the pressure with a tag-team running the demo (i.e. you, the sales rep and your sales engineer). Because when things go south there is at least someone to joke around and continue talking with a prospect while you or your technical guru tries to solve the problem.

Demo Failure Lesson #1

Single man in the field is not a warrior: Two is better than one, at least during demo failures. So include your sales engineer if you are running that crucial demo with ‘golden’ prospect.

2. Satya Nadella’s triple failure on Microsoft Cortana demo

When Satya Nadella asked Microsoft’s speech recognition tool, Cortana – the demo was doomed. It took him 3 tries to see if it works and all the pages were closed when he got back to Salesforce instance. It is always the best idea to have some backup ready which would result in less stressful demos and more fluent presentation.

Demo Failure Lesson #2

Most common failures in SaaS product demos are result of connectivity issues. Be prepared when your software acts up. Have static tabs open or screen mock-ups to simulate the live demo. You may not have ‘back-stage’ help come to rescue all the time.

More importantly, don’t forget your humor. It’s scary when your computer comes off as more humorous than you! In that case, there ain’t any milk from the prospects 🙂

3. Trying hard to make demo work? Taekwondo style!

This Taekwondo demo is rather hilarious (besides being hopeless right after third fail). To make it worse,  the instructor keeps trying to fix it no matter what. Sometimes it is better to accept the defeat than continue trying to solve the issue in front of your prospect.

Demo Failure Lesson #3

Our favorite demo failure exist strategy: Try a couple of attempts. Be vulnerable. Accept things didn’t work out as they should. Pause. Confirm that it is OK and natural to fail with your prospect. Stop. And Reschedule.

4. Classic demo-script failure in Microsoft Surface demo

Whenever your device hangs up at least have a courage to admit it. There is no reason to talk about features and functionality that seem to be opposite from reality. If you accept that things didn’t go well on this one you will end up with a more credible image rather than trying to make it appear as if nothing happened. At least he had a backup to continue a demo. Good preparation is worth mentioning on this one!

Demo Failure Lesson #4

Is your demo scripted to the extent that you ignore what you are showing? We know some sales managers are big fans of sticking to the process and following the demo script. However, break your script into modules and allow for in-script exits, especially where your demo fails. Additionally, keep room for creativity and improvisation in such scenarios.

5. Steve jobs losing temper when demo goes wrong

Steve Job is known for losing his calm in his demos when they fail. And why not? There is tons of passion, emotions and preparation behind each of his product releases. In this video, he almost shifted the audience focus from the ‘cool’ product to his ‘upset behaviour’ by referencing it many a times.

Demo Failure Lesson #5

You can’t be a brat in customer facing demo unless you are the famous Steve Jobs (Perhaps not even then). If something happens to be not working it is better to keep emotions away from the demo. Your customer doesn’t care if you are having a bad day or you are disappointed in something. It is better to keep it professional and solve it like the most experts would.

So you’ve got 5 quick lessons from failures. Of course preparation is the key to getting things in control and your product demos (almost) perfect. However, things can be expected to go wrong. And I bet they will.

Extra! General “Demo Gone Wrong” tips

Here is a cool example, though a little long winded, on how Steli Efti from turned around weakness or failure into strength. Sometimes failure could even be more beneficial than actual demo. All depends on how you accept the failure and deal with the situation.

Nicely done, Steli!



by Jonas Matkevicius

Jonas is a marketing specialist at SalesChakra. He is a certified inbound marketer who drives social media engagement and optimizes content for audiences. He loves to write on sales, non profits and entrepreneurship.