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Early morning pipeline update meeting, followed by 2 hours of prospecting time. Half a dozen discovery calls. And then three custom demos. That’s a day in a life of a fancy SaaS product sales guy.

Yes, as busy SaaS sales rep does as many as three custom demos in a day!

Many tools have evidently made the life of SaaS sales guy easy, or so you would think. I’m talking about the range of web-conference options to screen sharing tools like Join.Me, Google Hangouts or Uber-conference, if not good old GoToMeeting. The time freed up from traveling to meet the customer is now occupied by doubly packed web-meetings.

The customers have become even more demanding too. After the ‘discovery’ call, most clients usually request for a demo. So much so that “the product demo” has earned the much-coveted place as a critical sales process stage. From the early 90s to mid-2000s, a pre-sales guy would accompany the sales rep to that much-awaited product-demo meeting. Now the sales rep is expected to run a demo by himself, as many as 3 to 4 times a day.

In fact, the number of custom demos scheduled seems to be the ’new’ KPI set by many sales managers. However know this – Not every SaaS prospect deserves a custom demo before buying.

“SaaS sales reps! Not every customer deserves a custom demo.”

So when should you be engaging your prospect (and yourself) in a demo?

Let me qualify this. In the first place, any request to ‘get to know your product’ by your prospect should be at best answered with one master email template with standard links to your product videos on YouTube. If these do not exist, at least, 1 PowerPoint with screenshots that you have very meticulously labelled one Friday afternoon. So in that sense, if you agree to engage a prospect in a demo, it should really be a CUSTOM demo.

“Custom Demo”  also read as — “Mr. Prospect, I understand your business challenges and my demo will show you exactly what matters to your business case”.

On an average, a custom demo takes 3 to 8 hours of preparation time, including deep dive discovery session, and if yours is an enterprise solution, account for an equal amount of sales engineers’ time.

What should you bear in mind before you promise your prospect a custom demo?

Here are the golden rules before you engage in a custom demo.

1. Ascertain the right team that needs to be seeing the demo. If the executive director who is also the decision maker, is not part of this custom demo, doing anything beyond a standard demo will only slow your sales cycle.

2. The evaluation criteria must be known and confirmed before scheduling a personalized demo. Win the confidence of your coach at the client side. Ask him/her to be transparent about the “evaluation criteria”.  And if you are a sales manager, you should equip your rep with valid questions to uncover evaluation criteria. Example: How will you judge us as the solution provider? What are the decision points that make up your decision after our demo?

3. You should have done a trial close or an attempted close. What this means is, unless the customer is aware of pricing (and other factors) that follow at the end of the sales cycle, it is not worth doing a custom demo. Make sure the prospect is aware of pricing first. If you are going to invest anything beyond 30 mins discovery call, you need to know if it will bear results. Engaging a trial-close tactic is a good indication of customer seriousness before the demo.

4. Establish the exact number of licenses (or deal size) before agreeing for a demo. Would you put 8 man-hours creating a custom demo for one user deal? In SaaS demos, unless the scale of implementation is known, it does not make sense to do a custom demo.

5. Top 2-3 key pain points must be identified in your discovery call. If it is just a commonly known pain that your typical buyer persona faces, then a standard demo should suffice. Think about a custom demo only if the customer has reflected on and articulated the unique pain he/she faces. If the prospect goes on to give you a quantifiable impact on business caused by inefficiencies, it is the right cue to plan your demo flow.

The golden question – “Mr. Prospect, If I can show you that our solution will alleviate your (business) pain, will you make the decision right after our custom demo?”

So we’ve laid the rules for setting the stage for a custom demo. Know that product demos have become a misnomer these days. Here is why:

→ Many sales reps mention “scheduling a discovery call with a custom demo” in the same breath. It is not an elaborate discovery call that your prospect joyfully agreed to. Unfortunately, you cannot kill two birds with one stone. Engage in the discovery call first. Assess their business needs and pain. Give your custom demo a flow that speaks to your prospects problems and you’ve got a winning custom demo.

→ It is not a chance to flaunt features and functionality of your product. The custom demo is always about the prospect and their critical business problems. (In fact, how those can realistically be solved with your product).

→ It does not build prospect’s “awareness” on their problem. To do that, use standard video presentations from your YouTube channel or blog articles, or if you do not have your marketing team supporting you, create a canned demo and record it to be distributed at your discretion.

In the case where the Executive decision maker is shielded, I highly recommend using the custom demo as a bait to get his/ her interview and engagement in the deal.

How do you run a custom demo? That is an exact science to pique your customers’ interest. I shall delve into that shortly.

In conclusion, a custom demo is a prized opportunity that your customer must win. However, a well equipped sales rep can only lead to this point with smart discovery questions and managing expectations. To ensure success in your demo presentations, always begin with end in mind. Knowing where you will land in your sales cycle after the demo is a must. Always get something in return for your time invested in running a custom demo.


by Deepanker Dua

Deep is the chief sales scientist at SalesChakra. As he experiments with sales acceleration at tech startups, he documents his learnings through this blog. An avid traveller, he has lived selling disruptive technologies in 4 continents, and speaks 5 international languages. Connect with him on Twitter @askdeepr and LinkedIn.