Learn how TOPO helps sales and marketing grow faster at www.topohq.com

4 Best Practices for Sales Demo Success

The sales demo, or product demonstration, is a critical piece of the sales process—and it’s easier than ever to deliver via a variety of channels, such as video or a web conference. A demo can mean the difference between closing a deal and losing a prospect.

In a buyer survey in the financial applications market, when we asked respondents what the most valuable content was in the buying process, the overwhelming response was “the demo.”

What makes a demo effective? How do you create one? And how do you deliver it for maximum impact?

Let’s start with how not to do a demo. What sales doesn’t want to do is “demo roulette”:  cramming in as many scripted, uncustomized demos as possible, hoping that someone will be interested. Demo roulette is not selling. You don’t need a salesperson to do that.

An effective demo is customized to the prospect’s business process, including their data. The demo achieves two major objectives:

  • The prospect sees how they would use the solution.
  • The prospect sees how the solution would solve their problems.

4 Best Practices for Demos

To meet these objectives, follow these best practices:

  1. Gather insights from prospects.
  2. Customize the demo (or make it relevant).
  3. Prove that your product can solve their problems.
  4. Leave time for feedback.

1. Gather insights from prospects.

Discovery is the practice of using questions, insights, and messaging to understand the prospect and their situation. During discovery, gather six insights from prospects:

  • The account and specific area of the organization
  • The prospect’s role
  • Business processes and technical environment
  • 1-3 strategic objectives
  • Challenges and roadblocks
  • Implications if they don’t solve these challenges  

There are two types of discovery: the disco demo and discrete discovery calls.  Disco demo is often used in SMB inside sales or in sales processes that require evangelization. For example, a farm-tech sales rep selling to people who don’t normally buy software has to give a brief demo so the prospect even knows what they are talking about. As long as enough discovery takes place, disco demos work.

On the other hand, discrete discovery calls allow for dedicated discovery time. They yield best results.

Discovery is fundamental to all sales. Unfortunately, corners are often cut or the discovery process is skipped altogether. In the case of the demo, discovery is the only way to deliver on #2 and #3 in the list below.

2. Customize the demo (or make it relevant).
As mentioned above, the first goal of the demo is to provide an opportunity to help the prospect see themselves in the solution. The most effective way to achieve this goal is to customize the demo as fully as possible.

There are different levels of customization:

  • Full-custom – The demo is built specifically for the prospect to reflect their unique business processes. The demo will include real prospect data and often their branding. For example, an MRP company would pre-build the demo to support the prospect’s supply chain and load their data before the demo. This is the best way to do a demo. Period.  Since resources are required, full-custom demos are often reserved for enterprise prospects.
  • Semi-custom – Some demos have light customization. This can mean a logo or maybe a feature or two are customized or the homepage. Sales reps still plan to present specific areas of the application against a prospect’s challenges, but it’s not a customized of a presentation. An example of this might be the dashboard. Before the call, a sales rep might ask what they want to know most and then mock up a dashboard for them.  
  • Non-custom but relevant – For volume and velocity sales processes, customization is not an option. Even if a sales rep or sales engineer is doing multiple demos per day and doesn’t have the time or resources to customize, they can still deliver a relevant experience to the prospect. They need to be trained on identifying three to five issues and addressing them in the demo. Sales can also have different workflows based on the prospect processes (similar to a semi-custom). For example, a software development company would have different workflows for agile, scrum, and waterfall developers.

3. Prove that the product can solve their problems.

The second goal of the demo is to show people how your solution will solve their problems.  The demo is not a presentation. It is not a “let me show them this and hope they like it.” With proper discovery, sales can understand what the prospect is trying to achieve, and the entire focus on the demo is to prove that sales understand those challenges—and that they have the solution.

Every demo should start with the following elements:

  • “Last time we spoke, you said that your main objective is to _________.”
  • “Your main challenges to achieving this goal are _____________.”
  • “If you don’t fix these issue, you will ______________.”
  • “Lastly, I understand that you currently manage your operation by doing this ____________  and you support the operation with this technology: ___________.”
  • “Do I have this right?”
  • “At the end of the demo, my goal is for you to agree that our solution can solve your specific challenges and allow you to achieve your objectives.”

Resist the urge to show prospects everything. Focus on three to five areas that resonate most with them.

4. Leave time for feedback.

Another big issue is that many demo meetings are 99% demo. The demo ends with 30 seconds left in the call. There is brief intro, and the rest of the meeting is all demo. Here is an example of a surprisingly common bad agenda:

  • Intros – 5 minutes
  • Demo – 54 minutes
  • Next steps – 1 minute (maybe)

A demo meeting should be structured as follows:

  • Intro – 5 minutes
  • Recap findings – 5 minutes
  • Demo – 30 minutes
  • Feedback (confirm that we can meet their challenges) – 10 minutes
  • Next steps – 5 minutes


The demo makes a difference. Practice. Get trained, certified, and coached. The demo can be the most powerful play in the playbook when Sales engages thoughtfully with the prospect, responds to their questions and objections, and positions the product as a prospect’s best solution.

About the Author: Craig Rosenberg is the co-founder and Chief Analyst at TOPO, a research and consulting firm located in Silicon Valley.

Your Free Membership

Join the 100s of high growth sales and marketing teams that depend on TOPO. Your free membership includes:

  • 1Free Research and Data
  • 2Access to TOPO Councils
  • 3The TOPO Weekly Brief