When the wheels fall off your demonstration

May 7, 2024
When your demo doesn't go as planned, don't run, restart!

Back in the early eighties, Klein Tools came out with a really good Romex multiconductor wire stripper. It was a fun tool to demonstrate and was well received by the target residential electricians. Anyway, one afternoon I was giving a tool presentation to a Vo-Tech apprenticeship class someplace in Western Pennslyvania. Things were sailing along well until I began my presentation of the new Romex wire stripper. About two sentences into the demo one of the students in the front row started laughing and pointing to the floor where I was standing.  There was a steady stream of blood coming from my thumb onto the tile floor…ouch. Our Romex stripper was also very sharp. This ended my day at the school as I was off to stop the bleeding and receive a few stitches at a local ER.

Even the best prepared and experienced salesperson has those times when the wheels come off and your demonstration rolls over and crashes. I recently saw a clip of some major musicians who forgot the lyrics of a song they were singing at a live performance. So, remember and accept the fact that this can happen to anyone…..even YOU.

What to do when disaster strikes

When you find yourself crashing and burning during that important demonstration the first thing to do is just STOP. Don’t dig the hole any deeper, just stop. Admit to the prospect that this demonstration is not going well and that you’re sorry.  But, for goodness’ sake, don’t pack up your product and your pride and run away. (Although you may feel like it.) Just pick up the pieces and start again.

Surprisingly, most prospects will respect you even more if you just say, “This presentation is not going right, and I want you to really understand and appreciate this product, so I’m going to start again, okay?" Or say something like, “Sometimes I get so excited about a product that my mind and my mouth are just not in sync.”

When I’ve managed to mess up a demo I usually restart with a simple sentence, “How do you like it so far?” This may sound crazy but it gets the prospect talking and thinking and sometimes they may say that they like the product and are ready to buy.

Common causes of the dreaded “Demonstration Disaster”

1. You're giving your demo in an environment that just isn't right

If you are giving a presentation in a location that is noisy, busy with distractions, or has constant interruptions you’re doing the prospect, the product, and yourself a disservice. If there's a torque wrench pounding or an air compressor pumping while you’re trying to explain the finer details of a new TrueSensor Universal TPMS Diagnostic Tool Kit, then you’re risking failure in so many ways. You get distracted and your prospect gets distracted and neither of you can concentrate. The more distractions the higher the chance of demo failure. Get the prospect out to your truck, and meet them early in the morning before the shop erupts with distractions. Just don’t set yourself up for failure. Remember, if you’re distracted, they’re distracted too.

2. You forced the demonstration on the prospect, and they're not into it

There is also a high incidence of a presentation going wrong when you have pushed the prospect too hard to see your demo.  They will be uncomfortable and not really paying attention.  You will be feeling their unhappiness which will lead to you not being on your game. It is often important to urge your prospect to see some new product but if your urging goes over the line of too annoying, the result will often be less than you hoped. It could even push that customer to the competition.

3. You skipped a feature you don't think is important

If you think about a great product demonstration it is very similar to being the star in a Broadway play or singing a song. You never skip anything. Like it or not, when performing a product demonstration do it all.  What seems boring or unimportant to you may be the very feature and benefit that the prospect is looking for.

4. You didn't prepare enough for the demo

In the case of a Major League Mobile Jobber (see last month's article) more often than not the demonstration disaster is a direct result of less than complete preparation. My son’s a Marine and he tells me their training includes the acronym “PPP gets PPR”. P--- Poor Preparation gets P--- Poor Results.

Basic vs. technical demonstrations

There are some basic product presentations where the product is simple, similar to other products, and the features and benefits are easy to present. For those products, the preparation should be minimal, but for more expensive and technical items, the more you prepare the better. Especially with technical products like the TrueSensor Universal TPMS Diagnostic Tool mentioned above.

Just on the outside of the product case, ten features are listed along with four programming modes. On top of those ten, are fourteen more features listed in their online literature. That’s a lot of great features for you to remember along with the benefits for each.

You can’t just waltz into a presentation, take this tool out of the box, and wing your way through a demonstration.  You’re going to be asking this technician for a lot of money and you need to be fully prepared to meet your prospects’ expectations.          

The funny thing about demonstrating a product with a lot of features,  like this product with its 24 main features and benefits, is if you know everything there is to know about 23 of those features you can bet that the very next person you demo to will ask you about number 24. It never fails!

One last side note of caution.  If you’re demonstrating a technical product that plugs in or has batteries be darn sure to test the product yourself before the demo. Doing a demo with a non-working product is just not fun.

No matter how good you are at your job and how much you prepare, every once in a while a demo just goes bad. Don’t give up. Just stop, regroup, and get back at it.

Now go sell something.

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