Education Market Leadership Series: Part 3 of 6

by Joe Caruso

How to Make Your Product Demo (and Your Sales Process) Really Get Results

Education Sales DemoWith all the competition and dynamics in the school market today, it’s more important than ever that your leadership team think about ways to keep your product or service relevant to your customers and prospects. In this, the third article in our Education Market Leadership Series, I'll examine one stage of the sales process that is very common, the product demo. For continuity, I recommend that before you continue, if you have not arleady, you read article one and article two, and also listen to their companion podcasts archived on the SellingToSchools Radio network.

Adjust Your K-12 Sales Process to the Way Educators Buy (or, When Your Demos Are “Dummos”)

I’d like to discuss, and to encourage you to take a close look at a critical step of most sales processes, one that I always examine with my clients because of its importance to the bottom line: the product demonstration, commonly known as “the demo.” Two issues come immediately to mind when discussing the demo stage of the sales process:

  1. Most sales people are in a hurry to do a demo, so they place it too early in the sales process. Your sales team should never do a product demonstration until they have taken the time to understand the perspective, needs, pain points, and desires of the prospective buyer.
  2. You have probably given your standard, “canned” product demo hundreds of times and have it down pat. The problem is, it will most likely be the first time your prospect is seeing your product up close and personal, and a pat demonstration can leave them cold.

I firmly believe that when it comes to demos, it’s better to leave show-and-tell to the kindergartners, so please – no more dog-and-pony shows! Here are the key reasons why I call most demos “dummos” – along with my advice for improving this important step in the sales process:

  • Most demos focus on you and your product rather than on your potential customer. Every successful salesperson knows that people want to buy products that are relevant to them. My advice: Make the potential buyer feel important during every sales pitch.
  • Product demos usually position you as the smartest person in the room, simply because you know your product better than anyone else. That can encourage your prospect to look for something missing in your product: instead of looking at what your product does offer, they will be thinking about what it does not, just so they feel smarter. My advice: Give the potential buyer every opportunity during the sales process to feel smart.
  • A demo usually shows how something works, but rarely does it tell the whole story. You have to tell a story that is meaningful and relevant to your prospects’ needs – their processes, their problems, and their desires – in other words, how your product or service will enhance their world. My advice: Focus on the customer, not your product, thus making the prospect feel essential.
  • Demos rarely utilize the Four Rules of Engagement. These four simple rules apply in every encounter we have, and certainly in every negotiation, making them invaluable throughout the sales process, including the product demonstration. My advice: Acknowledge and employ the Four Rules of Engagement in every product demo.

The Four Rules of Engagement and How They Affect Your K-12 Sales Process

The Four Rules of Engagement are always at work when two or more people are involved in the sales process. But if you aren’t making them work for you, they’re probably working against you. Here they are:

  1. Everyone is always right.
  2. Everyone’s greatest desire is to be right.
  3. You can’t change another person’s mind.
  4. You can help people shift their perspective.

In this article I will focus on Rule #1: “Everyone is always right.” I’ll discuss Rules 2, 3, and 4 in future articles in this series.

Throughout the sales process, it’s important to remember that your prospect is always right. His or her perception of you, your products, and your services is the only opinion that matters, because it’s theirs – so it is right. It is only when your potential customers believe that you (or your sales rep) understand them, and that your product is relevant to them, that they will seriously consider buying it. Anything that honors their perception is right; anything counter to their perception is wrong. 

While some demos start with a set-up question, such a pat approach is hardly sufficient to learn enough to make the potential buyer feel honored and respected (or “right”). The best way to honor the customer is to ask questions, actively listen, and then ask more questions. When you let your prospects do the talking, they will reveal what they would like demonstrated.

Some listening and questioning should be done early in the sales process. It is critical to qualify thoroughly before scheduling a demo. Then, when you or members of your sales team learn to echo the prospect’s words and refer to their needs while presenting your products and services, your demo will start to be about the prospective customer. Even if your sales team already knows a great deal about the potential buyer, it is critical not to skip the honoring process: the prospect needs to feel your respect long before you start your demo. So remember: if your demo is more about your product than about your prospect, then it’s likely uninformed and, possibly, misinformed about what your prospect wants and needs. If that’s the case, your demo is a “dummo.”

Understand Your Prospect’s Perspective to Give Them Ownership of Your Educational Products or Services

Successful sales people spend most of their time listening and asking questions, because they understand the Four Rules of Engagement. When you reference a potential client’s issues during the sales process, you are validating their rightness and making them and their needs central to your presentation. Whatever you are selling, you can use this technique to help shift your prospect’s perspective and help them see your solution as meeting their needs.

The most important aspect of the sales process is helping prospective buyers shift their perspective so they can see themselves reflected in your product and using your product. If you ask good questions and create an easy-to-do demo, they can do the demo themselves: they can feel the power of your product personally. When you do this, the First Rule of Engagement will work for you rather than against you. Understanding and applying the Four Rules of Engagement is the key to successful communication, and ultimately, to success in your sales career. You’ll eliminate meaningless dog-and-pony shows and instead create the kind of head-nodding enthusiasm and friendly handshakes that close deals.

In article four of this six-part series, I’ll discuss the second Rule of Engagement, “Everyone’s greatest desire is to be right.” I’ll explain how you can apply this important rule to convert potential buyers into new business for you!

About the Author

Joe Caruso is owner/founder of Caruso Leadership, a management consulting firm that advises education companies, as well as CEOs, Admirals, and Leadership Teams from every industry on optimizing outcomes by applying the principles of The Quintessential Process. An author and frequent education industry keynote speaker, Joe’s best-selling book "The Power of Losing Control" has been featured on PBS and an audio series from Nightingale-Conant. Learn more about Joe and his work at www.carusoleadership.com/education.