How I made the most of my first 100 SaaS demos

adapted for the Abacus blog

I still vividly remember the very first sales demo I performed in August 2012. I’d just been promoted from SDR to full-time AE at the newly formed file-sharing division of Citrix Systems. Citrix had just acquired ShareFile a few months prior and was beginning to scale their outbound sales team. I was giddy to take on the additional responsibility of closing and eager to carve out my place on the leaderboard.

The night before that first GoToMeeting, I was so worried about forgetting to mention a potential feature or skipping a step in the sales process that I quickly drafted a “demo worksheet" to print off and use as a pre, during, and post demo cheatsheet/assessment form for my own sanity.

As a result of measuring and iterating on my process from day 1, I made it to the top 10 within my first month and every month thereafter. I would go on to break records, perform thousands of demos, and close hundreds of deals over the next couple of years. I hope the following recipe helps you create your own version and ramp up your sales career faster than you thought possible.

 Section 1. Pre-Demo Housekeeping

There is so much that can and will go wrong during a software demo that you should keep the basics in front of you and perform some light technical preparation to set yourself up for success. This means taking steps to declutter your desktop, preload all necessary screens, and close all installation dialogs and real-time notifications.

Anything that could otherwise distract you or your potential client from the product itself is the enemy of the state. Nir Eyal has a fantastic piece on clearing your computer of focus draining distraction that can easily be repurposed for demo-oriented SaaS sales.

Before the demo, take time to write down the basics. Critical sales information doesn’t have to be complex or verbose to be extremely valuable. It can be as simple as clearly stating your client’s first name to keep you from getting tongue-tied. Remembering name preferences, like “Jimbo", not James, only gets more important (and difficult) as you progress to juggling hundreds of contacts in your pipeline.

 Section 2. Pre-Demo Qualification Review

You should also repeat simple qualifying information from the SDR (or if you’re a full-stack AE, from yourself). At Abacus, we have a specialized sales team, so our superstar SDR’s gather answers to basic situational questions while setting the appointment like:

  1. What is your current accounting solution?
  2. Do you have both incoming corporate card & reimbursable expenses?
  3. About how many expense reports do you handle in a given month?
  4. What role do you hold in the organization? Would anyone else in the department be interested in attending? What roles do they play?

Even if a lot of this info is redundantly noted inside your CRM, it will help you mentally prepare for the demo if you write it to paper. Restating this situational information to confirm your previous conversation will help you avoid spending valuable demo time on surface issues, so you can quickly dive into 2nd order questions, deeper needs assessment, and the Wow! factors of your product.

 Section 3. The In-Demo Itinerary

Learning to demo software, grokking a new product/market, and developing closing fundamentals all at the same time can be downright overwhelming when you’re learning to flap your wings. It’s far easier to make progress in series vs. parallel, so let this part of the worksheet back you up in the “when” and “what” department as you work these conditions into muscle memory.

I’ve shared a slice of the general Abacus demo process for an example. (you’ll want to customize this to your company specifics of course.)

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This part might be the most important step: it serves as your compass, the “YOU ARE HERE” arrow at any given moment when you inevitably get flustered as a newbie. As a result of not having to find your place, you’ll also find yourself punctuating with selling points at natural breaks in conversation and transition points, instead of adding them in awkwardly and sporadically.

 Section 4. Demo Resolution + Q&A

Before every demo ends, closers should gather two pieces of information from the prospect to maximize the probability of a sale and to improve their next demo: 1) What are your first impressions of the product? 2a) (If positive) is there anything preventing you from at least giving it a try? For the most honest answers, make sure to give the client a chance to answer by pausing completely after asking a question. 2b) If negative, we really value any form of customer feedback, can you help me understand your ideal solution so I can share your concerns with Product?

 Section 5. Post Demo Self Assessment

Self-assessment is what separates the fastest growing closers from those that stagnate. After turning off the screen share (and turning off the audio, that’s a story for another day)… ask yourself, what did I do well? What questions made me sweat and stammer? What feature do I clearly need to google or ask my manager/CTO about? What feature did they absolutely LOVE? What made them uneasy? What made them curious? Is there a better way to say that awkward thing I said?

Make no mistake, my very first worksheet intentionally limited me to an overly formal, rigid sales process, but that’s exactly what I needed at the time. The spirit of the worksheet is to inch your baseline of confidence and sales knowledge higher and squeeze the most education out of each and every demo. Bowling with the bumpers first helped me hit strikes on-demand later. The nuance and instincts of closing will come with time as you try everything, you’ll quickly figure out what sticks and what flops.

Use this general structure and the aforementioned sections as building blocks. Get self-assessment in front of your workflow as soon as possible. When 100 demos pass, you’ll find that you’ve internalized the cadence of a sales demo, you’ll more naturally feel the pulse of a buyer, and most importantly you won’t need a piece of paper anymore!


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