Anatomy of a Standard-But-Gruesome Web Sales Demo

By Peter Cohan

There’s a rough but strangely consistent timeline for a standard web-delivered “one-hour overview demo” that seems to go like this (starting time for each element on the left side):

00:00:  Fumbling with WebEx/GoToMeeting/Live Meeting – “Did you get the link?  Can you see my screen?” (This consumption of time has been delightfully called the “WebEx/GoToMeeting/Live Meeting Tax”).

00:04:  Semi-mutual introductions, but generally one-sided:  Introductions (and brief personal history of each of the vendor participants), but limited information requested or offered regarding customer participants – and no request to do discovery on the part of the vendor.

00:08:   Corporate overview presentation (gag…)

00:18:    Product overview presentation (yawn), including:

1.  Obligatory architecture slide(s), with equally obligatory rectangles and cylinders representing software and database components (how novel…)

2.  Obligatory product-centric slide (showing company’s product in the center of a circle of other things (e.g., users, other applications, process steps, you name it – so novel, once again!)

3.   Key “differentiators,” presented without context to the customer’s needs or specific situation (and largely forgotten by the customer, since they haven’t yet seen a solution that makes remembering anything relevant)

4.  Case studies, if any, generally appear at the end and are typically skipped over “because we are short on time…” (too bad – real case studies would be the most interesting part of the overview.)

00:28:      “Actual” demo, including:

a.    Opening statement that “we need to compress the planned 45 minute demo into 30 minutes “so we’ll have to go real fast…”

b.    Request that “this be interactive, so please stop me if you have any questions…”,  followed by a fire- hose-like delivery with no time for meaningful questions.

c.     Re-introduction of the offering (again, even though it was covered in the product overview presentation)

d.      Brief introduction of the plan for a “story” and 3 fictional characters whose “day in the life” will be followed in the demo

e.       Overview of navigation elements…

f.        Introduction and definitions of key vendor jargon, acronyms and product names

g.       Explanation of how to set up and configure the application, which then consumes most of the remaining time (even though this task is typically done once, when first implemented, and then rarely ever after)

h.       A walk-through of the workflow (a run-through, in fact, since time is really getting short)

i.        A rapid, largely verbal description of the canned and custom reporting capabilities (often including the claim that “we have over 600 canned reports…” of which a typical user might consume only 1 or 2…!)

j.        Comment that “we didn’t have enough time to show you everything…”

00:58     Sales person summary, with platitude marketing “value proposition” statements (that have little or limited bearing on the customer’s specific situation)

00:60:    Wrap-up with no action items

Frightening, gruesome and remarkably common!

If the objective was to “show the customer a demo” then that objective was achieved – but it is very doubtful that other tangible progress was made in the sale.  Very sad, and largely a waste of time for all involved.

A Few Recommendations

Note – these are not necessarily mutually exclusive!  One or more of these ideas can be combined:

For starters, start the WebEx/GoToMeeting/Live Meeting session to begin 10 minutes before the “real” meeting  is scheduled to start (not applicable if multiple customer participants are connecting from several remote locations, but truly terrific if the customer participants are in a single conference room).

1.    If you must do a corporate overview, reduce it to one slide.

2.    Turn the call into a Discovery session, if possible (and appropriate).

3.    Reduce the product overview presentation to just the case study slides.  Case studies can be a wonderful way to move the customer into doing Discovery – “here’s an example of how other, similar customers have used our capabilities to solve specific business challenges – how does what they faced compare with your own situation?”

4.     Use the Menu Approach (a terrific self-rescue technique), if the audience is a group and/or if your software addresses a range of problem areas.  [See my article entitled, The Menu Approach – a Truly Terrific Demo Self-Rescue Technique for more details.]

5.     Organize the demo itself in chunks – similar to how newspapers and web news services present news articles.

And, for those who often are currently scheduled to do multiple demos back-to-back, consider blocking the 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after each demo as “Prep” and “Clean-Up” time on your calendar – give yourself a fighting chance!

About the Author:

For more on sales demonstration effectiveness skills, visit the website of Peter Cohan’s company, The Second Derivative, at For demo tips, best practices, tools and techniques, join the DemoGurus Community Website at or explore Peter’s blog at

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