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Why Product Demos Matter

A well-executed product demo can be the tipping point for closing sales, impressing investors, or even garnering media attention. While your expertise in creating the product may be unparalleled, showcasing the product to its full potential requires a skillful approach that involves meticulous preparation, deliberate practice, and comprehensive documentation.

Marketing consultant, Chris Matthews provides actionable insights to help you create and prepare for a successful demo and navigate common pitfalls often encountered in early-stage demo deliveries.

About Chris Matthews

Chris Matthews is a seasoned marketing consultant with over a decade of experience guiding early-stage startups in branding and marketing strategies. Chris has worked across a wide spectrum of industries, including software, hardware, SaaS, robotics, AI, wearables, and ClimateTech. His career includes a decade at Specialized Bicycles, where he nurtured their global brand, as well as collaborations with startups like Genesolve, Pebble, Mayfield Robotics,, and Iron Ox. He has also served as an Incubator Coach at VentureLab North in the Netherlands.

Throughout his tenure as a marketing executive and coach, Chris has distilled critical lessons on fostering early collaboration when presenting creative endeavors and harnessing the transformative power of effective positioning. Chris is the author of "Start Telling People," a resource tailored for early-stage founders and marketers, offering a roadmap to scaling businesses through strategic marketing initiatives.

Cultivating Marketing as a Discipline

At its core, marketing is delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. One effective way to do that is through product demos, which showcase your product in action. If done effectively, product demos can result in higher conversion rates and customer satisfaction. Failure to deliver a compelling demo can prove detrimental to your market differentiation, sales, and customer loyalty, ultimately impacting your overall business success.

The key to delivering great demos is to shift your focus from the product mechanics to the tangible benefits it brings to the customers' business. This requires addressing the question of "What does it do for me?," from the customer's perspective, instead of "How does the product work?". By translating technical jargon into customer-centric language, you'll convey your unique value that speaks directly to their needs.

It's also important to acknowledge that not all founders, despite their product knowledge, naturally possess the ability to present their product in demos. But, delivering demos is a learnable skill that can be improved with practice and training.

Demo Successes and Pitfalls

When it comes to product demos, there are typically 4 outcomes to aim for: closing investments, making sales, securing new hires, or gaining media coverage. As an extension of your marketing efforts, product demos should continue the storytelling used across your various channels (e.g., website, landing pages, social media, etc.) to achieve these desired outcomes.

Nonetheless, even skilled presenters stumble into pitfalls. For instance, many founders fall into the overconfidence trap, leading to under-preparation and avoidable mistakes such as not researching the potential customers, leaving out important product features, and neglecting the product narrative.

To avoid these mistakes, it's important to understand that the goal of a product demo is make your audience believe they saw a perfect demo - even if it actually wasn't perfect. This requires a level of adaptability and awareness that only comes with preparation and practice, resulting in your presentation appearing more natural and engaging.

Crafting A Compelling Demo

To deliver a compelling demo, align your team on 4 key elements.

1. Preparation Time

While the time may vary depending on factors like 3rd-party partnerships, location, or specific technical requirements, once you've determined the required preperation time, hold everyone accountable for meeting it and avoid last-minute excuses. While you should streamline and hone your preparation process, if do not have enough time to prepare, don't do the demo.

No demo is better than a failed demo, as failed demos can ruin startups.

2. Pre-Flight Checklist

Utilize the pre-flight checklist to test and organize all the things you can before the demo starts.

3. Post-Flight Checklist

The post-flight checklist is to properly reset and address any loose ends after the demo.

4. Script

Think of the script as your guiding compass; use it to cover all the essential points to effectively deliver your product message.

Pre-Flight and Post-Flight Checklists

In the pre-flight checklist, list the specific needs of operations, engineering, and the moderator. Categorize each column into critical time intervals - 24 hours before, 1 hour before, and 15 minutes before the demo. Tasks can range from testing hardware and software and checking Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to confirming backups of all your materials. Your team's readiness matters too; include tasks that confirm team roles and responsibilities.

Post-flight, conduct a thorough review — note any questions asked by the audience and the feedback received, dissect successes, pinpoint shortcomings, and garner valuable insights from the team.

Consider your checklists as living documents, refining it over time with practice sessions. Integrate any live hiccups into your list as action items. If you make adjustments, make sure your entire team is on the same page to maintain demo consistency.

We've included a pre-flight and post-flight checklist template as a starting point, but be sure to customize the checklist according to your specific needs.

The Demo Script

To ensure your demo is not just a list of features, but a compelling story that showcases the unique benefits of your product, Chris recommends starting with storyboards for the initial draft.

Starting with storyboards forces you to separate the visual elements from the narration, allowing you to identify how you're going to illustrate key product questions including: what features need to be included, the problems the product solves, and what sets you apart from others in the market.

Using storyboards is also an excellent way to ensure you never say anything you can't show. When you make unverifiable claims, consider it as if you've not done the demo at all. This approach not only helps you maintain credibility but also encourages you to think creatively when presenting your product's story.

Once you have a list of statements you want to make AND the visual concepts of what you want to show as evidence of those statements being true, it's time to build your script.

Demo Skill and Delivery

In order for the audience to believe they saw a perfect demo, you must have consistency, accuracy, and validity:

  • Consistency: Guarantees that no matter who delivers the demo, it adheres to the same script and message, eliminating personal spins or omissions.
  • Accuracy: Carefully checking with the engineering team to confirm the product’s features are showcased correctly.
  • Validity: Assures that the content resonates with your audience, capturing their interest, and aligning the demo to their needs. 

Preparation and Delegation: No Engineering in Public

When it comes to demo preparation, shortcuts are a no-go. Resist the urge to "engineer in public," winging it or improvising the day of the presentation.

Delegate Presenting if Demos Aren't Your Strength

If giving demos isn't your expertise, remember that the founder doesn’t always have to be the sole presenter. Consider delegating the demo to someone who excels in this area or explore leveraging external help from PR agencies or speech coaches.

Watch Out for the 3 Demons of Demo: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Battery

Most demo glitches can be traced back to issues with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and/or battery. Safeguarding and thoroughly testing these elements is crucial—more so than you might initially think.

Perfect Practice for Perfection

While everyone may have their own practicing methods, it's important to conduct internal team practice sessions to identify big-picture challenges and obstacles and conclude how to mitigate them. These run-throughs will also allow you to refine your communication flow during the actual demos.

Simulate the actual conditions you'll encounter during the presentation, whether at home, work, or in front of an audience. Each setting presents its unique challenges, so adapt your practice to match these conditions.

Day of Demo: Best Practices

Here are some additional best practices to keep in mind on the day of the demo:

Demo with the Real Product

Use the most stable configuration available, even if it's a slightly older version. Your team should solely focus on the product you're demonstrating, rather than managing multiple or special versions.

Don't Slack on the Preparation

After the demo, it's common for many presenters and teams to find themselves saying, it seemed much easier than expected, or maybe they're overthinking or over-preparing. Do not listen to that voice. Remember that the smoothness of the demo was a result of meticulous preparation. 

Plan to Win

One of the most important elements of demo success is to plan for the desired outcome as soon as the demo ends. In many cases, this involves having all necessary paperwork ready for potential customers to close a sale or, in the case of new hires, to sign employment agreements. This proactive approach maximizes the impact of your demo and capitalizes on the momentum it generates.


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