How to present software in front of prospects? Bob Riefstahl has lots of good answers and structures the complex topic of presenting in software sales in his book Demonstrating To Win.
Presenting in Software Sales: Bridge Building
Riefstahl gives tips and tricks in all areas of preparation and execution of software presentations in sales organizations:
- Qualification phase: What is relevant for customers and how to get to the information?
- Contents preparation: What to present?
- Different types of audience: What is important for whom?
- Demo Crime Files: What are typical mistakes, what should you avoid?
- Technical preparation: what gear should you take?
The basic theme of Demonstrating To Win, which is present on the cover, too, is bridge building. The presenter’s task in a sales organization is to build a bridge for the audience from their current situation to the proposed solution. I like this analogy, because between the current state and the desired state lies the valley of acceptance and implementation of the solution with all its challenges. The presentation thus forms the bridge, either being shaky and not really trustworthy, or solid and easy to walk. The bridge does not get better by golden handrails and swags at the piers, but by solid construction and a flat, non-slippy surface. A bridge that you build for three people to cross needs to be constituted differently than one you want to lead more persons across.
In ten handy chapters Riefstahl covers all essential aspects around effective presentations of software solutions:
- Demonstrating is a Responsibility
- Demonstrating is Not an Art
- Important Demonstration Tactics
- The Demo Crime Files!
- The Discovery Process
- Checklists… Preparing for the Demo
- Demonstration fundamentals
- Your Demonstration Setting
- Team Demonstrating
- Completing the journey
The best chapters
From my point of view the best chapters are those on the discovery process and the „Demo Crime Files“.
The phase that Riefstahl calls the discovery process, in my organization at MathWorks is called qualification phase. Everything that helps to get a clear picture of the requirements and people is good. Bob Riefstahl gives clear implementation tips and classifications, and how he usually handles situations. A recurring theme are the following three steps:
- How is the process handled currently?
- How would you like to do it?
- What would be the impact?
Riefstahl takes his time in the book for the dilemma of getting different and eventually contradictory answers from different persons in different roles of the process. The point of view of each person reflects their role and thus the interests cannot be identical.
The chapter about typical „demo crimes“ also covers the broadly blamed „death by PowerPoint“, but much more subtle and well-thought. From wandering through fields of features over data dumps and frantically jumping around in the software, most-loved-features and teaching instead of demonstrating to finally alienating prospects, Riefstahl gives room for descriptions and root causes of situations that we all have eye witnessed ourselves in one form or the other. Bob Riefstahl, too, takes reference to his own experience and own committed crimes.
Depending on what the impact of the individual demonstration has on your business and how much preparation time you can spend on each event, you might choose to implement as many tips from Bob Riefstahl as possible, or you consciously select the areas that provide the biggest positive difference in comparison to your current mode of operation at minimum effort. Good and compelling software demonstrations are the result of good preparation and of much practice.
Bob Riefstahl is a veteran in selling software. After many years as application engineer, sales engineer and sales manager he went freelance as consultant of sales organizations. You instantly will notice: this man knows what he writes about, and he has done it personally. Actually I thought about writing a book on that part of an application engineer’s profession, but at least in English language I doubt the need for another book.
Convenient to read and normal layout
As it is usual in english professional literature (I am from Germany), Bob Riefstahl writes a visual, convenient English, equipped with anecdotes from his own history. He gives many examples of his own failures and mistakes and thus makes it explicit that no one is a born master. On the other hand, from a European standpoint he sometimes uses very American phrases emphasizing his tremendousness.
The optical design of the paperback edition I have is unobtrusive the layout useful. There are no special layout tricks or emphasizes, but also it seems that was no layout person in place, if you notice the different hyphen lengths in the table of contents. Headlines are good to identify, and the structure is enough with two levels depth, but not numbered. The check lists are pasted as screenshots, which makes their font sizes very small and hard to read. The paper quality is unusually high for an American book.
Just the chapter about team demonstrations contains a broad sports analogy about American Football, but fortunately Riefstahl gives enough introduction to allow also non US citizens to understand what he is talking about.
A German translation is not available to date.
Recommendation to read for everyone demonstrating software
Demonstrating To Win explicitly focuses on sales situations in software demonstrations. From my point of view those principles apply to all kinds of presentations in which software plays a role, so also in academic presentations at conferences. If you are research or teaching assistant, PhD student or undergraduate student and your job involves showing software to others, this book will help you having more impact.
I clearly recommend to read.