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Product Demos: How to Talk Less and Listen More

Apr 9, 2018

Let the prospect do the talking. Every salesperson knows this maxim, and yet we so rarely witness it in action. On a recent discovery call, I was so pleased and surprised by the sales rep’s insightful clarifying questions that I couldn’t resist thanking her for actually listening instead of just launching into her pitch.

I’m convinced high-quality sales conversations are in short supply not because the world’s salespeople are inept but because getting prospective customers to talk is, to put it bluntly, hard.

Why It’s So Hard

Barriers to effective communication exist on both sides of the sales relationship, but let’s begin with the prospect. Prospects are at a knowledge deficit in the relationship and therefore in a position of vulnerability. They ultimately have to trust the salesperson when she says her solution will solve their problem, and trust involves risk.

The prospect might also might think of the call or demo as being primarily for the gathering of information rather than the sharing of information. As such, he may not volunteer any insight into his end of the transaction unless asked.

In general, the cadence of conversation is dictated by the salesperson, who has her own inhibitions to deal with. Her expertise may cause her to believe she already understands the prospect’s needs and does not need to ask further clarifying questions. Or, she may be asking questions but not getting very forthcoming answers, in which case she may talk more herself by way of compensation.

But prospect-led conversations benefit the sales relationship in a number of ways. One, they better equip the sales reps to address the client’s needs. No matter how experienced the rep is, she is unlikely to predict 100% of the prospect’s pain points 100% of the time. Two, they make the client feel heard, which fosters trust in and of itself. Three, it increases the chances that either the prospect or the sales rep will discover a new business opportunity to pursue. And last but not least, they signal to the prospect that the vendor approaches business partnerships from a descriptive (rather than prescriptive) vantage point, which is essential to sustainable customer relationships.

How to Fuel the Conversation Without Dominating It

Perfecting the art of the sales conversation takes time, but the following tips can help guide your practice as you shift emphasis from yourself to the prospect.

Come Prepared with Questions

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s less common than you might imagine! Sure, you might come with prepared questions for a discovery call, but what about your product demo? What about followups to that demo? You may be missing out on opportunities on other scheduled conversations without realizing it.

Use your questions list as a guide, not a straightjacket. You may find the conversation veering off in an unanticipated direction, so be prepared to come up with new questions on the spot.

Lastly, don’t worry if you need a moment to peruse your list between questions. The prospect will appreciate that you came prepared.

Beyond the Background

Once you’ve asked the standard background questions, you should know: who the prospect is, what they do, when they realized they had a problem, where they are in solving that problem, why they came to you, and how they’re hoping you’ll be able to help. Eventually you’ll need to discuss your product or services, but pause—frequently—to ask additional open-ended questions like:

  • How do you think [feature] would coordinate with your existing process?
  • What other topics would you like to explore on this call?
  • Why is [feature] a priority for you and your team?
  • How often would you ideally like to touch base about [metric]?

Perfect the Art of the Nudge

When presented with unforthcoming prospects, it’s time to bring out the follow-up questions. To avoid sounding like a curious two-year-old asking “why” over and over again, narrow your question. Let’s take this exchange by way of example:

Sales Associate: So that’s our dashboarding tool. Do you think your end users would be comfortable using it?

Prospect: Yes.

The sales associate could respond to this answer with “Great!” and just move on to the next topic, but if she does, she may be missing out on valuable feedback and a better understanding of her prospect’s user base. So she could try to get more information by asking why, but such an open question could elicit a vague answer such as “Because it’s easy to use.” Instead, she might consider focusing her question. Here are some good options:

  • How does our tool compare to what your users are working with now?
  • What do you think your users would like about it?
  • How would you characterize your users’ reporting abilities?

Interrogate Assumptions

Sometimes prospects will make assumptions and/or generalizations that do not accord with your understanding of the subject. Let’s say, for example, that you offer a range of services, one of which is Service B. During the conversation, the prospect says, “Oh, we don’t need Service B. We already use Company X for that.” Because Company X is a competitor of yours, you already know how your service matches up with theirs, but instead of telling the prospect that your version of the service comes with a set of advantages, use questions to help the prospect arrive at that conclusion himself. If the assumption is that his needs are already met by Company X, interrogate that assumption to test its validity by asking questions like:

  • What kinds of results have you seen with Company X’s service? Are you satisfied with those results?
  • Does Company X offer [feature] with its service? What about [other feature]?
  • What do you pay for Company X’s service, if you don’t mind my asking?

Positive Reinforcement

Questions aren’t the only way to get someone talking! People also respond very positively to genuine compliments and positive affirmation. If you appreciate or admire something about the prospect’s work or way of conducting business, say so! An air of positive regard can help loosen tensions and encourage the prospect to open up. If the prospect is forthcoming, help ensure that he continues to be forthcoming by making your appreciation known.

We at Exago have gotten a lot of positive feedback about our partnership-oriented sales methods and hope these conversation tips prove useful to you on your calls and product demos. If you have best practices of your own to share, tell us about them in the comments!

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