As an engineer who turned into a salesperson, I was forced to learn the ropes of selling during the initial years of launching Avoma. I have made enough mistakes along the way to know that running an effective demo or discovery call can make or break your chances of closing a deal.
Luckily, we at Avoma extensively use our conversation intelligence capabilities more than anyone—which helps us continuously refine how we conduct sales meetings.
Every time a new sales recruit joins Avoma, they get the following tips as part of their sales training. And applying these seemingly small behavioral changes has done wonders for us in offering a delightful buying experience to our prospects.
Through this post, I'll be sharing some of my learnings and observations, hoping it'll help salespeople in SaaS, be it first-time founders or experienced sales reps—improve their sales performance and deliver a better customer experience.
Make your small talk worthwhile
Almost every sales call begins with a small talk—usually about the weather, sports, the place you are dialing in from, or even the virtual Zoom background you use.
Small talk is important because it helps you build rapport with strangers. They help you understand the other person's mood or personality:
- Who they are
- How do they feel on this particular day
- What they care about outside work
The small chitchat often helps you kill time while waiting for other people to join in.
But it grinds my gear when people—especially if they are sellers—start their small talk by asking, "where are you located?"
It's a poor question to lead a conversation because it clearly shows that you didn't do your basic preparation. It's such basic information that you can find easily by looking up the person on Google or LinkedIn.
It's expected—especially in the B2B world—that you, as a seller, do some research about your prospects before showing up for a demo or discovery call. It's a subtle etiquette that helps you make a good first impression.
Granted—with remote work, maybe the information about my location on LinkedIn isn't my real location. But even so, it's a good reference point to break the ice when you say, "I saw that you're located in the Bay Area. Are you still there?" vs. asking them, "where are you based out of?" The former still shows that you spend time researching your prospects; the latter shows you spend zero minutes doing homework.
The same applies to point-blank questions like "what does your company do?" It is even worse because how can you even come to a discovery or demo call without having a context of your customers' company background?
For the sake of argument, let's assume that you visited the prospect's website and didn't understand what exactly the company does. That's fine—nobody expects you to understand everything about a business by skimming it for 5-10 minutes. But if you reference your understanding of the prospect's business during the small talk, it will give them an opportunity to talk about their business environment in more elaborate terms.
The bottomline is—do the basic research and open the conversation with something that shows that you understand them. Leverage publicly available information about your prospect to kick off a sales conversation because it makes a good first impression on them.
Seek commitment early on
Every sales manager encourages their sales reps to book the next steps or get commitment from their prospects from every sales meeting. It could be scheduling the next meeting with additional stakeholders or discussing the pricing or setup-related stuff.
The implication is that if there's no agreement on the next steps from the prospects, i.e., some kind of commitment to engage again in the future, the deal might not move further.
By norm, most reps keep aside the part about asking for a commitment for the end. For them, it's logical to park it on the side because they first want to communicate their product's value—show them all the possibilities the prospects can unlock with it—and then ask for a commitment.
But based on my experience of running discovery and demo calls, the best time to ask the customers to commit to the next step is in the first 4-5 minutes—not towards the end. So here's how you can go about doing that.
When you are done with the small talk, set an agenda for the conversation that's about to happen. It's where you give your prospect an overview of the discovery or demo call—and it's also a perfect place for you to ask them to commit to the next steps. I usually give them a couple of options to choose from right at the beginning.
Here’s an example of what I usually say when I’m demoing Avoma to prospects:
“Here’s how I’m going to walk you through this demo session today.
First, I’m going to learn a few things about you and the current workflows in your organization. Then I will give you a snapshot of the product and its functionalities as they apply to your use cases. It’s not going to be a comprehensive demo, but the things that apply to you the most.
And finally, if you like what you see today, I’d love for you to tell me how you would want to proceed—be it scheduling another deep-dive session with other stakeholders in your team or discussing the number of seats you want to get started with.”
Communicating this upfront helps you set the right expectations with the prospects right out of the gates. And when you get around to wrapping up the demo and ask the customers for the next steps, they already see it coming. It completes the story that you opened with.
If you believe that you can’t ask for commitment before delivering something valuable—that’s a fair point too. However, the key clause here is to ask for a commitment “only if” the prospect has seen value in the demo.
That way, you are not asking more than what you are giving but expecting prospects to reciprocate the value they will receive.
I’m usually honest with most prospects about this topic because I know that they will have a hundred other priorities after they hang up the call and get on with their lives. So when I say that things can derail if we don’t agree on the next steps, they usually agree and respond with an option that’s convenient for both sides.
Of course, you shouldn’t ask for a commitment for the sake of it if the prospects indicate that they are not interested in moving forward. But it would certainly help if you offered your prospects the next-step options early to qualify them and set the right expectations for the demo call.
Discovery and demo can go hand in hand
If you look at it from the prospects’ point of view, qualification-only calls offer a bad experience for them.
Think of it from the lens of a modern SaaS perspective—the prospect just expressed their interest and is eager to know about your product. They probably clicked on a call-to-action button that said: “Schedule a Demo.” I have never seen a website with a button that says they first want to qualify their prospects.
Little do the prospects know that after they hit that button, they will end up in the call where the sales development rep (SDR) will interrogate them with a series of questions. And at the end of the call, the SDRs might slap the prospects with, “we will soon send you an email about scheduling another meeting with our AE.”
There are different schools of thought around how to do discovery and demo better. Some companies like to run those sessions separately, which is great. It does make sense for a company to separate the discovery process from the demo if they get too many poor-quality leads in their sales funnel. It’s certainly a good idea to have either an automated or manual filtering process to sort out good-quality leads from bad ones if you are flooded with junk leads.
But I think it’s better to combine them for reasons I’ll discuss below.
Most SaaS companies struggle with the opposite problem, i.e., not having enough leads in their pipeline. If you are already facing problems generating leads, separating your discovery and demo only adds another level of friction in the customer’s buying journey. It’s a self-sabotaging move that hurts your lead pipeline and your conversions.
When you don’t have enough leads—and if you are a growing company trying to expand its revenue potential—it’s better to talk to as many prospects as possible. Combine your demo and discovery processes to identify who these people are—other than your ideal customer persona (ICP)—that are interested in your product. It will help you understand the market better and discover new customer pain points that your product might be able to solve.
Coming to the demo part, it’s a false notion to believe that the demo should be run like a training session for your product. A demo is a preview of what your product can do—a glimpse into a world of possibilities that the prospects can unearth if they decide to use it.
Simply put, a demo session should be designed like a movie teaser instead of running it like a 120-minutes-movie.
I have observed that many sales teams sequence customer discovery for the first 15-20 minutes of a one-hour call they have scheduled with a prospect. Unfortunately, that’s also a bad experience to offer customers because you are grilling them with questions while they wait to see your product in action.
When you spend the first half of the call only on the discovery, it usually leads to multiple back and forths with the prospects, and you end up rushing through the demo for the rest of the call. The best way to avoid this is to give a little, and take a little.
Instead of running discovery and demo calls in sharp dichotomies, blend them in natural cohesion so that you make it feel more like a conversation than an interrogation. At Avoma, we suggest our sales team the SPIN selling framework.
Most SDRs ask basic discovery questions like “what conferencing tool do you use?” or “how many team members do you have?” Instead, they can tweak these situational questions a little to elicit better answers.
For instance, we tell our prospects:
“Avoma integrates with 8 conferencing platforms. Chances are, your favorite conferencing tool might already be on the list. May I know which one you use?”
It helps you break the demo monologue and contextualize your discovery process simultaneously with the demo. It doesn’t feel like you’re probing, but trying to have a genuine conversation and make the demo relevant to them.
To tease out what pains they are suffering from, you need to ask intelligent open-ended questions that encourage them to share more. For instance, instead of asking binary yes/no questions, ask them questions like:
- “Can you tell me more about what your current workflows look like?”
- “What happens when you share a piece of information internally in your existing workflow?”
- “What does your team do when they don’t have information available to them?”
To be honest, it’s very difficult for reps to break their existing habits and start asking questions that nudge the prospects to talk about their pain points.
Asking such questions doesn’t come naturally to most of us, which is why you have to keep practicing to get better at it. It’s also the reason why most sales reps choose the path of least resistance, i.e. to ask run-of-the-mill situational questions that don’t yield quality responses.
What boggles my mind is that this isn’t even a new concept. There are tons of sales literature written on this topic. And yet, most sales orgs don’t apply this to their sales practice.
There’s a smart way to overcome this problem: identify relevant capabilities that your product offers and rephrase them as questions so that your product comes across as the right tool to solve them.
Here’s an example. When we ask our prospects, “what happens when you share a piece of information internally in your existing workflow?” nearly 98% of prospects say that it gets lost in disparate tools or vanishes in thin air because there’s no process to capture it in one place.
Bingo! That’s actually Avoma’s unique value prop which we reframe as a question to smartly talk about our product capabilities because Avoma acts as a single source of truth that holds information from across all communication channels.
Next up in the SPIN technique is the “Implication” question, which is even harder to crack. But it’s nothing more than taking the pain points that your prospects mention and reiterating them as a follow-up question so that they can see the value of your product without demonstrating them.
Let’s take another example to understand this better. It usually takes B2B sales organizations about four months to onboard and ramp up their new sales reps. So when I’m running a discovery call for sales leaders, I’ll usually ask them the following IMPLICATION question:
“How do you think your revenue targets or hiring plans would be impacted if you could reduce that ramp-up time by half?”
It gets them excited about the prospect of saving a lot of time and money, and that’s when we demonstrate Avoma’s capabilities to help them achieve that. It also allows you to ask the need-payoff question in the same breath and help prospects see the solution in your product on their own.
If you intentionally uncover your prospects’ problems and motivations, you will automatically find the best way to run these sales meetings effectively.
Leverage your curiosity to improve your demos
Most salespeople suck at selling because they are not curious to learn about the prospects. Curiosity is all about knowing the prospects, their business environment, their current problems, and the goals that they want to achieve.
Many reps go into a demo with a primary mindset of selling—they want to sell the product features, get a commitment from the customers, ask for a sale at the end of the call, and so on. While there’s nothing wrong with doing all of that, they can be in a much better position to sell if they are genuinely interested in the prospects and channel their curiosity to help them.
You will go through a massive paradigm shift if you start thinking of yourself like an advisor instead of a salesperson. Here’s an example of how we use curiosity to our advantage when talking to prospects during demo or discovery calls.
Avoma operates in a pretty well-defined category of conversation (and revenue) intelligence which is not an overly commodified category—yet. When prospects schedule a demo with us to see Avoma’s capabilities in action, most of them have a strong need to record their meetings.
And yet, most prospects have unique workflows that look nothing like the workflows we see in other prospects’ orgs. The way they manage their sales motion, the processes they follow to facilitate sales-to-customer success handoff, and the tools they use across these workflows are completely different from other players in the same domain.
Therefore, it’s foolish to assume that all customers fall into the same bucket or try to sell them your product based on what it offers. Instead, we have learned to be curious about our prospects which makes a world of difference for us. We might ask questions like:
- “What happens when a customer starts trialing your product?”
- “How long does your sales cycle typically last?”
- “Why do you think the process takes that long?”
- “Who is involved in the product implementation stage?”
The more you ask such questions, the better you understand the pain points that your customers have in their workflows. Eventually, such conversations will unearth nuances you can leverage while demoing your product. You are essentially taking cues from those earlier conversations and pitching your product in a way that fits their use cases.
For instance, here’s how we might circle back to their response to the above questions and say:
“Earlier, you mentioned that you don’t have a formal handoff process between sales and customer success. And I understand that it needs some serious thinking and investment for you to standardize that process.
Avoma makes it easier to establish your handover process by automatically recording, transcribing, and updating notes in the CRM for every account so that your CS team can leverage it to contextually onboard new customers. You can also curate key parts of the conversation in a playlist and make it easier for your team members to subscribe to it and be abreast of what’s happening.”
But most salespeople don’t ask great questions—they don’t pause to reflect on their prospects’ answers—because not everyone is curious enough.
When you ask a question and the prospect gives you information, don’t jump to the next question right away. Better take your time to process that and acknowledge their response. Think about it and let your prospects know that you are giving time to think about it deeply.
It allows your prospects to open up and talk about their world, how unique their processes are compared to other players in their space, and so on. When you make people feel that their world is unique, they will feel heard. It immediately creates a delightful customer experience that they might not have experienced elsewhere before.
Without a doubt, curiosity is one of the best skills that salespeople can bring to the sales table.
Set the stage for a show
There are multiple ways to run a demo—you can either use a presentation tool like PowerPoint or Google Slides to walk your prospects through the session, or you can dive right in and give them a tour of the product.
While using slide decks is a great practice, I don't think sales reps should waste any real estate on talking about their biggest customers, how much funding their company raised recently, or who their investors are. The thing is—customers don't care about these things.
Look at it from the prospects' point of view. As a customer who has shown up for the demo, I might already know about those things because I thoroughly researched the company I'm considering buying from. It's okay if you can bring up these topics as part of the spoken conversation, but you shouldn't waste prime real estate talking about these things.
As a rule of thumb, your presentation deck shouldn't be more than three slides that talk about:
- The status quo in the industry
- How you are different from the rest
- A takeaway summary about your product
You can dive into the actual demo once you first cover these slides.
Design the first slide to discuss the industry's current problems and how your competitors are solving them. Make no mistake; the customers have evaluated other vendors along with you. Therefore, they already have some perceptions about each of them. Use this as an opportunity to educate your prospects about the harsh reality of the current market.
In the second slide, talk about the strongest differentiation that your product offers so that it contrasts you from the rest of the competition. Every product exists for a reason—find that unique reason and map it to your prospects’ relevant requirements.
If you can challenge their preconceived notions and offer a new angle of thinking, most prospects’ eyes will light up and they will appreciate the refreshing perspective. You can pull this off if you are familiar with the Challenger sale approach.
The third slide should ideally have a bulleted summary of three things that will etch strongly in your prospects’ minds. It can be about the status quo, the differentiation that your product offers, or other value props that make your product memorable for the prospects. These things are important because—believe it or not—most people will forget everything that you show them once the demo is over.
But the three things that you tell them at the beginning of the demo will stick out if you articulate them in a way that sticks out. It’s like giving a psychological anchor for their brains to absorb so that it stays long after the demo is over.
Once the presentation is over, jump directly to the show-and-tell part of the demo to actually showcase the product. I like to run the show-and-tell session like I’m about to give the prospects a big show, where I use every other sentence to set the stage.
First, I’ll announce the meeting agenda and say something like:
“There are three primary personas that use Avoma the most—the manager, the admin, and the end-user. In this demo, I’ll show how managers can make the most out of Avoma because you are a manager.”
This way, you don’t have to drill down all product functionalities as they apply to the different buyer personas you cater to. Instead, you can be relatable to the persona in front of you and who can resonate with what you’re about to show.
Of course, you can always talk about the other personas and how your product solves their use cases if the prospects show interest.
In the next stage, tell them that you will use the next 10 minutes talking about so-and-so topics. For example, at Avoma, we usually spend those precious 10 minutes telling them about our product’s application before, during, and after a meeting.
It helps them prepare mentally and understand how they will navigate through the rest of the call. You are essentially setting the stage for every single step that’s coming next in a customer’s buying experience.
Finally, close the demo by discussing your product’s benefits as they apply to your customers’ lives.
Sell your product features as customer-centric benefits
Most salespeople make the mistake of spelling out the list of features that their product offers right after the initial small talk. That’s the wrong way to do it.
Customers don’t care about your product’s features and greatness if they don’t speak to them personally. Therefore, you will need to reverse the features and translate them into benefits that the customers will enjoy if they buy from you.
Mix your discovery with a demo wherever possible so that you can understand the gaps in their business and communicate your product’s benefits in filling those gaps.
Sales teams across most SaaS orgs suffer from a fundamental mistake: we focus so much on executing the processes that we forget about the journey and the experience the customers like.
Despite being a small team, we at Avoma have built efficient sales processes and grown rapidly over the years because of the attention to details we have put into our customers’ buying experience. We believe that our focus on making the buyer experience priority #1 in all our processes has brought us where we are today.
We hope that you will be able to improve the discovery and demo experience of your prospects if you apply the tips mentioned in this blog. Should you have any questions about any ideas or topics we discussed here, I’d be happy to answer them for you. You can DM me on Twitter or LinkedIn.