Getting The Edge In Professional Selling

WHEN selling high-value or high-tech products, it is not unusual clients often ask for and expect an equipment demonstration or trial installation. This is the time they get a close-up look at what they might be buying and, perhaps, more importantly, get the opportunity to see how it works. However, ill-planned or inappropriate demonstrations will do more harm than good.

Demonstrations are a highly effective way of selling. But many things can and will go wrong. There are some basics that should be followed. Very often, demonstrations form part of a sales presentation. If possible, the equipment should be set up in an area so it will not distract the verbal part of the presentation.

I recall attending a presentation for mobile radios in Hong Kong. The presenter had a significant amount of information to impart throughout the first 30 minutes of the presentation, after which, he would demonstrate the equipment. However, throughout his talk, the equipment, placed on a nearby table, continued to squawk, beep and pick up fragments of police radio messages. Guess where the audience’s attention went? If possible, keep the equipment out of sight, turned off or covered until ready to start the demonstration.

The presenter should avoid patronizing the audience during the demonstration. Remember, demonstrations should not be used as training sessions (or vice versa)! Explaining every feature on the equipment is unnecessary. The presenter should concentrate on those features that he knows the client needs or is specifically interested in.

Sometimes the equipment to be demonstrated is too small. In this situation, consider removing the demonstration from the presentation completely or using a CCTV camera and LCD projector so everyone can see what is being done. Even if the equipment is large, many people crowding around to see what is happening rarely affords everyone a good view. Consider placing a barrier around the display or putting the demonstration unit in the middle of a large table. This is one way of keeping people back and allowing everyone to see. However, make sure you can reach all the controls. The presenter or demonstrator should avoid making his audience look foolish or stupid by asking them to participate in a demonstration, particularly if they are unfamiliar with the equipment. I recall one senior operations manager feeling acutely embarrassed at not being able to identify an on/off switch. Since her endorsement was critical in the purchase, little wonder that she opted for another brand.

Demonstrations should be short. The equipment should be set up and tested before the presentation. A salesperson who spends 10 minutes installing, switching on and testing his demonstration unit in front of a live audience will certainly lose their attention and interest.

Getting things ready before the start should also add a degree of confidence that everything will work. However, Murphy’s Law says that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. If the demonstration starts to fall apart, don’t try to plod through it. Abandon it in favor of another activity or a nonworking demonstration.

If demonstration items are passed around a room for the audience to examine, make sure they keep moving around the room. People waiting for items to be passed to them will be distracted and, out of spite, may take a long time examining the item when it finally reaches them. And remember that when items are being passed around, many in the room will not be listening to the message.

No matter how “friendly” an audience is, there is always the possibility of sabotage. Often done in good humor or as a “practical joke,” it can nonetheless ruin what would otherwise be an excellent demonstration. Keep this in mind and minimize the risks by keeping the audience out of range of the demonstration (and away from the electrical outlet)!

No matter how familiar the salesperson might be with the equipment, all demonstrations should be rehearsed and a comprehensive checklist of all required items made. One salesperson turned up in my friend’s office with a computer system, monitor, printer, and LCD projector for a demonstration of inventory control software. However, he had forgotten to bring an HDMI cable. Since no one in the office had one, he wasted 45 minutes having one sent over from his office.

Avoid the pitfalls by careful planning demonstrations. Rehearse and use checklists. Learn from your last presentation; each time you deliver a presentation, focus on what you need to do to improve. If the untoward happens and your carefully rehearsed presentation starts to fall apart, don’t panic. Shut it all down and rely on your verbal presentation.

Terry Hockenhull is a long term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant and currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.

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