Little Things Count

8 October 2014

In the second of his occasional series about the long-gone days when salespeople were salespeople and not "consultants’"or "business development managers" or whatever, Ian McMurray recalls a particular demonstration…

Whether we won a deal or lost a deal, the deal would always get reviewed to find out what lessons we’d learned. It was built into the sales process, and was absolutely invaluable in improving our win rate.

I was just back from my training class on terminals (new and exciting technology that enabled what we used to call a visual display unit – or VDU – to communicate with a host mainframe…). The senior account manager for whom I was working at the time was engaged in a substantial deal with a packaging company – and he asked Terminal training classme to come along to a presentation to show off my newfound knowledge.

Well, there was no stopping me… I probably bored the prospect half to death as I ran through – and demonstrated – all the wonderful features of the TD800.

The good news was, we ended up winning the deal. As part of the post-win review, we’d asked the customer “Why did you buy from us?” He gave us several reasons – but, if I recall correctly, high on his list was the fact that our TD800 VDU had a scrolling feature, which enabled text (this was well before you could get graphics onto a screen) to be – well, scrolled through.

You could have knocked us down with the proverbial feather. The fact was that we knew all of our competitors on the deal also offered VDUs with a scrolling feature. But they didn’t have the advantage of a young, keen junior account manager fresh out of his class to demonstrate it. And, naturally, the assumption was that, if they didn’t demonstrate it, they didn’t have it.

The moral of the story is, of course, that we tend to assume – especially as we get more experienced - that our prospects know as much as we do, and are fully aware of what’s available to them. That can be a dangerous assumption. If a competitor demonstrates a feature that you also have, but you don’t demonstrate it – what’s the prospect supposed to think? Your offering will suffer by comparison – as the result of a simple omission…

The subject of demonstrations is another one close to my heart. Every training class I attended – and there were many of them through the first couple of years of my apprenticeship with one of America’s biggest computer companies – always ended with a pass/fail test that involved a demonstration, whether the class was about product knowledge, industry understanding or sales skills. Many’s the night I’ve been up till the wee small hours, perfecting a demonstration on a piece of kit that was at best temperamental, and at worst just downright hostile.

Demonstrations seem to be a lost art these days – more’s the pity.

Ian McMurray

Ian McMurray started his 40-year career in the technology industry back when 4K wasn’t the latest TV resolution — it was as much memory as you needed to write a complete, integrated accounting system for a computer. He started life as a mainframe salesman but eventually succumbed to the lure of marketing, and has since held a variety of European and worldwide marketing management positions, as well as occasional forays into sales training and development. He’s now the PR guy for Abaco Systems, and is based in Towcester, England.