When Last Means First....

Odds Change Based on the Order of Your Demo

To paraphrase Shakespeare, "To demo first, last or in the middle — that is the question."  But unlike Hamlet’s dilemma, this question has only one viable answer: demo last.
Having been involved in the selling of enterprise software for the past 40 years, there are few questions that have such a simple answer; yet for some reason, some people voluntarily choose an alternative approach.  Let’s examine the relative merits of each position:
Demoing first is a fairly popular position, as there are many who feel that "setting the bar" makes demoing first the preferred slot.  Certainly, saying things first has significant value; however, that value quickly becomes neutralized when competitors "me too" whatever was said during the first demo.  Moreover, the first vendor to demo receives the "benefit" of being the users' first exposure to a specific solution set.  As such, the users ask a disproportionately high volume of questions to the first to demo.  Subsequent vendors, on the other hand, only get asked the questions that were unsatisfactorily answered during prior demos.  Consequently, if your software company finds itself placed in the lead-off position, my recommendation would be to withdraw from consideration, if you can't get the schedule rearranged.  At best, the chances of winning any deal when demoing first is 50/50.
Demoing second (in the middle of three) has no advocates.  This demo is always the first to be forgotten and doesn't provide any ability to have differentiation remembered by the user community.  If your software company finds itself demoing in the middle of three vendors, withdrawing is the only viable option, since your chance of winning is so low that demoing is a waste of valuable resources.  Realistically, the chances of winning any deal when demoing in the middle position are near 0%.
This leads us to the scenario of having landed in the third (and last) demo position.  This is the only viable option for several reasons, not the least of which is that "the last word is always the best word."  By the third demo, users are much more accustomed to seeing product demos, tend only to ask questions the other vendors were unable to answer and, as a consequence, align most closely with the final product being demoed.  Be aware that the project sponsors know this, too.  As a result, they arrange the demo schedule such that their preferred vendor demos last and are given this undeniable advantage.  When landing in the final demo position, your chances of winning are high (at least 75%), assuming the demo is critical to winning the deal.
The argument that the customer impartially determines the demo schedule and that the software vendors have no choice but to accept it is laughable and naive.  Perhaps occasionally, the project owner is inexperienced and arbitrarily selects the demo order; however, the odds are much higher that the project owner knows exactly what he/she is doing and either arranged the demo order on his/her own or with influence from the preferred vendor.  Either way, the decision to demo in any position other than last shows, at a minimum, that you are being "outsold" and, in the worst case, are being positioned to fail/lose.
Demoing last is one of five leading indicators of predicting deal success (knowing the decision maker, having a verified business case, having unique differentiated features and having a compelling event are the others), so it is critical to get this right.  Unlike Hamlet, who struggled to unravel the answer to "To be or not to be?", when to demo is as clear as winning and losing.

If you would like us to help you get what you deserve for your company's enterprise software offering, please contact us at dave@moicpartners.com or chip@moicpartners.com

Dave Levitt

Dave Levitt brings a wealth of experience with more than 40 years in the enterprise software space. Having served as Sr. Vice President, Worldwide Sales, at LiquidFrameworks, Dave played a crucial role in scaling their "quote to cash" platform, leading to its acquisition first by Luminate and then by ServiceMax. His strategic prowess was further proven as he created and spearheaded the Energy Business Unit at Salesforce, growing it from inception to $100 million in total contract value. His extensive background also includes sales roles at SAP, Siebel Systems, Oracle | Datalogix, and as a board member for several tech innovators.