Demo Data matters: Advice for #HRtech vendors.




Reminiscing about presales

Early on in my career I somehow ended up in presales.  Without realizing it, presales is a great way to learn the enterprise software business. You get to understand the complex sales cycle, and you pick up a strong understanding of the business challenges the software you are pitching is attempting to solve. The cut and thrust of the demo polishes your presentation skills and objection handling, You see if the corporate marketing message lands or not, and after a while you know the competition better than anyone in the product organization does.  You also learn how to make the software do stuff that the product team never in their wildest dreams thought it was going do. You know where all the skeletons are buried.  2-3 years in presales will teach you so much. 

Recently I have been spending some time with my clients talking about demos, and it reminded me of a story from 1996 or so. A danger of working with me is that I reminisce a lot. 

I'd joined SAP South Africa, as a consultant, but I found myself doing more presales than project work.  After a detailed demo one day, the prospect said, "The system looks very German."  This wasn't a compliment.  I was puzzled, as was the visiting German development manager.  By then R/3 HR's translation was pretty robust, the menus, fields, help, and even the documentation were in English (or at least denglisch). 

A couple of days later, it hit me. The prospect wasn't talking about the fields in the system, they meant the data. For instance the names of the employees: Wolfgang von Krepps, Bettina Schmidt, Prof Dr Hilda Baumgarten. The plant location: Düsseldorf. The department: Geschäftsleitung. The salary deduction name: Privatkrankenversicherungabzug.

The prospect had a point. They were seeing a system for the first time, and 70% of the screen was filled with long, complicated words in German.  For the developer, the system is all about the fields, but for the prospect, they were trying to imagine using this system, and couldn't. This made the system seem more complicated than it really was. 

This made me realize the fundamental importance of the data in the demo. Having clean, well-thought-out data in your demo will do more for perceptions of ease of use and fit for the prospect than pretty much anything else you do. The prospect is looking at the system and imagining their organization's data in the system. 


Do what good estate agents do 

When you sell a house, you make sure the house looks its best. You clean the bathrooms, and make all the furniture is in the right place. In some countries, there are professional house stagers, who decorate the house to help it sell.  In the UK they have TV programmes where people flip houses, mainly by giving them a lick of paint and staging them with appropriate furniture. 

My parents were very successful estate agents, and while they could value a house empty, clean, or tidy,  more often or not, the sale price or time to close would be influenced by the very things that were not part of the deal. 


Better data makes a better demo

I would spend hours before a major demo making the system look like what I imagined the customer's business would look like. If I was demoing to a bank, I would make sure the job titles were Bank Teller, Forex Clerk, and so on.  This was a pain to do, but it usually paid off. 

I ended up working on a project in Walldorf on the global demo system, which served me right for moaning about demo systems quality.


Advice for founders

  • Go through your latest pitch deck and look at the screen prints or videos. Does the data in the fields reflect your ideal customer, does it tell a story? Never have an empty field, and never ever have crap data in the fields. If I find a celebrity name or photo in your demo or screen prints, I will insist you donate 100 euros to charity. George Clooney doesn't belong in your demo
  • Consider the demo system as part of your definition of done.  The stories you tell in your demos and videos should reflect your ideal customer.  Invest in developing and refining those stories. 
  • Treat the demo system as a product, not a project. Every new feature needs a demo story and the data to back it up, otherwise, why build it?
  • Print out screen prints of your demo. Take a pen and blank out the field names. Can you understand the screen from just the data? Does the data reinforce your ideal customer message? 
  • Does your demo precisely describe your ideal customer? It should.
  • Presales are a better source of product input than you think. Listen to them, and give them a mechanism to work with product management to provide feedback. 
  • Oh, and invest in great presales earlier than you think you need it. Reward them well.