How to leverage demos to accelerate the B2B SaaS sales process?

Let’s not talk around the subject: Most SaaS demos slow down… or kill your deal…

Why do I say this? Because after decades af monitoring these critical ingredients of the software sales process, here’s what I (sadly enough) keep seeing:

  1. We take ‘product demonstration’ too literal
    ….hence we show menus, setup, how you can enter data,…
  2. We believe we must show the product
    ….even though we have no clue yet what problem it needs to solve…
  3. Presales think their role is to train the prospect
    ….while the sale has not even happened…

The unwanted effect:

  1. we’ll confuse the customer
  2. we bore the decision-makers and lose attention forever
  3. we risk showing something irrelevant they’ll use to disqualify us.

How to fix it? That’s what this essay is all about.

But before we start…


Question for you to reflect upon:

What demo-sin have you experienced that should be avoided?

What’s the purpose of a SaaS product demo?

B2B SaaS and demos have always been inherently connected. People need to see it, feel it, experience it. But since so many SaaS businesses are making so many mistakes in that process – thereby seriously delaying or, worse, losing the deal – let’s dig into the purpose of a SaaS demo.

Let’s start with what it is not

  • It’s not a license to waste anyone’s time just because you have 30 minutes on the agenda
  • It’s not a license to push what you’re most excited about (‘your “latest ChatGPT feature”)
  • It’s not a license to randomly show stuff: The harbor tour

What it is

  • it’s an opportunity to verify that you’ve done your pre-qualification correct
  • It’s an opportunity to take out any product-related doubt that you’re a perfect fit for each other
  • It’s an opportunity to convince your prospect that you can solve their business problem like no one else
  • It’s an opportunity to create a wig between you and all the other alternatives
  • It’s an opportunity to leave a memorable impression that gets you the deal
  • It’s an opportunity to make your prospect feel it’s worth their investment
  • It’s an opportunity to take out any product-related objections
  • It’s an opportunity to take trust to the next level

In short – it’s a proof of mutual value.

Key takeaway: Done well; it’s your lever towards accelerated, profitable deals with customers that become your biggest fans.


Question for you to reflect upon:

On a scale of 1-10 – what’s your score against this list if you’d analyze your approach to delivering demos? How much would your business gain if it was a clear 10?

What’s the right moment to give your SaaS demo?

Imagine it’s Monday morning, you open your iPad, fire up your email, and there they come – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,…12 “leads” from your website.

Since timing is crucial, the next thing you do is inform the Sales team: “Hey, here are 12 new requests from our website, people interested in our products.”

Before you know it, they’re on the phone, making appointments to schedule a demo.

It’s a familiar story I hear a lot. And not because it’s so working so well. It’s not, to be fair.

Just because someone showed an interest in your company or product doesn’t mean they’re asking for a demo.

That’s what we might think. The first problem with this is: What will you show to someone who just ‘showed interest’?

It typically results in the first mistake: We do the ‘harbor tour’ – i.e., an overview of how the product works and its excellent functionality.

It is where problems start: We don’t have enough insight into the real problem the customer aims to solve – and as such, we ‘show around.’

Remember: Your prospect didn’t ask for training – they didn’t even buy the software yet!

They reached out because they struggle with something – and it’s that ‘something’ that we need to focus on first. And this is where Discovery comes in.

So the golden rule: Homework first, i.e., First Discovery – then (maybe) demo.

This simple adjustment is a big one: We’ll have a very relevant business discussion with the customer. And, done well, Discovery can grow your advantage in unexpected ways.

We can bring our rich experience to the table and ask the right questions upfront to uncover what’s happening (remember, most organizations are not skilled in defining the real problem).

One well-performing sales executive in my network outlined the advantage it provided her when she switched from ‘demos’ to ‘Discovery: Here’s what she said: “It helps me…

  1. …to have a meaningful conversation
  2. …to get an understanding of what’s actually going on
  3. …to make the conversation about the customer, not about us
  4. …to grow momentum toward the next phase (or to qualify early)
  5. …to grow my confidence
  6. …to build a better relationship
  7. …to accelerate the sales cycle
  8. …to win more
  9. …to stop the urge to give discounts


Question for you to reflect upon:

When ten prospect requests a demo for your SaaS suite, how often does your team start with a demo without questions asked? What if you’d change that?

What are the prerequisites for high-quality demos?

#1 – Clarity on the highest value/ most critical pains

in other words: No demos until it’s 100% clear from discovering what’s stopping our prospect from achieving its aspirations.

This is why discovery is so key. Discovery is about three core questions:

  1. What’s the situation? – and then listen
  2. What’s changing? – and then listen
  3. What’s most challenging? – and then listen

With the insights from these three questions, you should get a pretty good overview of the following two things:

  1. What are the most valuable problems to solve for your customer
  2. Which ones are most critical on their agenda and why

#2 – Clarity which pain points you can solve and exceed expectations

Understanding the highest value/ most critical pains is only part of the puzzle. To win the deal you need to claim pole position in the mind of the customer. And that’s done by exceeding expectations.

It adds a third question to the two above: On which pain points can we make the biggest possible difference for your prospect?

This goes back to the ‘Broken Triangle’ I talk about in my book The Remarkable Effect.

By answering the three questions, you now have a list of pains, with a ranking (scale 1-10) on value, criticality, and ability to exceed expectations. This becomes a formula: (Value * Criticality * Exceed Expectations = a number between 0 and 1000.

If all the pains are valued with a number below 500, qualify out – fast.

For the pains above that line – focus your demos on the top 3 – that’s where you have the biggest opportunity to leave a memorable impression.

#3 – Sales & Presales have to be a team

Having clarity first is critical. Either we qualify out (which is a good outcome for both parties because you’re not wasting each other’s time), or we qualify in – knowing all the ingredients to enter the next stage: claiming pole position in the sales process.

And that’s where Sales & Presales have to become a team.

Here’s the thing

Too often I’ve seen what happens if they’re not a team. Sales does their thing, closes their machine, sit in the back of the room, and disconnect (because there are a lot of emails waiting to be answered).

Presales then takes their moment (and their time) and demo’s everyone crazy. Total disconnect…..

Winning teams act as teams. There’s interaction. There chemistry. There’s a plan.

  • The role of sales: to paint the big picture, create the gap between ‘what is’ and ‘what can be,’ and set presales up to shine.
  • The role of presales: to showcase proof of value (instead of proof of concept) by merely solving the most valuable problem in a way that exceeds the customer’s experience.

The team-play between Sales and Presales helps you build momentum and grow desire towards the point where the only answer to the call to action is: ‘If this is true, this is what we need.’


Question for you to reflect upon

When was the last time you critically reviewed how your sales & presales act as a team when they meet with your most valuable prospects and customers? What’s your conclusion?

What mindset to embrace to deliver SaaS sales demos?

If you want to accelerate SaaS sales, doing “a demo” is not the answer.

“Can you give me a demo of your product?” they ask.

“Sure!” you instantly say

Proudly you take your MacBook out of your bag, open it, connect to Wifi, enter the URL, and fire up your solution.

“OK,” you start, “let me log in first – and here’s the opening screen of our solution. It’s very user-friendly, as you can see – a menu on the left, a dashboard with all relevant information in the middle, and various ways to communicate with your colleagues at the top. It’s all customizable, by the way. So you can do this, and you can do that… blah, blah, blah…”

And this is precisely where we create a massive problem: When they ask for a demo, we think we need to give them training.

With that, we miss the point entirely. IF we have to provide training, that’s for after the contract has closed, not before.

Before the contract has closed, the only thing we need to focus on is to provide proof of value.

And this is about three simple things:

  1. Showcasing how you solve their biggest problem, not more, not less
  2. Exceeding their expectations in the way you do that
  3. Minimize the time you have to use the software

My recommendation: Forget the word ‘demo’ and replace it with ‘Proof of Value.’

It puts you in a different mindset. It helps you focus on the essence. It does the biggest favor to your prospect

Mastering a Proof of Value will help you claim pole position in the sales process, accelerate the sales process, and grow the odds of winning the deal without being forced to give a discount.

What characterizes a remarkable SaaS Demo?

OK – now that you’ve done your homework, you’ve decided to qualify in, and the point has come for the demo. But not all demos are created equal. So the next question is: What characterizes a remarkable SaaS demo that accelerates the sales process?”

It’s always fascinated me how a single demo can make a difference in the sales process – IF done correctly. So what’s correctly? I reflected on that this morning – analyzing my experiences from dozens of Sales Pitch battles. Remarkable SaaS demos are recognizable for 10 ingredients

  1. It hooks the viewer by diving straight into the essence of the problem while putting it in the context of an urgent situation.
  2. It takes the buyer on an imaginative (desirable) journey and connects the story to something they want/admire
  3. It leverages storytelling, analogies, or personal experiences to communicate complex concepts/situations in a simple way.
  4. It’s reflective
  5. It feels completely human, i.e., conversational, on the same wavelength as the buyer, and refrains from jargon.
  6. It subtly addresses all their frustrations, fears, doubts, and hopes.
  7. It speaks to their inner voice, i.e., the story that’s going on in their head, i.e., it says a lot without actually saying it.
  8. It positions the ‘demo-er’ as the guide – a trustworthy person who thoroughly sees, hears, and understands them.
  9. It opens their eyes – tells them what they need to hear (not what they want to hear)
  10. It flows naturally (strong opening, middle, and end) and ends with a clear but compelling summary of what the buyer will gain.

Key takeaway: Acceleration happens when you make demos about them, not about you.


Question for you to reflect upon

When did you last see your (pre)sales team perform a demo? If you measure their performance to this list – what rate would you give them on a scale of 1-10?

What’s the most important skill to develop to deliver a remarkable demo? Storytelling.

What’s the single most used line in software demos?
…….You can do this…, you can do that…

Sounds familiar? As mentioned above – it’s the harbour tour.

So what if we’d ban this line from our vocabulary and replace it with another one? Something like this: Imagine it’s Tuesday morning, and you’ve just received an irritated email from your boss…..

What I mean is: tell a story. A story about something that could happen to them as you speak – and then solve it, ….. fast.

If you can solve it in 10 seconds, do it.

No one ever decided a demo should take 30 minutes.

Remember, your prospect has a burning problem – a problem that’s highly valuable and critical for them to solve.

It’s your opportunity to show them how you can take away that problem in a way they couldn’t believe possible.

Stop training – start proving value – fast.

Here’s a framework that works like magic: Orchestrate your demo as if it was a Hollywood movie script.

  • Context: Start with creating context about the situation that your prospect can recognize
  • Catalyst: Introduce an event that needs to be solved urgently
  • Complication: Give some constraints that make the situation even harder to solve
  • Change: showcase how this exact problem can be solved fast – this is where your product power comes alive. Don’t wonder off. Remember – fast can actually have a positive shock effect
  • Consequence: summarize the outcomes – the impact created, and the gains achieved

Stories help you connect, set the scene, and demonstrate what life will look like ‘on the other side.’

Stories are memorable, so you will be remembered after you’ve left the building. That’s powerful.


Question for you to reflect upon:

How many deals would you accelerate and win if you’d stop demoing your SaaS product and start telling stories?

How do you keep everyone engaged in multi-stakeholder SaaS demo?

A question I recently got was  this one “Ton, How do I go about demoing to a larger group for 1 (or more) hours?”

It’s a question I recognize a lot from my history at Unit4. The larger your prospects’ organization, the bigger the challenge gets. The problem: The engagement gap.

But let’s address it. Just imagine – You’ve made it through several pre-selection rounds, and now is the moment for the final demo. You’re entering the room with a group of 5 people – the steering committee. They’re well prepared; they each have their own agenda and insist on exploring different parts of your system in detail.

  • How do you do that without losing them?
  • How do you secure the quality of your demo won’t suffer?
  • How do you ensure you make every minute count – for all of them?

The secret hides in your ability to do two things well:

  1. Understand what keeps them up at night individually.
    This starts by creating a long list of all the unique pain points each individual faces in their day-to-day responsibilities. It brings this down to the essence for each person and identifies (ideally together with them) the most valuable and critical problem to solve within this list.
  2. Connect the dots on how they measure progress as a group.

Here’s the framework.

  1. Connect the dots
    Keep in mind you’re not selling a solution to 5 individuals – you’re selling a solution to solve the larger challenge of the entire business they represent together.
    So you can divide your allotted slot (60+ minutes) into smaller chunks and focus each section on one specific individual with the risk you please only one but put the other steering members to sleep.
    Or you aim to connect the dots, i.e., how solving the most valuable problem of one person influences the impact others can make.  This will make the story more attractive to everyone in the (Zoom) room – it brings the whole vision they’re buying into alive.
  2. Orchestrate the structure for Impact.
    The trick is to focus on the impact you’ll be able to create for the entire business – that needs to be the red thread throughout your proof of value session. Impact is in the interest of the whole group. Pick the stories that, when put together, drive a total impact that’s bigger than the sum of its components.
  3. Build Momentum
    Always work towards a high’ so that you build the desire and urgency throughout the session so that your prospect can only say Yes’ to the next step.
    Too often, we start on a low, add some meat in the middle, and then end on a low again with boring details.
    It should be the opposite. So, be the guide, show them insights they had not thought about before, give actionable advice, and spoon-feed them with value – so end each proof of value ends on a high note.

In summary:

I’ve created this essay intending to answer the big question: How to leverage demos to accelerate the SaaS sales process?

Here’s why: After decades of monitoring, I still see that most SaaS demos slow down… or kill your deal…

So, I made an attempt to answer the question: How do you deliver a remarkable SaaS Demo? One that resonates, that is remembered, and helps you get closer to the … close.

Here are seven steps I’ve identified:

  1. Understand its purpose
    It starts with acknowledging what’s the purpose of a SaaS demo: It’s not a license to randomly show stuff: The harbor tour. It’s an opportunity to make your prospect feel it’s worth their investment
  2. Understand when it’s the right moment (and when not)
    The golden rule: First Discovery – then (maybe) demo.
    Remember: Your prospect didn’t ask for training – they didn’t even buy the software yet! They reached out because they struggle with something – and it’s that ‘something’ that we need to focus on first
  3. Master the prerequisites
    • Clarity on the highest value and most critical pains
    • Clarity of which pain points you can solve and exceed expectations
    • Sales & Presales have to be a team
  4. Embrace the right mindset
    My recommendation: Forget the word ‘demo’ and replace it with ‘Proof of Value.’ It puts you in a different mindset. It helps you focus on the essence. It does the biggest favor to your prospect.
  5. Master the 10 characteristics of a remarkable demo
    Not all demos are created equal. The aim is to make your demo work for you – so that you claim pole-position in the mind of your prospect. TL;DR: That will be much easier when you make demos about them, not about you.
  6. Develop your storytelling muscle
    Stories help you connect, set the scene, and demonstrate what life will look like ‘on the other side.’ Stories are memorable, so you will be remembered after you’ve left the building. That’s powerful.
  7. Ensure you keep everyone engaged
    The secret hides in your ability to do two things well:

    • Understand what keeps them up at night individual
    • Connect the dots on how they measure progress as a group.


Last question for you to reflect upon:

Which of the 7 points would be your biggest lever to make ‘the demo’ your competitive advantage?

Good luck

Additional resources to help you build the strongest foundation to create remarkable SaaS demos

The easiest way. Book a free call to explore if there’s a fit to do this together.

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About the author

Sales Pitch

Ton Dobbe is a former B2B software product marketer who's on a mission to save mission-driven SaaS CEOs from the stress of 'not enough' traction. He's the author of The Remarkable Effect, the host of the Tech-Entrepreneur on a Mission podcast, and writes a daily newsletter on the secrets to mastering predictable traction.