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Your Software Demo Should Be More Like a Cooking Show

By:
September 16, 2016

At first glance, it may not seem that cooking shows and software demos have a lot in common. But, surprisingly, they do. Both strive to educate their audience about the thing being demonstrated while at the same time enticing the audience to want to act and try it for themselves.

Software demos have a big job to do

They need to capture the interest of the prospective buyer, clearly communicate the features and functionality, show the breath and depth of what is available while at the same time keeping the audience from getting bored or distracted.

Selling software is complex, and often difficult. Doing so for regulated industries is even trickier. Not only does your demo need to clearly show the capabilities and functionality of the application, but it must factor in that the data being displayed is highly regulated and very private.

With so much to communicate and within such tight constraints, it can seem almost impossible to deliver a demo that works in a real and meaningful way for prospective buyers in regulated industries. This is where the tricks used by cooking shows can help lead the way.

What cooking shows and software demos have in common

Both software demos and cooking shows have similar objectives. They want to:

  1. Make the end product look appealing
  2. Make the process seem easy to accomplish
  3. Convince viewers to want to try or purchase the thing being demonstrated

The audience of software demos and cooking shows also have similar objectives. They want to:

  1. Understand what’s involved
  2. See how it works
  3. Learn how hard it will be to do/use
  4. Know how long it will take

Even though they have these things in common, I think we can all agree that cooking shows do a far better job of keeping the audience engaged. If software demos could engage audiences in the same way, they would be far more effective. So let’s take a look at four key things that cooking shows do that software demos could learn from.

1. Don’t conflate the demo with the actual experience

The first thing that software demos can learn from cooking shows is that there is a balance between showing every step of the process and hiding key information. You need to show enough that when people go at it alone they don’t feel deceived, but you also need to abbreviate the experience so that it doesn’t bore the audience.

Especially as it pertains to regulated industries, it is important to have a dedicated and differentiated software demo that is not merely a login to the actual product. This is important for a number of reasons:

  • When it comes to regulated industries, the data and information being shown is often confidential. Therefore, there are always inherent risks with using the same system where customer financial data or PHI is stored.
  • Some users may think they have logged into someone else’s account by accident. Especially of the data being presented seems real.
  • Not every single aspect of an experience should or needs to be demonstrated in order to provide a compelling software demonstration. In fact, in some instances going through a step-by-step, plodding enactment of a long and complicated process in front of a group of executives who are working to assess and compare several possible solutions can work against the sales team.

The key is to be able to show the most meaningful aspects and details of the product without getting bogged down in the rote particulars that don’t require explanation. You want to be able to show off the most meaningful and compelling features without forcing the audience to sit through standard activities like form completion, server calls, and error messages.

2. Set expectations and provide meaningful context

Cooking shows do a great job of setting expectations and providing context. They let you know up front what type of dish it is. Is it a quick and easy weeknight dinner? Is it a special occasion dessert? They set expectations by including details about things such as preparation time and the number of people the recipe serves, etc.

Software demos could learn a lesson from this. Help people at the outset understand things like:

  • How long does it typically take to get through the experience?
  • Is this an experience that people will use daily? Once a year?
  • What will users need to have ready before they get started?
  • What will they have accomplished at the end?
  • Is it a multi-step process?

So many software demos could be vastly improved by answering some of these basic questions.

3. Prep inputs in order to speed up the process

In a cooking show, the host doesn’t require the audience to watch as every ingredient/input is prepared. They let people know what ingredient is called for as it is being added. They do not make the audience watch as they chop up an onion, they simply have it ready and incorporate it into the dish as they go.

Software demos would do well to emulate this approach. Rather than forcing the audience to watch as every form field or input is entered in real-time- they should be designed to operate so that a single field input is entered during the demonstration and the remaining populate automatically. This enables the person conducting the demo to quickly move through the demo and allows them to focus on the most compelling parts of the application and demonstrate where it can provide the most business value.

If you’re not used to taking this approach, it is common to feel as though the demo is not complete or thorough and it may seem that part of the functionality is not being shown, but the reality is that most people are familiar with the process of entering data into form fields, and making selections from drop down menus. They don’t need to sit and watch someone else do it.

4. Build in shortcuts

One of the challenges sales teams face is showing the full functionality of the demo can take a long time and make the meeting boring. A lot of times sales teams want to address this challenge by changing the actual user experience in order to make the demo move more quickly.

While in certain cases speeding up the experience may be an approach that makes sense, in regulated industries this can be a great a disservice to the end-user.

Know when to change the experience and when to change the demo

We have heard during numerous research studies that participants prefer a slow and deliberate experience when they are making decisions about their financial or health information. It should allow them to select a few things at a time, review the choices that they’ve made, and provide the opportunity to review and edit their choices along the way. Ironically, these are the exact steps that we have heard sales people complain about and want to remove from the user experience in order to “speed up” a software demo.

The answer to this conundrum: build in shortcuts. Cooking shows are great at doing this. You will see the host prepare the roast, put it in the oven, say it needs to cook for 2 hours, and then reach below the counter and grab a fully cooked roast to show what the finished product looks like. No one in the audiences sees this and thinks or says the roast is not delicious because we didn’t sit here for two hours and watch it cook in the oven. While this practice is commonly accepted in cooking shows, people struggle to apply the same principle with their software demos.

Sales people are often hesitant to build a shortcut into a demo because they worry about being accused of trying to hide an aspect of the experience. This concern is understandable if the part of the experience that is being skipped is a critical component or one in which the software is responding. This concern is less valid when it is the end-user doing the work, such as making a number of selections.

How to handle repetitive tasks

If a process is repetitive and makes sense to an end-user, rather than attempting to change the process, it makes more sense to change the way that that process is demonstrated.

For example, we have had clients who ask us to remove a meaningful review steps (i.e. this is what you’ve done so far, do you want to change or edit it?) because they feel that it slowed down their sales meetings. A much better approach would be to show the review step a single time in order to demonstrate to prospective buyers how it works, and then build the demo so it moves to the end of the process. The sales rep can speak to the fact that the user will make multiple, similar decisions before completing the task.

Cooking shows do this exceedingly well. When it comes to a repetitive task, the first in the series is shown and then the final result is displayed. Cooking shows don’t force viewers to watch every cinnamon roll being rolled up and put into the baking dish, or every cookie being decorated after the first one is complete.

Showing a repetitive process a single time is a far superior approach than eliminating meaningful steps in the experience so the process of demonstrating the product moves more quickly.

Software demos are tricky. When they are executed well they can be an incredibly valuable tool for sales teams to use. We are experts in figuring out what to show, what to minimize, and how to best convey the strengths of your product. We’ve helped many organizations in regulated industries do this. If you’d like to talk about how we can help you with your software demo, let’s chat.

By Mahtab Rezai
Principal & CEO

Mahtab has spent nearly two decades as a user experience designer, researcher, strategist, leader, and mentor. She has designed user experiences for companies ranging from startups to the Fortune 50.

View Mahtab's Bio

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