Give better product demos with storytelling

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Rana Bano

Your product demo is an essential piece of your marketing strategy that shows prospects your product isn’t just a bundle of features. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the potential value your product could provide the prospect if they buy (and see how things will be worse if they don’t).

The only problem? When you introduce your product, you propose change — change that’s often met with skepticism.

Luckily, a product demo also gives you the opportunity to tell a story in a way that marries customer insights, data, and a memorable product experience. Through product demo storytelling, you can empathize and tap into your prospect’s emotions to close the deal.

But how do you give a winning product demo using the persuasive power of storytelling?

Storytelling in product demos: Why it makes sense

Author Michael Margolis famously said, “People don’t buy your product, solution, or idea—they buy stories that are attached to it."

Good stories are understandable, memorable, and, more importantly, repeatable. For instance, we know exactly how The Tortoise and the Hare goes, a story that is over 2,600 years old, but if someone asks us to retell the salient points from a presentation or report we read a week ago, we’ll likely fall short.

Research suggests people retain nearly 70% of a message when wrapped in a story and just 5-10% of the facts in a typical sales pitch. Even cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner reported people are 22 times more likely to remember information presented in a story.

But why should a SaaS leader or SDR like you care about storytelling in product demos?

Using storytelling in your demos gives you a black belt in persuasion. In the words of Jonathan Gottschall, the author of The Storytelling Animal, “storytelling is a uniquely powerful form of persuasive jujitsu.”

You want to deliver a message in your demo — be it “Buy our product or service“ or “We know what we‘re talking about“ — in a manner that hits home and achieves the ultimate goal: closing the deal. Storytelling is the greatest marketing message delivery system that helps you achieve exactly that.

Donald Kelly, the host of The Sales Evangelist podcast, agrees demos should be heavily focused on stories to deliver a more powerful buyer experience that leads to sales. “When I sold software to governments, k-12 schools, and cities, I always shared stories of how other organizations were using our tools. This helped my prospects “visualize“ our software in their own work environment, leading to a sale.”

Think of storytelling as the ultimate invoker of emotion that significantly improves your chances of landing a sale.

That's why sales storytelling is so important, it creates a connection between your prospect and your product demonstration that transforms them from a potential customer into a buyer.

How to incorporate storytelling in product demos

Steve Jobs once said, “The most powerful person is the storyteller. Luckily, storytelling is an acquired skill.

Below, we’ve discussed a few tips to help you master the art of sales demo storytelling.

Keep the message simple

Storytelling in demos is about showing how your product can solve the prospect’s problem specifically. Your product may have tons of amazing features, but not all of them will be relevant to your prospect. And what’s not relevant has no place in your story.

Consolidate your prospect’s pain points into two or three distinct areas. Then create a story framework for each product feature addressing the corresponding pain point.

You want the prospect to care about these features. To do this, you have to establish why the prospect needs them and how they can make the prospect’s business better.

Talk about your real experiences and circumstances

Sharing real experiences and situations is the easiest way to paint the picture of how your product or service can fit into and improve the prospect’s systems.

How? Prospects perceive customer stories and testimonials as highly valuable and believable since they’re based on actual experiences. Case in point: 9 out of 10 people say they trust what a customer says about a business more than what the business says about itself.

Customer stories make your story believable, ensuring the prospect doesn’t question the narrative's plausibility. “For each problem you claim your product can solve in your demo, back it up with stories and testimonials explaining how other clients achieved similar results,” suggests Kelly.

Alternatively, you can share testimonials and customer success stories as anecdotes. Think: “I have to tell you about this other customer of ours who was facing similar problems as your business…”. Show your buyers that your product works by demonstrating the success that others have had with it in your sales story.

Similar is the keyword here.

A prospect wanting to drive predictable and measurable revenue growth will be more interested in hearing about how your product helped a previous client focus on high-quality leads than, say, improving visibility into sales activities. Only share success stories of customers facing similar problems when demonstrating your product.

Have a well-defined beginning, middle, and end

Sales demo storytelling is all about taking the prospect on a journey—one with a strong narrative arc.

It needs a clear sequence of actions, starting from when the main character (your prospect) encounters a complicated situation, followed by them deciding to confront the problem, and finally, explaining the measures taken to solve it.

We highly recommend following Alexandra Nation’s storytelling format to make your story engaging and action-packed to grab your prospect’s attention right from the get-go:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Use this opportunity to direct the conversation. Tell them what you want to say and what they need to hear. Doing this will make your audience comfortable as they’ll have clear expectations of where you’re headed.
  2. Tell them. This is when you build your business case for why your solution meets their needs. Don’t just rattle off different features. Speak to how you can help—how can your product or service help them overcome their challenges?
  3. Tell them what you told them. Repeat your takeaways to drive the point home before you end your presentation.

Deliver a strong emotional impact

“Salespeople need to give buyers the emotions to commit to a deal before the logic to justify it,“ says Will Barron, the managing director at Salesmen.org. “Storytelling has been hardwired into human brains for millennia as the quickest way to instill emotions in people, which is why it’s an important aspect of successful product demos.”

Your prospect should feel an emotional impact when listening to your story. It can be wonder, self-awareness, reassurance, or even discomfort, but they should connect with your story.

One way to achieve this is to ensure your story has a strong emotional hook. When giving the demo, share experiences or situations likely to resonate with your prospect. “For the modern sales professional, there is no better way to build rapport and instill emotion than a strong customer story,“ adds Barron.

For example, you can begin your story with, “Have you ever had the following experience…?“ and then follow it up with a story that has probably happened to your prospect as well.

At Demostack, we help our clients make customized demo environments to boost their conversions, which is why an opener like “Have you ever had a demo go poorly…?“ nearly always evokes nods of agreement from our prospects.

Start with the expected, but also include an element of surprise

Successful product demos don’t build anticipation. They get straight to the good stuff.

Don’t list your product’s features, and then explain how it’ll solve your prospect’s problems. Instead, begin your demo by reminding the prospect of the pain points they mentioned during discovery, and then tell your story addressing their specific needs.

At the same time, you don’t want your storytelling to feel too predictable (if it does, your prospect will lose interest, and you, the deal). In Warner Bros‘ Bugs Bunny version of The Tortoise and the Hare, the tortoise is shown cheating at the start of the race. The tortoise is shown as a humble animal in the original story, so this twist is certainly unexpected.

Try to tap on a similar emotion when giving your demo. Here are some possibilities to add the element of surprise to your sales demo storytelling:

  • Present an anticipated result: “This move resulted in a loss of over $200,000 every year.“
  • Rejig a well-known phrase: “Slow and steady doesn’t win the race.“
  • Offer an unexpected approach or solution: “Product-let growth strategy is floundering.“

Here’s how to add an element of surprise when using stories in demos:

“Sam had decided to compromise. He was going to spend two months and probably tens of thousands of dollars to build his own software. But attending a group meeting messed up his plans when he learned about a recently launched product. Thanks to it, Sam developed his software within a month and on budget!“

Make your customer the main character

Until now, we’ve given you a general idea of storytelling. You discuss your prospect's current pain points before taking them on a journey to discover a viable solution to their problems. Finally, you let them get the solution (your product) to transform their situation into the desired state.

But for this to work, you need a personal connection with your prospect. And the key to doing it is to make them the hero of your story.

Otherwise, your prospect won't take the intended action, resulting in an underwhelming narrative. To avoid this, your story should lead the prospect to see your product as a relatable object of desire.

Focus your story around your prospect, framing your product as the ultimate solution that can bring an emotional status change in their lives. Do this right, and sales will come pouring in for your business.

Use storytelling to sell your product

There is an old adage in sales: “A great product demo sells your story, not your features.“ This holds because storytelling is the only medium that can persuade your prospect to take the next step.

We hope our sales demo storytelling tips help you tell good stories that can be used as a reinforcement and/or an alternative means to position your product as the best solution to your prospect’s pain points.

Use them wisely, and you’ll have the ultimate weapon to extend your sales pitch into a long-lasting and thriving business relationship.

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