Your playbook for running a world-class demo operation


Author: Kristin Kulpinski
Last updated: Published:

Your Playbook for Running a World-Class Demo Operation:

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

All right. So in this session. We're gonna walk through a playbook for running a world-class demo operation. So things like how to create assets and deliver them at scale. What are the right ingredients for a world-class demo operation? But first I want to start with some introductions. I have an amazing panel with me here.

I'd like to introduce Marjorie Abdelkrime, who has over 20 years of experience in SASS. She currently leads the Migration Success Team at AWS, and you've probably seen her all over medium, Linkedin, and Youtube. She co-leads women, empowerment, initiatives, and has chapters that are all about building inclusive and supportive environments for people to reach their career goals so welcome Marjorie!

I'm. Also joined by Zach Lawryk, who is currently the Head of Solutions and Consulting at Rippling. But he has a long history of building teams and strategy at slack salesforce box optimized and just a quick anecdote from me. In my first week at DemoStack, I had the pressure of intimidation of facilitating a panel with Zack, he made me feel very, very comfortable and welcome.

So I'm happy to be here again, and finally, I'm joined by Pam Dunn, who is currently the Team Lead for Solution Engineering at Contentful working with some of my favorites people that used to be my directs, and she really is about helping people see why choosing a role in pre-sales is absolutely the best decision you'll ever make. I think she mentioned to me, too, when we're talking about the traits that make people successful in pre-sales for her. It's curiosity number one, and I couldn't agree more so welcome everyone.

We talked a lot about the last session during the demo about demo ops and how that's a cross-functional transformation. We discussed challenges around demo ops and some fitting solutions. So in this session, let's get really tactical. Let's talk about the nuts and bolts of what it takes to run a world-class demo operation.

So I'm going to start this question off for you, Marjorie. What are some of the key ingredients that we need to run a world-class demo operation?

Key Ingredients to Run a World-Class Demo Operation

Marjorie Abdelkrime - Senior Leader, Migration Success, AWS:

Yeah, Well, Dan, and you know, I sit here and I think about demo operations. And then just how long you know I've personally been in the technical world having to deal with demos, and how far we've come along to make this a function that is one that's recognized. It needs to be dedicated, you know. I remember back in the days, and I'm in that age myself here for some folks we would travel with Pelican Breeze Right Ship. This massive device didn't have it to the customer site, so we had all of the tools and the resources that we needed so that we could effectively demo it, and that was done a lot of times by the SEs. So the SE was the one that was putting that together and owned updating and making sure that was functional before they shift it off to the next person that needed this specific infrastructure device that we were going to be using for the demo, but today I think it's shifted from meeting to understand why. So knowing from the marketing perspective, the story, who are we talking to, and the personas that are behind it.

To get the folks in the team's enablement so that they can fully understand how to use the demo how to properly walk through and make sure that they're handling all of the objections, and then finally, making sure that you have all the right tools and assets, whether it be marketing material, presentation, click through components and knowing kind of where to walk through. So again.

A lot of folks think of that as part of the enablement. But I think that that's something that's separate, as you think about all the ingredients that you need to bring together to make a world-class demo operation successful. And you know we talked about this, you know, many times with you and others. But understanding why you're in front of your customer and making sure that you're positioning the story of what you bring in with the value that you bring from your company.

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

Great answer, Marjorie. I am curious about the Pelican Breeze. Was it the AE or theSEs who actually carried the brief?

All right. So yeah, we're hearing. You know those ingredients of enablement storytelling tools and assets. Let's go to Zack. I'm curious about your perspective here. What are the key ingredients from your perspective to running that World Cup world-class demo org?

Zach Lawryk - Head of Solutions Consulting, Rippling:

Sure, I think you know, sales have changed a lot over the last number of years, especially in the last, I think 2 or 3 so years. But I think what remains constant is that the demo still is like the crescendo of the sales process. Right?

It's that focal point that's what everybody, especially buyers, is looking forward to. What am I going to see in your product? When is the demo? How are you building up to that demo? And it's a nice forcing function for any organization internally to orient around and rally around the concept. What do you want to show? What are the key value props? How does that change or evolve as you scale through the process from the top of the funnel to the point of, you know, actually enabling a decision?

So I think you know it's really nice and interesting, and we do this a rippling as well where it's a very demo-centric culture. And so we've used that demo as a forcing function to get all these cross-functional teams together to align on. What is the story that we want to tell our customers? And when do we want to tell that story depending on where they are in their evaluation journey?

So I know it's. It's pretty broad, but it is. It can be a really nice way to get people along get people together in the same room, virtual or otherwise, and align on what's most important, the story that you're gonna tell the customers and the value provided to customers.

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

I love that, and I've heard pre-sales described often as that nexus in the center of an organization, but I've never heard someone talk about a demo-centric culture and using that as a forcing function to orient other parts of the organization around. I love that, Zack.

Let's go to you. Pam. What are those ingredients for you to make a world-class demo operation is there something else besides just enablement and demo assets?

Pam Dunn - Team Lead of Solution Engineering Team, Contentful:

Yeah, we think about Demos like everyone here, we know that sales are evolving. Marjorie gave me a little bit of angst, and I heard talking about Karen carrying all this stuff around, and you haven't done this but 20-something years myself, you know. There's so much that we used to do in the past that we don't do now. But there's actually so much more that we have to learn in the pre-sales function right it. And I know Zach talks about this kind of culminating in a demo, but there are so many external things that we really have to take a look at when we talk about demo operations.

You know, how do we get everyone on the same page to get to the part where we demo our product? Right? How do we make sure our SEs and our AEs are both aligned here? We have some pretty, I guess we call them more robust capabilities, where we're actually certifying AE's on how to do our own demo framework, and we've evolved from some of the ones that everyone knows. I saw Peter Cohen was in the last session, shout out to Peter, we've taken a piece of that. We've kind of used it as part of what we call a contentful demo. And we're just trying to orient our teams with this framework so that we can actually help them have kind of more conversational, right? So we can focus on the business challenges. What are the real pains? We don't want to just show up and just show you a demo right, although we feel like the demo is what everyone wants to see. They want to see the product. But what we really want to do is eliminate the, “just show me the product.”

It's really hard to just show anybody a product. And you know we've gone through evolutions of how to show them a menu-based demo or a vision demo, but we're trying to really level our SEs and our AEs, so that we know it also is not just about the demo. It's about the stories we tell. It's the way we ask questions. It's how we layer our questions from one to the next so that we can really find out.

What are the real catalysts? Where are the challenges the business impacts? We're trying to really look at this holistically as we build out demo operations in different parts that really make sense for our business.

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

Awesome! That's really interesting that you highlighted this certification. I wanted to go back to Zach for a second. I know you and I have talked before Zach about a lot of certification motions that we've had in our careers as seen a long time ago. Are you doing that in your organization today? Do you see that same focus that Pam was talking about?

Zach Lawryk - Head of Solutions Consulting, Rippling:

We will get there, and I think you know it's we're. We're at a different stage of growth. I would say the first step for us. I think before you can certify, you sort of have to catalog the category of demos that are delivered as a team, and that can actually be a really healthy process to run through as a cross-functional team. We're all the stories kind of the one, 1-2-1 level stories that we tell our customers. You certify on those fundamentals with the idea that of course, you're going to tailor those fundamentals to the customer or to this stage of the sales process that you're in. But I still believe that certification is the way to go to get people to sort of internalize those various stories, and then also can give you a perspective on the scale of specialization to some extent. If you need to certify somebody in 15 different stories. You're probably at a point in your staffing where you need to consider having specialized functions or somebody who's focused on a particular category of demo or story or product.

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And that sounds like a pretty scary job description to me, right? So let's dig a little deeper into storytelling because I'm hearing that this is a really critical ingredient in successful demo operations.

Good Storytelling in a Demo

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

So what does good storytelling mean in the context of a demo? I want to start with you, Marjorie, here. How do you know it's a good story? Is the story the same for AEs? Or is it not? Is it different for SEs? And how do you teach people to tell stories?

Marjorie Abdelkrime - Senior Leader, Migration Success, AWS:

Yeah, I think there are a couple of things that we need to address here. When we think about stories, it's understanding the personas that you're addressing right and knowing who the customer and the buyer is. And a lot of times you'll have multiple buyers, and you'll need to have multiple stories to address the specific concerns that that buyer is going to have because for them they're buying for different reasons than someone else in the organization like right. So I think that's number one, as we think about good storytelling development.

The second is around used cases. This goes to industry. You know verticals where the customer sits, and what are some of again the consistent conversations and stories that you can back up with proof of what you've done already in the past, and how you can validate your solution to them? And demonstrating to them that it can help solve their problems. So stories around that to working back from the customer. And I think the final piece you know around storytelling is that you need to make sure you're incorporated. To make a good story is objection handling. And obviously, we're not going to always know every single objection that a customer might have, but a lot of times they tend to be fairly consistent.

So having that address is part of the recipe that you're putting together for the stories for your teams is extremely important so that folks know how to address these challenges that might come up now to your question around a versus SEs. You know I used to work with this team back when I was at Semantic, and we had acquired a solution. And one of the things that we did was it was legal discovery right? So we would talk to lawyers. That was our main buyer, and because it was a nontechnical buyer, the AEs demo and the storytelling that we used to do was exactly the same. So the AE. Needed to know the exact same positioning that the position we obviously had additional technical. If we were going to be talking to infrastructure folks that needed to understand. You know. How does this integrate into this component? Or, you know, other added, that we might need to be considering. So, I think, for the first demo it should be consistent. There really shouldn't be a difference, and either, or can play into that.

Now, how do you validate? You know, I think one of the areas around there that you know I've seen very useful. One is the peer to peer. So, having this group. You know review how you're positioning your story and having your team challenge you. I gotta tell you, you asked about butterflies earlier? My butterflies come the most when I'm talking to my peers because those are the ones that understand the space the most without any reservation. I think that that's really the hardest crew that you're gonna have to face, and probably the one that will give you the best feedback as far as your storytelling. Whether or not it's going well. And then there are other tools like recording and scoring those specific stories, and making sure you've got the right rubric.

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

Yeah, Amazing stuff here!

You know that that kind of feedback is really a gift, and that's a part of a culture of a strong pre-sales team as well as that feedback and coaching culture. Great answers. So, Pam, I want to go to you so can you tell me a little bit about how you incorporate storytelling, and maybe like what I know about contentful is. It's a solution that can allow you to build an almost infinite number of different things, different industries, and different types of software.

So how do you? How do you manage to tell that story right in a way that's going to be specific to a prospect? And how do you? How do you get people to learn that motion?

Pam Dunn - Team Lead of Solution Engineering Team, Contentful:

Yeah, that's a really great question. And we have an amazing demo engineering team here at Contentful. They build out what we call our use case demo. So, as a pre-sales person, you can literally get a copy of one of these 3 main types of demos, and you can use that

in your own environment. You can create, you know, essentially, because we're content. You can create these great front ends so it's amazing.

What they also did is with our product. They built out a story repository, if you will, so one central place for all the stories. When I first started I was thinking there were stories everywhere. Now we have one central place where you can go as an SE and actually do a search by the use case. So it's amazing.

It's yeah, it's. It's amazing because you can. It's essentially going to be like a web portal. You can put in the stuff you're searching for. Let's say you're talking to a retailer who's working in with an e-commerce partner. You can actually search for those e-commerce partners and pull up the story and then take the excerpts of that, and make it your own. So it's not just for us to use all the best parts about this is for anyone in the organization who needs access to the story. So we're encouraging our AEs and SEs to find places within during discovery, too, it could be done to set it. Some have to just be during a demo where, as Margie was saying, you could actually handle an objection with a story because sometimes it's not. They're not believing us as we're the vendor, although I think that C is probably more believable than A sometimes.

But it's really about our customers who've done this, and there are really great nuggets of information. What we're trying to do in my suggestion was, we kind of pull out the value statements right? Because sometimes you have to read through the whole story to figure it out. “Hey, what was the value statement?” I'm trying to present back. So it's not just like they implemented us in 3 months, or something like that. We really want hard, you know. They saved. They save money, you know, in increase the or they had an increase in, or they probably there was a risk that they were no longer having so something like that. I feel like there's so much good information in there that we've been able to essentially put into the hands of the people that really need it, so that you know, as we're doing our prep as we're doing our demo, what we call the demo loop. Do you have the ability to say, hey? At this point. You know you're looking for ease of use for content editors. Well, here's a story about you know one of our customers. It's doing the exact same thing. So it's been really great for us to be able to have it.

Zach Lawryk - Head of Solutions Consulting, Rippling:

That's incredible. Yeah, that is incredible. I just plus one that I mean, I think, like that's such a that. We're aspiring to do what Pam is already done, and that process of having people go through and actually create the content for the top of the phone or for scale assets.

Pam Dunn - Team Lead of Solution Engineering Team, Contentful:

Very healthy, and valuable for the SE team as well to align on what the stories are. I love that. I've actually gotten a shout-out from some other folks on Linkedin to ask how we were doing this. So yeah, happy to talk to anybody about that, too.

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

That's amazing. So that sounds like a great tool, a great framework that really really makes demo operations extend beyond just pre-sales. Right? You're giving value to whole other parts of the organization.

What is the Value Proposition Canvas?

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

Zach. We've talked a little bit about another tool that you're using, called the Value Proposition Canvas to help people learn good storytelling skills. So you want to share a little bit about that.

Zach Lawryk - Head of Solutions Consulting, Rippling:

Yeah, it's funny. They say that because we just, I just spent a number of hours last night putting it into her like a demo framework readiness doc. that's sort of based on the Value proposition canvas and in a nutshell, it's, I think, a really powerful way to align your products and services to your customer profile, or what we call the ideal customer profile. It makes that connection really apparent. So you start by saying, who is our target customer? What do they care about? What are the jobs they're trying to get done? Pains and gains, and then you describe your product and services, both in terms of game creators and pain relievers very simple exercises. And then you make the connection to say, like here is how our product and service, product or services actually address what our customers care about, and it's a really powerful exercise to accelerate a value, methodology, or a way of thinking about value for your customers. That's really unique that, you know frankly, is really hard to do via other means. So I found it super valuable. There's also a really great video that we can share. I think they're called Strategyzer. Where they explain the value proposition canvas. It's a great video. And that's where we just kind of started this initiative at Rippling. We did it at Slack as well to sort of describe our solutions, and it's particularly helpful for any product or service that you or you consider as a platform where there, you know a wide variety of solutions that you can provide to customers. It helps you sort of categorize those solutions in a really digestible way. I'm a big fan of it.

Curating and Managing Demo Data

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

Amazing, amazing. Wow! So we're touching on a lot of really important areas inside of this playbook. Let's call it right? So there's the storytelling there's the enablement. There are the assets like the story repository that Pam was telling us about something I’m curious about that maybe extends the assets part of the playbook. A bit more is

data like demo data, right? We typically use demo data to tell stories that resonate with our prospects. And I'm wondering if one of you guys wanted to share a little bit about how you imagine curating and managing demo data inside of that kind of ops playbook?

Marjorie Abdelkrime - Senior Leader, Migration Success, AWS:

I can go. Yeah. So this also goes to. And the reason why I use these examples is that we required a lot of data, and this was the discovery platform for Semantic, and we actually use former active cases. So we would get, you know, data that was publicly available and dump them into the tool so that we could simulate an actual case. It really required a lot of imagining of what went on during the discovery process, and trying from a customer perspective, not demo discovery and trying to find out. You know how the case progressed, and really looking at what actually happened. So I find that using somewhat of real events, even if it's, you know other solutions on how customers have used the technology really makes such a powerful story, especially in these circumstances, where you've got publicly available information where the customer can go validate like, “Hey? How did they actually use this?” And look at how the case progressed in the media and from a new perspective.

So that was pretty cool from a data perspective and super important for us to have, because, having gibberish in the system was just because, you know, we had it at 1 point, and that didn't work because we were unable to search for that content we were able, unable to create kind of correlations like we were trying to do with the information. So real-life examples I find to be super powerful. The fact that you had publicly available, data from former cases made it really accessible

Securing PII Data in Demos

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

But, Zach, I'm curious, you know, like at Rippling your HR type platform like, how do you? How do you tell stories with data when you're dealing with things like you know, personal information?

Zach Lawryk - Head of Solutions Consulting, Rippling:

It's hard. Frankly, you know, we obviously can't use real customer information, and we are seating data in sort of fictitious examples or contrived scenarios. So we have, without going into too much detail, a pretty heavy engineering demo creation and management process, which is not ideal at the moment. But you know it's tough when you're releasing new products on a quarterly basis. And with all of that, so it's pretty intertwined with our product release process right now.

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

Got it. Okay, that makes sense. That makes sense. How about you, Pam? Again, you know, because it's sort of the sky is the limit with Contentful. I feel like, how do you guys manage data? And maybe we could talk a little more about the environment part of the demo assets in the playbook to how you manage that. The sprawl that can happen?

Pam Dunn - Team Lead of Solution Engineering Team, Contentful:

Yeah, we're looking at different ways to even do this better when I started at Contentful. This process has changed so dramatically. I mean an SE today, or even anyone who wants to, in Contentful using Slack can spin up an environment just by using a command and Slack so they can actually change from the demo use cases that we have, and they could spin up a very full functioning demonstration that includes front end website, mobile device, and all the things that have to go with that to essentially make this work in real life. So we've got to simulate a lot of things.

The challenge is how we continue to scale that right? We're actually looking today without giving way any of our secrets to the rest of Contentful. But we're looking at ways that we can provide demos for AEs, I know we had talked about that before as a group, but you know, how do we get? I watched the previous session. They were talking about, you know everyone should be able to do a demo, and I'm very much from that side as well. I think everyone should be able to touch our product. But how do we do that? Because we are a fairly technical product, and we also want to be able to get metrics on that right? So obviously, if we're using a tool like a dental stack, you know that would be super easy to do. But how do we kind of use what we have today to be able to?

Maybe scale it back a little bit, or be able to teach the field to be able to do some of their own demos. But then also get the measurement from that. How effective were they? You know how much you know. How much did it help the process, because, you know, we're really looking at our buyer's journey very differently, because, you know, buyers are changing, and they want to get their hands on your product, right? We offer a free trial like a lot of the products out there. So you know, how do we better enable everyone at the company to be able to do a better job at, you know, being able to position us in a certain way without it turning into some one of these, you know, feature function things. We really don't want it to be that we want to be able to measure it. So yeah, stay tuned. We're at the forefront of that we're just taking a look at it now.

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

I can imagine that a lot of people in the audience right now are asking those same questions inside of their organizations.

How to Measure the Success of Your Demos

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

How do you? How do you manage it? How do you democratize your demos to get them into the hands of other people? You touched on a point around analytics. So maybe you know, we've got a couple of more minutes here. I want to wrap up a little bit on this part of the playbook, how do we know if we're doing it right?

How do we measure the success of our Demo Ops organization and iterate forward to continually improve?

Pam Dunn - Team Lead of Solution Engineering Team, Contentful:

Yeah, I mean, we're looking at the overall metrics on. You know we're starting with. Do you know how effective the demos are? Are we essentially moving the needle right? Are we winning those opportunities? You know we're trying to use salesforce for some of that tracking, or we're asking us to provide a lot more information, you know whether or not we needed a certain strategist at a certain level. And we're really trying to dive deep into those metrics to see how effective that is, as an organization. But we're again. We're just scratching the surface there, too. We’re trying to take in a lot of data points to help make sense of it because it's not always a direct correlation. I think Marjorie was talking about that, but some other stuff, too. But it's not always a direct correlation. So we're trying to do a better job early. Diving deep into those metrics and seeing what that tells us.

Zach Lawryk - Head of Solutions Consulting, Rippling:

I think some people get intimidated by the concept of demo engineering. If you don't already have that function to say, like I've got to throw bodies at this problem, and I don't have the headcount, etc. I think what can be successful in advance of that is instead using demo engineering as a term to refer to your bottom broader demo strategy.

So here's what we need to do to automate the process. And here's how we're going to measure it. And even if you don't have the mechanisms to measure what is important. It identifies those gaps in a really clear way, so that you can determine where you need to make investments, either in analytics or technology or people, and you kind of scale that out over time. But I think it's good to like early on. Make that front and center as part of your SE strategy to say we need a demo ops or demo engineering strategy, and at some point. We may have a team to focus on this, but this is where we are today.

Nick Capozzi:

Great! I hate to interrupt this conversation, Dan. I assure you. I've been watching backstage, and I'm just fascinated by the compelling conversation. But just a couple of quick housekeeping tips. Obviously, this is an exceptional panel. Please feel free to follow them on Linkedin. You should, because you're going to get all these kinds of great resources and information out of them. Also, if this kind of content really valuable. Follow the DemoStack Linkedin page because this is the type of content we're putting out there regularly, so definitely. Want to do that last chance for any last quick questions from the audience before we wrap up this session.

Dan Katz - Head of Solutions, Demostack: 

It's a great question from Kevin, and maybe, Marjorie, you can take it. This is a demo to close lost quickly, as valuable as moving the needle.

Marjorie Abdelkrime - Senior Leader, Migration Success, AWS:

Yes, yeah, I would. I would agree. It is cause I mean, I think at the end of the day, you know. I think if I shared this term, but I had an SE who would say, POC stands for Purchase Order Cancelled. So we would try to do is avoid doing a POC. So if the demo can get you to quickly get to an opportunity, either a decision close.

Nick Capozzi:

Alright, I'm I'm gonna wrap this up. I'm so sorry, Dan. I know you could go all day on this, but we are going to be coming up with our next session, which is mystifying the demo landscape with Galad and Kerry Sikolski. So we're very excited about that. Thank you so much for coming to this session today and keep following us. Have a great day.

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