Your Quick-Win Home-Built Demo is Actually a Slow Loss


Author: Jonathan Friedman

The allure of building your own demo environment is akin to the shimmer of fool's gold: mesmerizing at first glance but ultimately deceptive. This truth comes into sharp relief in the story of a new product director, brimming with ambition, who sets out to create a quick-win demo environment.

Why does it look like a quick win?

First of all, it’s a win because it’s essential. Once a new feature or product is built, sales are eager to show it and see how buyers react. In fact, even well before the product is ready, there is mounting pressure to showcase, announce and forward-sell it.

To the product director, relieving this pressure is a high-prestige task that will get her noticed and appreciated. It also seems relatively straightforward: it's a pristine, unburdened playground that can dazzle without the messiness of reality. It exists in a vacuum, separated from the main product by a chasm, free from real-world dependencies. It's the product, but not quite; it's a mirage of perfection, untainted by the complexities of everyday use.

The director is eager to dive into this project. It's an ideal arena for someone new to make their mark, right? Wrong.

Why not?

The art of showcasing and the reality of using speak entirely different languages. There's a fundamental tension between what the product is and what the demo needs to be. When you painstakingly designed the product, you made countless micro-decisions aimed at usability and value. These decisions are often diametrically opposed to the needs of a demo, which must not only run flawlessly but also tell a persuasive story.

You don’t need to be a product expert to understand that if the user, the use case and the metrics of a product are different, the product must evolve differently to serve those needs.

Unique Considerations for a Demo

A demo demands unique features that would never be needed in the real product or are even at odds with how the product was designed. Even if you think you can get away without these, sellers will require them in the very short term.

The Inevitable Decay

Despite your best efforts, the demo is on borrowed time. It has a half-life of mere months before decay sets in. The ad-hoc, hastily constructed scripts become brittle relics. The very thing that made the demo a “quick win” — writing shabby code and using duct-tape style solutions — start to fray at the edges and stop working.

The product evolves, leaving the demo a relic of its former self. Suddenly data that was carefully curated no longer fits in the new design. New features may not have any data at all, and need to be set up to be demoed.

The narrative you're trying to convey shifts, but the demo is stuck in its old ways. Suddenly you want to differentiate from a competitor but the demo you’ve prepared does not easily adapt to this new story.

As your market expands or merges, the demands on the demo multiply. Instead of a single “golden demo”, you suddenly need three, or seven, or fifteen, to cater to different segments or geos that may be critical to your success.

And what about those shiny new AI features? They require a whole new approach to demonstration altogether.

You're Still Missing Features

Even if you’ve gotten all the way here — and you’ve probably spent considerable time and resources already — your demo still lacks the features of a modern demo environment:

  1. Playbooks: Demos are often a mess of multiple links, users, and environments. Even a well-constructed home built demo environment rarely addresses this problem.
  2. Sharability: Buyers will often want a taste of the demo they’ve seen to show their colleagues. Is this something that you can easily and securely do?
  3. Real-time Notifications: Do your sellers know when someone interacts with a shared demo link? This information can make a big impact on forecasting.
  4. Analytics and Sales Stack Integration: Data is the lifeblood of sales strategy. Can you differentiate between the demo strategies of your sales team members, understanding the unique approaches of Alice versus Bob? Is there an infrastructure to feed demo usage data back into your sales stack, allowing for real-time adjustments and strategy alignments?

Each of these features plays a critical role in not just the effectiveness of the demo itself, but also in the overall sales process. They are the gears that keep the sales engine running smoothly, and without them, you're not just missing out on features — you're potentially losing out on conversions, customer insights, and ultimately, revenue.

Questions for the Quick-Win R&D or Product Leader

Before committing to a home-built demo, the R&D or product leader must grapple with a slew of critical questions. Here are a few questions that are important to ask:

  1. Who will maintain the demo, the code around it, and what happens when it inevitably fails?
  2. What is the SLA for such maintenance?
  3. How will product updates affect it?
  4. What are the implications of simultaneous demonstrations?
  5. How do we ensure that the demo is secure and compliant, especially when it comes to sensitive data?
  6. Can our sellers easily share a polished, self-running version of the demo with prospects
  7. Are there measures in place to ensure that when a demo is shared, it remains secure and free from unauthorized access?
  8. Will the demo provide notifications when a buyer engages with it, offering insights into which features caught their attention?
  9. What are the cloud costs for running this demo, and how do they scale?
  10. And finally, what analytics are available to gauge the effectiveness of the demo?

In the end, the home-built demo, that tantalizing quick win, reveals itself to be a mirage. It's a slow loss, deceptively draining resources, and diverting focus from the enduring task of building a product that not only functions but flourishes in the real world. The wise product director learns to see past the initial glitter, recognizing that the most brilliant demos are those that are sustainable, adaptable, and as thoughtfully constructed as the products they represent.

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