SaaS Sales Demos: Focus on the buyer, not the product

The Dock Team
August 21, 2022
June 10, 2024

Giving a great sales demo is like being a great tour guide.

Think of the worst tour you’ve ever been on.

It was probably in a big, impersonal group. You were bused from point A to point B. The tour guide was scripted, soulless, and over-rehearsed. You heard a series of historical facts you forgot by dinnertime. And it dragged on way longer than you wanted it to.

Now think of the best tour you’ve ever been on.

It was smaller and more niche to your interests. The tour guide told compelling stories and took a personal interest in you. It gave you a true feel for the place in a short amount of time. And it inspired you to come back.

Sitting through a bad sales demo is like being on a bad tour. You didn’t want to be herded from feature to feature (or worse, given a 30-slide PowerPoint presentation). You wanted to experience the product for yourself while getting insights from an expert.

The lesson for sales teams:

A compelling software-as-a-service (SaaS) sales demo is designed around the buyer experience, not the product. 

Buyers don’t want to know what your software does. They want to know how it will make their life easier.

From this guide on software sales demos, you’ll learn:

  • What a buyer wants out of a sales demo
  • Two common sales demo motions
  • Tips for giving a buyer-focused demo

Let’s start with the objectives of a software demo.

The goals of a SaaS sales demo

A sales demo is a call between a sales team and a prospect where the seller gives the buyer a personalized tour of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product with the goal of progressing a sale.

Sales demos are a pivotal moment in the virtual selling process. They give the sales rep a chance to tell a value story about the product that’s personalized to the prospect’s unique situation.

But a sales demo can only be successful if it satisfies the goals of the seller and the buyer. 

What the buyer wants from a demo

The best sellers start by thinking about what the buyer wants from the demo. They want to:

1. Verify your marketing claims: Every product claims to make your life easier or to get the job done faster. Prospects want to see firsthand if your product is as intuitive, efficient, and powerful as it claims to be.

2. See solutions to their problems: Prospects want to leave the call feeling like your product can help them do their job better and with better ROI than other products or their existing solution.

3. Ask specific questions: Most B2B buyers are well-researched. If they could have gotten the answer from your website, they would have. When they request a demo, it’s because they want to get into the weeds. They may want to see specific workflows with real data, learn if your product integrates with their existing technology stack, and ask what’s next on your product roadmap.

At the very least, your demo has to check those boxes.

What the seller wants from a demo

As the seller, the demo is an opportunity to:

1. Qualify the lead: For simpler products, the demo is an opportunity to ask the prospect questions about their business and assess if they’re a fit for your product. By asking poignant questions, you can then adapt the rest of the demo to their needs.

2. Tell a story of value: Based on what the sales rep learned about the client through research and discovery, the rep can tell a story of value through the client’s personal lens. The demo can be tailored to their role, industry, and jobs to be done.

3. Establish next steps: The end of a demo is an opportunity to establish what needs to happen next to close the sale.

Therefore, a demo needs a distinct beginning, middle, and end to help you accomplish these goals.

Structuring your SaaS sales demos

The format of your sales demo will depend on how much you need to know about the prospect to tell a story of value about your product. This normally depends on the complexity of your product.

Let’s start with the more complex case.

1. The post-discovery technical demo

For complex products or enterprise sales, the sales process starts with an initial discovery call, followed by a sales demo as the second meeting. 

Because complex business-to-business (B2B) products have a wide range of use cases, lots of features, and complicated buying processes, the discovery call is necessary to build rapport with the prospect, dive into their pain points, and qualify them in advance of the demo.

For example, no two implementations of enterprise products like Workday or Salesforce will be alike, so it’s impossible to give a one-size-fits-all demo.

The sales rep takes what they learned in discovery and crafts a sales demo tailored to their business needs, showcasing the solutions or features that address the prospect’s biggest pain points.

If the product is complex enough, it may be necessary to give a series of progressively more technical demos.

2. The one-touch sales demo

For simpler SaaS products, especially for organizations with product-led growth strategies, the sales demo is often sales’ first and only point of contact with a customer.

The prospect discovered your product, checked out your website, and tried the free version of your product. Now, they want to see the paid product in action and ask a few questions before pulling the trigger on a subscription.

In this case, the sales rep has to qualify the buyer, ask poignant questions, and demo the relevant aspects of the product in the same meeting.

Because simpler products have lower sales friction, you don’t want to stretch the sales process out longer than needed—hence the single sales meeting.

For these demos, the sales rep needs to do advanced research on the prospect and be adaptable in the moment to pull off a successful demo.

This would be the case for plug-and-play SaaS products like HubSpot or us here at Dock.

Tips for giving a great SaaS sales demo

Want to avoid being the boring tour guide? Follow these tips.

1. Avoid unqualified demos by giving alternatives

Our first tip is to avoid sales demos that never should have happened. Spending half an hour with an unqualified buyer is a waste of everyone’s time.

According to a survey by Consensus, more than half of sales engineers surveyed said 30% or more of their demos were unqualified.

One way to avoid unqualified demos is to adopt the concept of a demo-qualified lead (DQL). This requires a prospect to pass qualification criteria before getting a live demo. For example, you could limit your live demos to companies of a certain size or industry.

Another option is to give alternative demo formats. People like to buy in different ways, so let them choose their own adventure.

Product demo videos

Demo videos are a great top-of-funnel resource and time-saver for your sales team.

Have your best sales rep film a great demo video that can be used in a one-to-many capacity—on your website, in follow-up emails, in email campaigns, and as a companion to your demo request form.

If you get more demo requests than you can handle, a sales rep can first send a demo video via email and then follow up to answer questions or offer a live demo.

Demo videos are easier for your buyers to pass to their teams, and they can help buyers self-qualify without having to take the time of one of your reps.

The downside to this approach is that you can’t give personalized context to each viewer. To combat this, you can create a demo video for each of your main use cases or customer verticals.

Interactive demos

To give prospects a way to experience your product without speaking to a sales rep, create an interactive, click-through demo.

Tools like Reprise or Storylane let you give prospects a snapshot of your product without giving the whole thing away for free.

Guided interactive demos are especially helpful at communicating the value of a complex product when a free trial isn’t an option. 

If the customer can’t easily import their own data into the product without an implementation team’s help, they wouldn’t see value from an empty dashboard. By giving them a guided tour with dummy data, they can more easily envision the product’s value.

For example, this product tour from Parabol walks you through a simulation of a live retrospective meeting—something that would be difficult to experience by yourself.

Interactive demos are also a useful follow-up resource for buyer enablement after a live demo. After giving the buying team’s champion a live demo, you can link them to an interactive demo to take back to their organization.

2. Make it easy to book a demo

If your goal is to book as many demos as possible, make it extremely easy for leads to book a demo directly on your website.

If a prospect has to fill out a contact form and wait to hear back from a sales rep, they may drop off during that lag time. A 2011 study found that leads are seven times less likely to be qualified when lead follow-up time increased from one hour to two hours.

At Dock, we use Chili Piper to let prospects book sales demos in our calendar. By switching from a generic “Request a demo” contact form to a calendar booking form, we boosted our contact-to-demo conversion rate from 25% to 60%.

You can also use scheduling tools like Chili Piper, HubSpot, and Calendly to reduce no-shows by allowing prospects to flexibly rebook their demos.

3. Research the prospect in advance

The more prepared you can be for a demo, the better. 

In advance of the demo call, research the prospect to gain an understanding of their business, who they are, and what their pain points might be so you can ask poignant questions during the live demo and skip the easy ones.

When pulling up their history in your CRM, their LinkedIn profiles, and company website, ask yourself:

  • What does their business sell?
  • Who are their customers?
  • Who are their competitors?
  • Who are your competitors for this client?
  • What is their current tech stack?
  • Who are the decision-makers at their company?
  • What are the attendees’ jobs to be done?
  • What are their likely challenges?

You won’t be able to know everything about the prospect, but look for hints. 

For example, if they have a small team on LinkedIn and a simple website, they’re most likely an early-stage company focused on customer growth and product-market fit. If they’re a bigger organization, they’re likely more concerned about efficiency, cross-selling, or customer success.

Tip: Before the demo, ask the prospect what they want to get out of it and who will attend. This will make it easier to prepare. You can include this question directly in your demo form, in the calendar invite, or as a follow-up email before the demo.

4. Match the demo to the buyer lifecycle

The B2B buying journey is increasingly non-linear. Because of the complexity of B2B buying, buyers bounce forward and backward through the sales funnel. 

So it’s unlikely your demos will all take place at the same stage of the buying journey.


Tailor the content of your demo to where the customer is in their buying journey. Consider these three example scenarios.

Demos from outbound sales

An outbound sales demo should be a higher-level conversation about the why behind your product.

When you secure a demo from cold outbound outreach, the prospect still needs to be convinced they have the problem your product solves. They won’t know what’s in it for them if you jump straight to features.

This will feel more like a traditional sales pitch than other demos. Tell the story of your product with a few slides, provide social proof from case studies, and demo the biggest wow features of your product. 

You can always get into the nitty gritty features in a follow-up demo.

Demos from inbound requests

For an inbound demo request from your website, the prospect already understands they have a problem that needs solving. They’re requesting a demo because they have specific questions and want to see the product in action.

This demo should balance storytelling and showing off the features most relevant to their needs.

Product-led demos

If a prospect requests a demo after already having used a free or lower-tiered version of your product, they’re most likely looking for a tactical deep-dive.

They want to know how to use the product better for their personal use case, including a tour of the features missing from their plan.

This demo should feel more like customer success than sales. Your goal is to get them activated in the product.

For example, you can set up workflows directly in their account, or show them a demo environment with fully populated data to give them a better sense of the product at its best.

5. Use pitch decks sparingly

The point of a demo is to show the product, not a slide deck. If customers expect to be shown the product and instead get a sales pitch, they can mentally check out.

Avoid a long pitch deck unless it’s an outbound or complex sale that needs proper framing before diving in.

If you do present a pitch deck, use it to tell a story. Customers will come in with their own biases and mental frameworks of their problems. Your pitch deck can help reframe their thinking from your product’s vantage point.

6. Avoid scripts. Make it a conversation.

Some sales organizations train their sellers on demo scripts—telling them exactly what to say on a demo call. 

But presentations and scripts make for bad demos. If you’re talking, you’re not listening. The best demos feel more like a conversation where you listen and react to your prospect.

Train sales reps on agenda, key talking points, typical pain points, and frequently asked questions. The rep should aim to bring up talking points naturally in conversation rather than walking through them like a presentation.

If there is a presentation component to the demo, build in natural points where you ask the prospect open-ended questions.

7. Practice your tools and timing

The downside of a conversational approach is that it’s easy to lose track of time or  let conversations veer off track.

There’s a limited window to impress the buyer, so practice demoing until you have a sense of timing for each product or feature. 

Knowing that it takes 10 minutes to demo product A and 5 minutes to demo product B helps you leave enough time for questions or to suggest a follow-up demo to cover more features.

This also means practicing the technology to avoid technical hiccups—both with your product and your meeting tech. Screen sharing is tricky at the best of times, so go through the exercise of mimicking a presentation with the tech you’ll use in the real demo.

8. Set an agenda

Creating a demo agenda creates value for both the seller and the buyer.

For the seller, an agenda encourages you to plan everything you want to cover, think about timing, and personalize the content to the customer.

For the buyer, knowing the agenda reduces uncertainty—giving them the sense their time will be well spent. It also invites feedback on what they want to see during the demo.

Before your demo, include a simple agenda with your calendar invite. For example:

  1. Introductions and questions (5 minutes)
  2. Product overview (5 minutes)
  3. Demo feature A (5 minutes)
  4. Demo feature B (10 minutes)
  5. Feedback and next steps (5 minutes)

Tell them how they can prepare for the demo, too—for example, if they need to install meeting software or be ready to be on camera.

Tip: Review the agenda again at the start of the demo. This gives the prospect another chance to flag any changes and allows you to set rules of engagement for the call (e.g., when they should ask questions).

9. Qualify through natural conversation

If you’re giving one-touch sales demos, the demo is your best chance to qualify the buyer through conversation. 

By qualifying the prospect, you’ll see if they’re a right fit for your business and whether they’re worth significant sales attention after the demo.

This means looking for signals or characteristics that match up with your ideal customer profile (ICP). For example:

  • Industry: e.g., technology companies, not governments
  • Company size: e.g., large companies, not start-ups
  • Departments: e.g., Chief Growth Officer, not Chief Product Officer
  • Geography: e.g., North America, not Europe
  • Technology stack: e.g., uses HubSpot, not Pipedrive
  • Urgency: do they have a big enough problem?
  • Timeline: what’s their timeline to buy?

The best people start the qualification process in a friendly, conversational way. They don’t grill the prospect with a list of questions.

They casually invite the prospect to offer information through open-ended questions like, “How are things going for you?” or “What have you been working on lately?” 

Understanding the buyer also makes it easier to personalize the rest of the demo.

Tip: If qualification is a challenge for your sales team, the Sandler Selling System and MEDDIC are great sales methodologies for better qualifying your prospects.

10. Tell a story of value

After qualifying the prospect, the rest of the demo should tell a story of value around your product and how it solves the prospect’s problem.

Before you show the details of your product, set the big picture:

  • Why did you create the product?
  • What are the biggest pain points it addresses?
  • What have people achieved with your product?
  • How will you solve the prospect’s problem?

How much time you spend on this will be relative to how far along the prospect is in their buying journey. But by the time your prospect sees a feature, they should already know why. 

Tip: Lead with the biggest value. Don’t save your best stuff until the end. The earlier the prospect understands the value of your product, the more engaged they’ll be for the rest of the demo.

11. Personalize the story of value by role

The best way to show value is to personalize the story to your audience. This means segmenting your demo content by role, industry, or other relevant differentiators.

For example, many B2B products are used by both administrators and end users. 

Admins—including managers and team leads—will care about user management, administrative dashboards, and visibility of their team’s output. End users will care more about the nitty gritty features that help them do their job.

You’ll want to tell both of these stories eventually, but bias your demo towards whomever you’re presenting to.

By winning over your audience, you’ll create a champion within the buyer’s organization who can advocate for your product on your behalf.

12. Segment by industry

Industry will also play a big role in the story you tell.

For example, tech companies will care more about your product’s Slack integration than a law firm. Law firms will care more about security and privacy.

Listen to what the customer’s telling you and adapt your story.

Tip: In the early days of demoing your product, much of this will be done on the fly. Once your product, sales, and marketing start to mature, you can create segmented versions of your demo that evolve based on the feedback you receive from customers and how they use your product.

13. Use a personalized demo environment

Seeing is believing. Demoing an empty-state product makes it difficult for the prospect to imagine themselves using your software.

For example, an empty reporting dashboard doesn’t communicate the convenience of getting an at-a-glance view of the team’s performance.

Sales engineers, product managers, and sales managers should work together to develop an internal system for setting up live demo environments.

These sales sandboxes should be pre-populated with relevant data, tools, and users so you can show off your product at its best.

Here are a few things for them to consider:

  • Segmented demos: Create a demo environment for each key customer segment so that the data is as closely personalized as possible.
  • Per-prospect demos: For complex products, create a demo environment that’s unique to the prospect—ideally populated with their own data.
  • Per-sales-rep demos: At the very least, each sales rep should have their own sales sandbox. That avoids the issue where sales reps are demoing at the same time or messing up each other’s sandboxes.

Tip: Use a stable version of your product for your demo environment to avoid newly introduced bugs cropping up during a live demo.

14. Involve sales engineers in complex demos

The more technical the product, the more the demoing responsibilities will fall to a sales engineer.

To start, the sales rep should lead discovery and give a high-level demo that tells the story of your product to a non-technical audience. 

As you have subsequent demo calls that go deeper into the product details, the sales engineer should take over the reins.

For example, the first demo will mention how easily your product integrates with Salesforce, whereas the technical demo will show exactly which Salesforce fields your product will modify.

As mentioned above, sales engineers should also be involved in creating demo environments, working with product managers to decide what features should be showcased in the demo.

Tip: Even if sales engineers aren’t leading the initial calls, they should also play a big role in discovery. Rather than sitting back and waiting to answer customer questions, sales engineers can also ask the customer questions. For example, they can ask probing questions about the customer’s technology stack to see if there’s a fit.

15. Leave time to establish next steps

Bigger deals typically don’t close on the first demo. So keep the momentum going by planning next steps at the end of your demo. 

Taking the time to discuss how you’ll move the deal forward—rather than cramming in more product features—will create more value for both sides.

According to Gong research, successful reps spend 4 extra minutes on scheduling next steps when compared to their unsuccessful peers.

We’d recommend saving five to ten minutes for a wrap-up.

This can mean:

  • Explaining how you’ll follow up after the demo
  • Scheduling your next call 
  • Scheduling another demo with more stakeholders
  • Co-creating a mutual action plan with next steps

The objective here is to help your prospect see a simple path to success rather than making it a daunting, open-ended decision.

Adapt your next steps to the customer profile and where they are in their buying process. They might be in the early stages of comparing products or need to decide within a week.

In general, big enterprises take a long time to buy, even if they think they want to buy right now. By co-creating a mutual action plan, you can help them identify all the steps that need to happen for the deal to close. 

Smaller companies can make a decision that same day.

Tip: The end of your call is a good time to introduce your Dock space—a shared workspace where you can host all your sales assets in one place for your client. 

Explain you’ll be using Dock to share information relative to the demo, including a recording of the call, a demo video, your slide deck, the mutual action plan, and other relevant content.

16. Enable your buyer with follow-up

Deals will still fall through after a perfect demo without the proper follow-up. 

After the product demo is over, prospects report back to their internal buying teams on what they learned. They present pros and cons and compare you against other products. They may come back to you with questions, but most of their deliberations will happen behind closed doors.

Their ability to argue for your product is only as good as their memory. So equip them with the buyer enablement content they need to make the case for you.

However, most sales reps fall into the same trap. They’re tired after giving demos all day, so they send a standard follow-up email that says some version of:

“Hey Sally, it was great talking to you today. Here’s what I heard, and here’s how I can help. I’ve attached the slides I presented, and here are some helpful links with more information. I’m happy to answer any questions…”

They may even send a follow-up email a few days later with more links or PDFs.

Here’s the problem with this approach: it puts all the burden on the prospect to deliver that information to their team. Forwarded emails get lost, email attachments go ignored, and your demo is instantly forgotten.

Instead of sending a sloppy follow-up email chain, create a digital sales room for your client. 

Using Dock, you can turn your demo follow-up into one beautiful workspace that helps support your buyer.

For example, our Demo Follow Up Template includes:

  • An overview of the deal
  • Next steps
  • The demo recording
  • Additional resources
  • Demo slides

Embedding these assets in one buttoned-up space makes your client feel like an MVP without creating a lot of work for the account executive. And making this all available in one link makes it much easier for the prospect to share everything with their team.

Close your demos with Dock

Let’s quickly review what makes a great demo:

  • It tells a story of value
  • It feels like a conversation
  • It meets the buyer where they are in the buying cycle
  • It has a clear agenda
  • It’s personalized to the prospect’s role and industry
  • It finishes with next steps
  • It’s followed up with buyer-enablement content

To master the follow-up process and convert more of your demos into deals, start your 14-day trial of Dock.

The Dock Team