Demo Psychology: Why Less Is More
As a sales engineer, I’m sure you’ve been deluged with lots of business and sales “wisdom” throughout your career; catchy snippets like:
“The customer is always right.”
“Time kills all deals.”
“Begin with the end”
“Less is more.”
If you were like me, you eagerly absorbed each of these cliches as your sales leader uttered them. You didn’t think about them too much or ask why. Of course they were true — as are most phrases that have cute paradoxical twists.
As it turns out, Demo Psychology provides evidence that some of these sayings ARE actually true. Consider the last one — “Less is more.” I’ve heard this a lot in relation to what you decide to show in a product demonstration. Some refer to it as the Minimum Viable Demo. Only show the prospect what they need to see. No more. Showing more leads to confusion and makes the product seem complicated.
This was an error I used to make early in my Sales Engineering career. I thought showing everything would impress the prospect. Impressed prospects bought software. So, more was always better. As it turns out, this is not at all the case. The human brain has other ideas.
In a study done in 1998, Christopher Hsee, then a professor at the University of Chicago, conducted several experiments where he offered different choices, sometimes side by side and other times separately. For example, he presented people with two dinnerware sets. One set had 24 pieces. The other set had the same 24 pieces AND 16 additional pieces. Of the 16 additional pieces, 9 were broken in some way. One group was shown both sets side by side. The participants in this group placed higher value on the set that had more pieces in it, despite some being broken. A different group was shown the same two options, but first one than the other. In this case, the set with the smaller number of pieces (LESS) was valued higher (MORE).
And the concept of Less is More is spawned.
Hsee conducted several such experiments. Since then, others have conducted similar experiments and produced the same results. The key seems to be the difference in comparing side-by-side vs. one-at-a-time. The driver for this may be what psychologists call a heuristic. This is a system the brain applies to make decisions quickly based on the available information. With both options available at the same time, the heuristic evaluates differently than if it sees them separately. As I mentioned in Demo Psychology: SE vs The Human Brain, the brain likes to handle things quickly and with a minimum amount of effort. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to less than optimal decisions.
This also struck a HUGE chord with me as a sales engineer. It’s my job to help convince a prospect of the value of my solution over every other solution, including the one they currently use. I also know that generally prospects are not looking at all of their options simultaneously. I need to know they will form their opinion based on what they’re currently seeing in the demo, and not how I stack up to the other possibilities. I may show MORE relevant capability, but if my demo in some way has some broken dishes in it, I’m screwed. And by broken dishes, I mean — seeing a spinning wheel instead of the product’s interface, clicking in the wrong place and having the application break, showing the wrong logo or color scheme, or any number of things. It’s a ton of pressure.
In fact, what I’m taking away from this is that I’m better off showing LESS capability that is rock solid than taking a chance showing MORE only to have things go wrong. In effect, Less is More. Those sales leaders really ARE genius.
Now how do I pull this off? I need to invest time in three very important things:
- Understanding what is most important to the prospect.
- A demo script that captures the prospect so that my LESS solution clearly stands out on its own.
- Practice time. (Yes, Allen, we’re talking about practice).
Armed with a flow that will create some cognitive strain to cause the prospect to lean in and focus, I need to click every click BEFORE I demo, to make sure it’s solid. No demo is ever perfect, but shame on me if I don’t work any of the kinks out beforehand.
That’s just like taking that fine hand painted porcelain dinner set and tossing it to the floor. I’ll just have a big mess to clean up.