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Selling the Software: 4 Questions You Need to Answer Wed 11 Apr 07

Softwaredemo Like most IT execs I've sat through more than my share of software presentations.  These included vendors trying to sell me the greatest thing since sliced bread and my own application folks or members of my user community trying to sell me on a application or system concept.  Even if you aren't in IT I'd be willing to bet that you've seen a fair number of these presentations too.  I don't know about your experience but I'd have to say that most of the ones I've been in were "ineffective" to put it kindly.  The danger is of course if we are the ones making these types of presentation to approving managers.  Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy.

Having recently sat through yet another software presentation I gave some thought to why so many seem to be so ineffective.  I believe that the audience has 4 basic questions they want answered and you really have to answer these questions in order because they build on each other.  Looking back at the ineffective presentations I've seen I noticed that the presenter completely skipped or barely covered the first 2 questions.  As a result, the presenter never "connected" with the audience's interest and they could never buy-in to the concept.

"What does it do?" is the first question.  Strangely this seemingly simple question is often the one that gives presenters the most difficulty.    This sets the stage by letting the audience know the purpose of the software.  It tells what it accomplishes and how it is used.  It allows the audience to visualize how someone may want to use this software.

When you explain this please make it simple, straightforward and specific.  For example here is how Microsoft describes its product, Sharepoint:

. . .integrated suite of server capabilities for enterprise search, content management, business process facilitation, simplified information sharing, and enhanced business insight.

"Enhanced business insight" is a great sounding phrases but I certainly don't know what they mean by it.   Since I really don't know what that all means I looked at another site.  Compare Microsoft's description with the one I found on SearchExchange.com

. . .provides document collaboration, information-sharing, list creation, Web page creation and related services. It is intended primarily for workgroups, departments and other small groups of users to collaborate on a set of documents, share information and otherwise collaborate.

Much better.  Although I would expect a more complete description in a presentation these 2 excerpts illustrate how best to describe what the software will accomplish.

The important point to remember is that "What does it do?" and explaining how it is used is not the same as the third question, "How does it work?" which is where most presenters get into trouble.  They want to jump ahead and show you how you use it. 

Once I understand what the software does my second question is "Why do I care?" or as more commonly stated, WIIFM, "Whats' in it for me?"   Your answer to the first question explained what it can accomplish now you have to personalize it and show me how it benefits me and why I want to use it.

The importance of these two questions and the order in which you answer them is that it allows me to visualize actually putting the software to use.  I have to buy in to the concept that this software may be worthwhile to use.  The answer to the first question allows them to visualize how someone might use that software while the answer to the second personalizes it so they see why they would want to use it.  If I can't see this software as something I'd want to use answering the third question of "How does it work?" is irrelevant.  If I don't know what it does or how it benefits me and you want to demo it to me my response is - I don't care how it works!  Why should I care how something works if I can't foresee every using it.

Softwaredemo2The third question "How does it work?" is where the demo comes into play.  This is the part that most presenters want to jump right into.  Don't!  Don't even think of showing a screen shot or doing a demo until you've answered the first 2 questions and the audience can visualize themselves using the software.  Before you start the demo you may want to ask your audience some questions to determine how well they understand what the system is used for and how it can benefit them.

The final question, "What does it take to  . . . ?" represents all those other administrative questions such as, "How much does it cost?", "What kind of server configuration is required?", etc. that deal with implementation.  Again you have to make sure your audience has buy-in to the concept before you start talking implementation.

These  4 questions show a path from concept to implementation that you need to take your audience through.  There are no shortcuts, you really do need to follow the path in the correct order. 

Hopefully this will help you be more successful in selling your software and systems concepts to the approving managers.  What are your thoughts on this?  What experience with this can you share with us?

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