Demos enhance sales

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Look at last year’s NetMarketing 100—our list of the best b-to-b Web sites—and you’ll find that many top marketers use online demos to vividly illustrate the benefits and features of their products and services.

"It’s almost always better to show than just merely tell," said Ken Jochims, director of corporate marketing for KANA, a customer relationship management vendor.

This is especially true in the b-to-b world, where products and services often can’t be fully appreciated in a few lines of copy on a Web site page. Demos can explain product attributes that aren’t immediately apparent to a prospective customer.

But slapping together a Flash animation that spins your product in 3-D won’t add much value to your marketing efforts, said Internet usability guru Jakob Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group.

"Building an effective Web-based demo takes great care," Nielsen said.

It’s a fine balance of many variables, such as interactivity, visual impact, ease of use, length and salient messaging, he said. "Good ones are generally short, give users control of the interface without getting too complex and sell the benefits more than the features."

Xerox Corp. kept all these factors in mind when it began to build online demos (at to increase its virtual selling environment about five years ago.

"Originally, our demos were designed to help our sales reps make face-to-face presentations to their customers," said Susanne Perrone, VP-marketing, Xerox E-Business and TeleWeb. "They become so popular, we decided to put them on the Web, too. That way, customers could review them at their convenience."

Now Xerox builds demos simultaneously with the rest of the marketing collateral as new products are launched. All demos are built on a template, thus making navigation simple for users while maintaining brand consistency, Perrone said. The template approach also helps to keep costs down.

"The demos are our concerted attempt to simulate that the product is right there in front of the prospective customer," Perrone said. "Over time, we learned that the bigger and clearer the visuals, the better the reaction from viewers."

Perrone agreed with Nielsen that keeping the demo short is important. "You tend to get a lot of drop-off when you push viewers’ patience," Perrone said. "We’ve built each demo in chapters, thus making opportunities for the user to skip the intro and get to the benefits and features immediately."

Having a call to action, as well as customer service options, embedded into the demo is also critical. "All our demos have links so the viewer can get any questions answered immediately," she said. "We also provide the opportunity for them to fill out a lead form so that someone can get back to them if they want more information about a specific product."

KANA also views online demos as an integral part of its online marketing efforts. The demos are accessible from the company’s home page,

One key element for KANA’s demos is that they’re targeted at different vertical markets. "The CRM solutions are highly customizable for different industries and solve a range of different problems," Jochims said. "That way we could present day-in-the-life stories that addressed benefits relevant to each market."

While many software vendors give their customers a chance to download and try a limited version of their products, KANA decided to stay clear of that practice. "Our software is so complex … we couldn’t see the value in giving prospective customers an opportunity to use it when it wasn’t tailored to their specific needs," he said.

Instead, KANA’s online demos provide a show-and-tell for senior-level executives looking for a compelling story of how the software can solve their problems. "The trick is that there are over 1,000 features, and we need to be careful when narrowing them down to the five things that will really grab their attention," Jochims said. "This is a major purchase, and the buying cycle is fairly lengthy. If a customer is interested, later we’ll build a customized, hands-on demo for front-line workers to try out."

KANA generates several leads from its demos daily. "We capture their name, title and other info when they load the demo," Jochims said.

The company also has burned the demos onto CDs, which make excellent introductory presentations or leave-behinds on face-to-face sales calls, he said.

"In our line of work—selling software—it’s always great to be able to let our customers actually see a little of what our products do," Jochims said. "Otherwise it’s a matter of wading through a lot of words to figure how we’re different from our competitors."

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