You might not want to hear it, but features don’t matter

The case against feature talk in product demos

One lesson I learned last year: Feature talk has no place in product demos.

My case against feature talk

A customer wants to buy a new content management system. They already found out about the well-known contenders in the market, but now it’s time to build the shortlist.

They read about all the systems’ features. Now they want to see it in action and start to schedule demos with different vendors.

The question is: If you are one of these vendors, how do you handle these calls?

Strategy 1: You get on the call, walk the customer through your standard use case and leave it up to them to figure out how that relates to their situation. They have to do all the mental work.

Strategy 2: Before you show anything, you conduct a discovery call to find out about the customer’s pain points, prominent use cases, and technical requirements. Then, you run your demo, as usual, removing unnecessary features for their use cases. Still, the customer has to figure out how your demo relates to their use cases.

Strategy 3: You start with the discovery call in strategy 2 to gather information. But now, you custom-build a demo based on the central use cases, plus telling a story around every feature that addresses their underlying motives.

Address the customer’s motives

As somebody who works in technical sales, it’s my job to connect the dots between features and the customer’s requirements. But there are a lot of different ways of going about it.

The scenario:

Let’s look at an inbound lead, looking for a new CMS for their digital strategy. The prospective customer sells coffee in their stores and online.

They emphasized they’re a large coffee company with cafes in major cities and a more than profitable online store during the discovery call. When COVID-19 hit the US, they had to close all their cafes for a few months and rely solely on their online store revenue.

Thankfully, people continued buying coffee from them online. It was time to do more than just shipping coffee to people’s houses.

They already started content marketing efforts internally, but they’re struggling with the current CMS. It takes too much time to deliver new content. Also, for new content formats, development and ops have to build and deploy website changes.

Therefore, it’s time for something new.


Aside from any technical requirements (must be a SaaS platform, work with single-page apps, static websites), there are business requirements and motives. The customer might not voice them explicitly during the conversation, but if you listen carefully, you’ll find out.

COVID-19 had the coffee company pivot and think about new ways of conducting business. They already found ways to stabilize revenue, which decreased their reliance on open cafe locations. Their current process of developing, publishing, and managing content is chaotic and requires much effort. There’s the ongoing mental stress of dealing with elaborate processes, getting in the way of quickly reacting to market changes.

Let’s use this information to craft a narrative that speaks to them and their underlying motives.

Crafting a narrative

Why do we need to address motives, you might be wondering? A story, walkthrough, or demo can already impact buying decisions on the rational level. We check all the feature boxes. But so do our competitors. If you put yourself in your customer’s shoes and two vendors tick all the boxes, where would you purchase? You would go with the vendor where you had the feeling they understood you entirely.

We want to build a compelling case for the customer. For that, there are two different aspects we need to take into account. That’s also where motives come into play.

First of all, the customer described their current process as time-consuming and tedious. Publishing new content takes much effort. Before we can implement any strategies that allow for fast iterations and publishing, we need to address the current process. Because it’s so tedious, time-intensive, and requires mental energy, there’s the desire to bring in more structure and reliability to reduce stress. When I talk about stress, it’s not like people are in a hurry, but it takes a mental toll when they think about doing anything elaborate with the current system.

Therefore, the first part of the demo needs to focus on removing dependencies from Dev+Ops by showing them how to decouple their system, enable self-serve publishing, and eliminate further obstacles from their current publishing process.

“Let’s build a stable foundation. For you, it’s essential to have a reliable process for publishing new content. That includes clearly defined roles, pre-defined content formats, and as few handovers as possible. We want to help you avoid too much dependency on engineering, so you can create and deliver content in a self-serve fashion without having to bug an engineer for deploys. Right now, rolling out new content or even new formats hurt a lot. Engineering has to get involved, which slows things down. The deployment process is manual and tedious. All in all, it’s too time-consuming. With this new approach, it’s guaranteed that you can roll out without impediments, so the team gains the confidence in deploying/publishing often.

When it comes to reducing stress, the focus needs to be on structure, stability, and systems. It’s important to move slowly, step by step.

I highlight situations we want to avoid, impediments to getting rid of since it’s still my goal to reduce stress. I’m removing the feeling of “I want to push this new format. But then, I have to do X first, then talk to Y, and do Z. This is too much stress.”

That concludes the first milestone. The team needs some time to make the adjustments, get used to the new software and processes. Once everybody is comfortable, we can take it a step further and switch gears.

For the initial milestone, we focused a lot on avoiding stress. Now we want to make progress, come into action.

“When the country shut down in early 2020, it was a shock at first. But it also set free a lot of energy. You mentioned how you switched to shipping coffee and coffee subscriptions.

Your customers still want to enjoy their favorite coffee. To deliver the best experience, you need a new content strategy. In light of that, people in the United States speak different languages. First of all, let’s find a way to deliver additional content such as brewing guides and exciting backstories to your customers. On top of that, we can quickly add a process to localize content in other languages such as Spanish or French. You can react quickly to market changes in local communities and build stronger relationships with more customers.”

Notice the different language? Before, I emphasized things to avoid, now I’m putting the focus on progress and therefore highlight benefits that enable progress. Why only now? Now, since the stress of continually dealing with roadblocks is gone, we can focus on getting into action, creating progress, and competing with other coffee businesses.


You just read a small excerpt of the combination of technology, sales, and sales psychology knowledge applied.

The customer can buy a product everywhere. They can get an Open Source CMS and start building right away. But what they don’t get out of the box is somebody who connects the dots for them, speaking their language.

For that, you need technical as well as business acumen but also an understanding of Sales Psychology.

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