Improving Your Demo-To-Win Ratio - Bridge Building

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If you demonstrate software, the "Bridge-Building" concept is the most important fundamental you can learn. This technique involves bridging the mental gap between how your potential users perform their job today and how they'll perform it with your software in the future.

Your prospects perform their jobs day-in and day-out using their existing methods, procedures and software (assuming they're automated). It's a habit they've formed over a great deal of time. Their existing methods have the powerful force of inertia behind them. Webster's dictionary defines inertia as "an object retains its state of rest or velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force." In business speak, that means change is hard. Your prospect has an inner physical or mental force that says, "I don't want to change." In fact, my experience has taught me the only person who likes change is a two-year-old child with a dirty diaper, and even he needs to be coerced!

You're no doubt asking yourself, "How can this be? After all, my potential user sent out an RFP (request for proposal), assembled a selection team, hired a consultant, set a timeline for a decision and established a financial budget for a new system. Clearly this is someone who wants to experience change. Right?" WRONG!

Change is Risky   

Sure, your prospects receiving your demonstration have a desire to improve their operations. But deep down, they don't want to change. Change is risky. It requires sacrifice, disruption and dedication. Why do you think 95 percent of the wealth in the world is controlled by only five percent of the people? One big reason is because 95 percent of us are averse to change. Now, you could get lucky and have one of the "five percent folks" in your demonstration, but the odds are against it.

In all likelihood, change is being forced on your prospect. They're probably facing some compelling or significant event. It's your job to identify this event, especially as it relates to the ultimate decision-maker. Compelling events come in many shapes and sizes. Some examples include:

  • A change in ownership or management.

  • A change in financial condition (e.g., computer lease is expiring).

  • Support for their software has been discontinued.

  • Their existing software vendor is out of business.

  • A customer requirement that their existing system can't fulfill.

Think of a deep canyon. At the beginning of the demonstration your prospect is on one side of the canyon (with their software). You're asking them to move to the other side (to your software). The prospect knows there's good reason to cross this canyon (compelling event). However, they're not very excited about it (fear of change).

Bridge Building Basics   

How are you going to get them across the canyon? You need a bridge, right? If you think the prospect will build a bridge themselves, you're fooling yourself. After all, how many people are willing to be a construction worker on a bridge over a deep canyon? (Maybe five percent, right?) It's your job to build a Demonstration Bridge (or Bridge for short).

Figure 1.

What do you use to construct your Bridge? You'll build it with knowledge and technique, specifically:

  • A knowledge of your prospect and their needs.

  • A knowledge of your software.

  • The technique of demonstrating how your software will address and improve their process flow requirements.

To complicate matters, almost all prospects are afraid of heights. In spite of this fear, they insist on looking down. This will happen many times during your demonstration in the form of objections and points of clarification. You've no doubt heard the cries from the audience such as, "Wait a minute! Do you mean we're going to have to ?" or "Hold on a minute. Can you please go through that process again? I didn't quite get it the first time." You know what your prospect is really doing? They're telling you they are scared. What are you going to do about it?

Just like helping somebody with a fear of heights crossing a bridge over a deep canyon, you're going to take them by the hand and lead them across. You need to help them close their eyes and visualize being on the other side of the Bridge (using your software). They'll be hesitant at first (beginning of your demo), but if they trust you (you've built credibility), they'll follow you across the Bridge to your software. In fact, if you do a really good job on the first half of the Bridge, some of your demonstration audience, but probably not all, will let go of your hand and walk the rest of the way on their own. If that happens, feel good about yourself. You'll have developed into a highly skilled Demonstration Bridge builder!

Learning The Hard Way   

My first major defeat as a salesperson was with a chainsaw distributor in North Carolina. At the outset, we were sure to win the business. My company had the experience of successfully installing our product at another well-respected chainsaw distributor in Florida. The distributor in Florida was a close personal friend of our prospect in North Carolina. I swooped into North Carolina knowing I would knock their socks off with our software. For the next two days, my teammate and I showed them every feature and function in our software. After the demonstration was finished, we were told they preferred an older product sold and supported by a local competitor because "they seem to understand our business better." What went wrong?

I had dumped all of my high quality bridge pieces in front of my prospect and assumed they would know how to put it together. My much smarter and more experienced competitor had inferior materials to work with, but actually built the Bridge for the prospect so it was easy for them to walk across.


Most demonstrations focus on features and functions and ultimately become a training session. This style of demonstrating is totally ineffective. You're asking your prospect to both change and take all the risk. Don't do this to your prospect. Don't ask them to build the Bridge to your software by themselves. Remove the risk of change by taking them on a knowledge (not a feature) journey. Fearlessly build and lead them across the Bridge by demonstrating your software in their world. Demonstrate how you will improve their existing process flows as opposed to demonstrating all of your software features.

Ask yourself this simple question: "Have I ever lost a deal to an inferior product?" If your answer is yes, I'll guarantee that one of the prime reasons for your defeat was because your competitor was a more effective Bridge-Demonstrator.

About The Author   

Bob Riefstahl has performed hundreds of demonstrations to all sizes of companies and audiences throughout his career. His firm Demonstrating To Win! LLC, offers workshops, consulting and professional speaking to technology companies around the world. This article is from his book Demonstrating To Win, available through

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