To demo or not to demo on the sales discovery call?

barista editorial board

March 3, 2022 / 5 Min Read

Buyer clicks on “request a demo”, and hops on a call

AE: So what is your biggest regret in life? 

Buyer: Hello, can I see the product?

AE: Of course, you can. Just tell me about your family first. 

Buyer: Is this the demo?

AE: Well, you won’t get it before I get to know you

Buyer: You won’t get to know me before I get to know the product

AE: 😶

Buyer: 😶

Deal: 🥀

Mood: 😩


One of the most emotionally charged deliberations in the sales community is whether to demo on the first call or not. There’s the “always discover” school of thought, and the “demo when it has been requested” school of thought. The answer to which approach to take could be unlocked with some preparation before you take the call.


What is a sales demo?

A sales demo is the phase of a sales process where a sales rep demonstrate the value and benefits of a product or software to a prospect. The demo’s main goal is to show how your product solves your buyer pains, and to position your solution as the most efficient tool to achieve this purpose.  


Exercise empathy

Your client is interested in seeing a demo. You know it because she clicked on a “Demo Request” button. You’re not sure what she’s looking for. Furthermore, sometimes you don’t even know if she’s qualified. So, you need to find a way to discover what your client’s needs are, while also satisfying her desire to understand what the product does.

It seems contradictory, but it is essentially the same. She had problems, and she sought potential solutions. That’s how she came to you. When she asks for a demo, she is asking you how you can solve her problems. If you don’t understand what those problems are, you might miss the point. Is it possible to discover your client’s needs and create a customized demo during the same call? It might be possible. However, to figure out how to do it, preparation is essential.


Build a dynamic agenda based on your goal

Demos should cover what was discussed in discovery. And timing also matters as the first thing you need to demonstrate is the thing that has been discussed most in-depth by your client. Does this mean that you must get a second call to do so? Not necessarily. In a discovery call, you aim to uncover your client’s most strategic pains so you can demonstrate how you can help her solve them. It may be achieved by good research when data allows it. It may be achieved in the first 10 minutes of the call. However, it might be that you’ll need to get that second call. 

So, how do you build an agenda for a first call, if you don’t know whether you should demonstrate or not? Like always, start with defining your goal.

 3 main goals you may pursue in the first call

  • Qualification of your client
  • Reveal pains and build trust
  • Move to a demo (now or later)


Each of these goals is dependent on achieving the former. If the client is not qualified yet, there’s no reason to dedicate too much time to building trust and understanding her challenges, if they’re not relevant to your solution. If you don’t know what major pains you are hoping to solve with your solution, then the demo may be underwhelming, and it’s better to find out first.

If your goal is to qualify your client, most chances are that you’re not planning to demo on the same call. You need to build an agenda based on that. This means asking questions to understand what is your buyer’s budget, ability to close the deal, the extent of the need, and the timeline. 

If you qualified your client sooner than expected, a talk track like this could easily turn into pains drill-down. Then, you can go for the second goal – building trust. Therefore, when building an agenda for qualification calls, make sure your agenda is built for achieving two goals in one call. It means asking further questions about the problem of the client.

Questions to ask your client on the first call

  • How did you identify this problem?
  • How’s that problem impacting your ability to reach your KPIs?
  • Is this important to other people and teams in the organization? 
  • How many people will use the product?


When your objective is to reveal your client’s strategic pain points and build trust, develop an extensive agenda that includes the questions above (and drill-downs). In this case, there is a greater likelihood that a demo will be required in that same call, and once again, this depends on achieving your pre-defined goal first – building trust. How do you do that and make sure you have a compelling demo ready? There is no secret sauce here. Like in any other relationship you’re building, the answer is to build a plan based on what you know about the client and be transparent about your plan for the call from the get-go.

As your client has already been qualified, you can make calculated guesses on what are the problems she’d like to see being solved in a demo. So in addition to the drill-down questions, prepare 1-2 demo use cases you’re likely to use. Then start the call by telling the client that you know she’s here for a demo, and it is in your best interest to have it as tailor-made as it could be and as early as possible. Tell her that in order to do so, you need to know better exactly what bothers her. Say that you did your best in preparing a demo in advance. If time allows, you’ll go over it today. If not, you’ll prioritize in your calendar another call dedicated to that. 

You’ll be surprised what the impact of just being upfront about your plan can be on the call itself, regardless of how it turns out. Making yourself a bit vulnerable will strip your client off her guards, and the goal of building trust could be met within the first minute of the call. 


There are no shortcuts

You’ll never have a clear-cut answer to whether or not to demonstrate your solution to the client on the first sales call. As a sales pro, you need to be prepared for any scenario, and despite what they say, no one was born ready, especially not winners. Winning is a professionalism mentality that is nurtured by hard process-oriented work. Winners research, prepare, act and win.