This is a guest blog post by Micah Smurthwaite, Next47.

Why top SaaS sales teams are creating a new role, Demo Engineers –  because nobody buys slideware.

“We sell software. Nobody buys slideware. When we pitch our product, we prefer personalized demos over powerpoint slides,” said Haley Cen, Amplitude’s Demo Engineering Lead. 

A Demo Engineer is a new role within sales teams (as of today there are only 91 LinkedIn job postings for Demo Engineers) and one that innovative sales leaders are adding to their organizations. Why? Despite the hype around product-led growth, products don’t sell themselves.

Even Slack, the paragon of product-led growth, has a demo engineering team and is scaling that group with a number of open roles. The best sales teams are consultative partners that effectively demonstrate how software can impact a customer’s business.

Personalized Demos

Today’s software purchasing decision is front-loaded with research – customers have done their homework evaluating a product before engaging with a sales team.

When 70% of the sales process happens before sales teams speak to a customer, the customer meeting should be as specific as possible with a demo tailored to the customer use case.

NewStore, an omnichannel retail platform, uses a personalized approach to showcasing their product. “We want to show how our platform looks when it’s fully deployed on a customer’s brand. If I’m a sports retailer I want to see what hockey sticks look like in my online store.” said Jan-Oliver Pantel NewStore’s Director of Demo Engineering.

LaunchDarkly’s Demo Leader Ahmed Qadri said, “There’s large demand for software that can improve business processes, and there are a lot of products out there to choose from, but often those products aren’t translated properly to show the true business value to the customer.” The best sales teams function as a consultative partner to demonstrate how a product can create value for them. 

Scaling PreSales

A demo engineer is not just another headcount, this role will exponentially increase the value of those that they support. 

Presales engineers are often the most constrained resource on a sales team. Good presales engineers with technical acumen and interpersonal skills who want to be customer-facing are hard to find, so naturally there are fewer of them on a sales team. They are mapped to multiple sellers, supporting many sales cycles, and their time is stretched thin. Sales leaders are asking how this role can become more efficient.

One useful KPI to track presales efficiency is to measure the time presales spends preparing for a call against the actual time spent with customers: Prep-To-Production. For every hour a presales engineer spends preparing a demo, they should be spending 3 hours in customer-facing meetings.

1:3 is an efficient use of time, but many presales teams see a ratio of 1:1. That is for every hour they spend with a customer, they are spending one hour preparing for the customer demo. A demo engineering team can help the presales team spend less time preparing for meetings, and allow them to spend more time with customers 

“We help the technical presales resource scale better,” said DataRobot Demo Engineer Joe Groner. “If they’re spending a large percentage of their time building rather than conducting customer-facing activities, you have a scalability problem. As your sales organization grows, technical presales is doing a lot of custom demos and sharing them between each other. ‘What about that demo you shared the other day in our team call, I want to show that to my customer. Oh, it wasn’t built to be repeatable?!’ Then everyone is starting to share assets back and forth and there’s a lot of duplication and wasted effort. If we standardize on these things, that will get us a lot of value.”

Presenting consistent messaging is another reason for creating a demo engineering team.

“When your solutions engineering team is only 10 people, each person will build a custom demo and they can easily share them across the team. The inflection point is when you get to 20-30 solutions engineers across geographies and verticals, and the product team is launching 50 features a year, there is a need for consistency. A centralized demo platform provides that,” said Cen.

Where in the org chart does the role live

There is not yet a consensus on where the demo engineering role should live in an organization. It seems obvious that a demo engineer should be on the sales team, but the role works across presales, product, engineering, and product marketing.

“This is a cross-functional role. While I report to the VP Sales Engineering, most of my time is in the engineering Slack channels of product and engineering teams. My customer is presales, but my partner is the product marketing team,” said Pantel.

At Contentful, demo engineers report to product marketing. “Product Marketing is responsible for external messaging and the demo is the first real tangible thing the customer sees so the role should report to product marketing. But there are a lot of other stakeholders who benefit from our work. The learning services team wants to use our demos for enablement. Customer Support wants to use it to see what the end customer might be seeing, and ultimately my customer is the sales team,” said Contentful Demo Engineer Ante Sepic.

“The role lives somewhere In the sales org, I think it should live in sales enablement. It’s an adjunct to training and tools,” said Groener, “As new features are launched, we need to stay close to the product team. We’ll work with the marketing team to figure out how to take it to the field.”

How to hire for the role

“There are two types of engineers: makers and maintainers,” said Pantel. “This role is for the builders. This is not a job for a maintainer. The pure art of showing the demo is with the SE, they need to be technical but don’t need to program. With Demo engineering they need to program, and are a pseudo-engineering team.”

The demo engineer is highly independent with an IT generalist background. “This job is for a jack-of-all-trades who is an engineer at heart. They need to figure out our products, partner products, and new products and features quickly. There are interesting challenges like figuring out ways to showcase features in the application that are not the happy path. For example, I may need to write code that intentionally breaks things and our monitoring product can help detect and remediate it,” said Groner.

Making the role successful

At LaunchDarkly, Qadri tracks how the role drives higher win rates.

To measure your ROI to the business, track the win rates of deals with and without demos. You should be able to end the year and say something like, ‘This year our sales team closed 50% ACV out of the qualified opportunities. We touched 80% of the qualified opportunities out of which 30% were closed using our offerings/services and 60% proceeded to POCs/POVs.’”

Ultimately a demo engineering team can have impact across the entire sales org, but only if the sales team uses what’s been built.

“If the sellers don’t find it valuable, then your work will be obsolete.  Make sure you’re communicating consistently and have buy-in from the sales leaders. Sit in on calls with the sales team and make sure you’re building something they want,” said Bloodgood.

Tools in the Stack

Building an internal demo engineering platform requires finding a unique hire and even once they build the platform there is a high bus factor. There is a new set of tools to help gracefully prepare demos without the operational costs. 

Sam Clemens, CEO of Reprise, wants to empower the go-to-market team to create their own demos without relying on an engineering team.

“What we’re doing is enabling the GTM team to have their own product. We want them to have control for the first time in history of the thing they sell and use in their daily jobs of doing demos and creating assets. Until now, they’ve been beholden to other teams – the most important thing to the sales team has been a secondary or tertiary priority for the engineering team. We want to give the Go-to-market team control over their own product.”

Jonathan Friedman, CEO of Demostack, also wants to empower sales teams to easily create demos. He was at TripActions building a new product and wanted to demo it to customers,

“I realized I was actually building two products, my real product and a demo environment, but only had R&D resources for one. I obviously focused on shipping features for customers but it hurt our ability to showcase and tell a story. I couldn’t figure out how to get out of this catch 22, so I built Demostack.”

If you’re interested in reading more about demo platforms, Astasia Myers shares additional insights on the topic here.

If you’re interested in reading more about how great demos win, see Mastering Technical Sales, Great Demo, and 2Win!

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