Demo Your Product for Customers Before You Ship

What will your customers say when they see your new product or features for the first time? “Wow, this is exactly what we needed!” “This is not what we were expecting.” Or maybe the dreaded, “This won’t work for us; we can’t use it.”

Assuming the data you’ve collected during your earlier research has been positive, it’s now time to start building the product, and demoing it for your customers.

But you’re not going into hiding and re-emerging several months later with your shinny new product.

You are still going to engage with your customers. You are going to demo features and characteristics of the product as your team completes them. Before the product is released.

This stage can also be useful to show customers your progress. Especially to those who are clamoring for the release. It’s also useful to generate interest in the product; a form of grassroots marketing.

The repeated communication and transparency also help to build trust and confidence among your customer base.

I’m going to show you a surefire way to guarantee that your customers get exactly what they need, every time. No surprises for your team or customers.

Prepping for the Demos

As your team completes some of the new features, you will need to decide which ones you want to show your customers.

Plan your demos. What do you want to achieve? Why kind of input / feedback do you need? Generally speaking you’ll want to do the following:

  • Explain the business problem you are solving.
  • Describe the solution your team has created.
  • Demonstrate the new features and benefits.
  • Get the specific feedback you need.

Prep for the demo. Know what questions you want to ask the customer. Make the demos lively and entertaining.

Know what you want to emphasize or highlight. Try to choose whole capabilities you can show working end-to-end.

Decide who will run the demos. The engineers who built the feature should be demoing it for the customer. You may have more than one person doing the demos.

Do a walk through ahead of time to make sure the demo is working. You can also use the walk through as an opportunity to practice your demo script if needed.

Demoing the Software

If you are using Agile or Scrum, you will be demoing the product for customers during your sprint reviews. The demo is typically done after the user story is completed.

Make sure you do demos for actual users, not just internally to people in your company, which is a common mistake I see.

Show the customer the functioning capability or feature end-to-end and get their feedback. You’ll want to wait until you have something substantial to show.

Also consider doing demos for teams internal to your company, such as training, deployments, support, and sales engineering. They almost always have useful feedback.

I always try to hold demos at least a couple of times during a given release cycle. Show several customers.

You’ll know you’ve done enough demos once you start to hear the same feedback from your customers. In my experience, 5-10 demos is usually enough to determine whether you are on the right track.

Try not to break up your demos too much. Wait until you have a reasonable number of stories completed to show your customers. You don’t want to abuse this privilege.

Handling the Feedback

You can categorize the feedback into two main buckets:

  1. Must do before shipping; add to release backlog, or
  2. Can wait for a future release; add to product backlog

If a change is small and related to an existing user story, your team may decide they can do it without creating a new story.

If the change is more work, as determined by the team, then in most cases it makes sense to create a new user story.

You will always create a new story if the change is for something new and not logically within the scope of an existing story. This might happen if the team has overlooked something, for example.

Customers may ask what you are going to do with their feedback. Be prepared to answer them.

Tell the customer your plans. Don’t be afraid to tell the customer you are considering the change for a future release, if that’s the case.

Closing the Loop

It’s a good idea to close the loop with any customer who gives you feedback during your demos, especially if it results in changes to the product.

If you address a customer’s feedback, definitely inform them once the product is released.

Sometimes I will inform the sales rep that the team has addressed the customer’s feedback, and allow the sales rep to communicate it to the customer.

Sales will love you for this because they get to look like the hero, and it gives them a good reason to reach out to the customer.

Conclusion

At this point you’ve had four different touch points with customers. You have gone to them for information and input about the big problem, product concept, product definition, and working software.

You are significantly increasing the odds that customers will be thrilled with your product once it’s released. And hopefully generating some interest and excitement along the way.

The process has been lean and required minimal investment.

Photo by Blair Fraser | CC0 1.0 | Modified

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