Use These Change Management Principles for Sales Demos that Drive User Adoption

Whenever you are selling a new product into an organization, you are trying to get that organization to agree to change itself to fit your product. This means that your sale doesn’t end with the person who signs the contract. You also have to sell the users. By using strategies from the organization change management world, you can enable your sales field with demos that are more likely to leave a lasting impact within that aspect of your customer who will make or break your long-term deal: the users.

I’ve already written a post about how your demo will fail if it is about your product. I want to dive into that a little more with suggestions on how to enable your sales team with demos that leave a lasting impact and will help drive user adoption and renewals.

This journey, for me, started when reading a book by former Harvard Business School Professor, John Kotter, who many consider the father of modern change management. It is called, Leading Change. It is a quick read and one that I’ve found useful at work and at home. Go buy it and thank me later!

Kotter taught business at Harvard full time for 20 years and now has his own consulting firm focused on large-scale change within organizations. The guy is a guru. Seriously, the book is worth reading!

In the meantime, I’ll summarize some of my takeaways.

He argues that there are 8 steps that organizations must go through to have successful long-lasting change. Here are my paraphrased versions:

  1. Create or instill a sense of urgency.

  2. Put together a guiding coalition of people to shepherd the change process.

  3. Create a vision that paints the picture of a successful outcome.

  4. Communicate the heck out of that vision.

  5. Encourage autonomous decision making based upon the vision.

  6. Create short-term wins.

  7. Consolidate gains and produce more change (i.e., don’t rest on your laurels).

  8. Anchor new approaches in your culture.

He also makes the point that change is hard and almost always unwanted, even when everyone superficially agrees it is necessary. This becomes extra compelling when you think about sales as proposed organizational change - You are literally suggesting the organization change itself and its processes to adopt your product. With that first lesson, the key takeaway I got is that:

People don’t want your product!

It is a normal and expected reaction for users to reject something new.

It is a normal and expected reaction for users to reject something new.

Anytime change is proposed, most people default to not wanting it, even if they say they do. Picture this: It is a late night. You are on the couch watching TV. You can barely keep your eyes open and you are sleepily wishing you were in bed under the covers. What do you do? Even though you wanted nothing more than to be in bed, I bet there have been times that you kept flipping channels because it was easier than standing up, brushing your teeth, and going to bed. Most of us find ourselves in these states all the time.

When it is change at work, people worry about their job relevance after the company changes. They worry about how much extra time and energy they will need to expend in the transition. Furthermore, they have been burned in the past and approach any new revolutionary product with a wariness that assumes more work for little or no gain.

What they do want is a solution to a problem that they may or may not know they have!

Your demo should be tied to a sense of urgency.

It is hard to enact change without a sense of urgency.

It is hard to enact change without a sense of urgency.

Right up front, in stage one, Kotter states that organizations need to discover something significant enough to require the change. This can be an internal crisis, external threat, unhappy customers, lofty annual goals already set by the leadership team, etc. If there is no threat or challenge, then why change? It is better to just stay on the couch and flip through infomercials.

Don’t be lazy and fall down the FUD path of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Your manufactured threats won’t make it through the buying cycle. Instead, spend time talking to your customer or target marketplace up front, so that you have a clear idea of the kind of issues and concerns your target customers are facing. Look for issues such as financial losses, strong competitors, existential threats to the industry, large swaths of unsatisfied customers, etc. You will find many good examples just from talking to the leaders within your target marketplace.

Whatever threat your demo addresses, it should affect the organization, the individual team members, and their customers.

Your demo should paint a vision of the future.

Users need a vision of the future that makes the adoption effort worth it for them.

Users need a vision of the future that makes the adoption effort worth it for them.

Your demo should paint a vision of the customer’s future where that existential threat no longer exists and life is better for their customers, the company, and its employees. Your product is merely the backdrop to the vision that you are painting.

It is far too common to fall into the trap of showing off your product’s features in a demo and expecting the customer to make the mental leap to understand how those features apply to their problem. Remember, as I’ve said before, that is a big mental load. You are asking them to both learn your product and apply that knowledge to their situation. It’s better to just talk about their situation right away. Leave your product in the background. By painting the vision of the future where their existential threat is removed, you are addressing the core issue.

Make your demo about your customers, not your product.

Your demo should highlight some short-term wins.

Users need to see a reason to celebrate early on.

Users need to see a reason to celebrate early on.

When left to my own devices, I will daydream away solutions that take 10+ years to implement but solve the world’s problems. Unfortunately, no one is ever willing to stick around to build them (including me). In fact, the world will have changed so much that whatever solution I dream up, will no longer be relevant.

Likewise, if it takes multiple years to implement your product at a company, they are going to need to see how they can achieve  shorter-term wins to justify the expense – both from a cost and change effort perspective. Ask yourself, is it possible for your demo to highlight a benefit that your customers will receive on day 1, week 1 or even by Q2? How can you highlight this and call it out, while painting the grander vision of the future?


Instant Pot’s quick start guide has you boiling water. Why? I assume it is because Instant Pots have a relatively complex interface of a kitchen appliance. If they can get you to navigate the user interface for a complete cooking cycle (in this case, boiling water), you may be more willing to give their Beer Can Chicken-Bacon Bowl a shot.

Users are jaded and change is hard. If they don’t experience any value quickly, they are likely to change the channel.

Your demo will resonate and inspire.

Demos can have great value aiding user adoption. By addressing the urgency within an organization, painting a picture of a better future, and showing at least one relevant short-term win, you may just help your users take the steps you prescribe and build the amazing future they deserve.  You certainly will build trust and a feeling that they are understood, as you are talk about their fears, their future, and their wins. This takes more effort, as it is so easy to talk about your products and features instead of your users, but I can assure you that this change to your demos is worth getting off the couch!