For years the audio community has been infatuated with and has closed innumerable sales based on that all-important tool—”the killer demo” – ahhh, sitting a client down in a sound room, between perfectly positioned loudspeakers, and playing selected choice cuts to show off the best attributes of a particular audio ensemble. Not only has the craft of demonstrating audio gear passed down from one generation of sales floor operatives to the next, but over the past 40-odd years a certain mystique and cache has evolved around the audio-brotherhood’s “art of the demo.” Like ancient religious relics or secret society handshakes, acoustically superior demo material and special system tweaks are spoken of in hushed whispers, traded among the industry’s intelligentsia and deftly committed to memory during those mid-day sales lulls in audio showrooms across the retail frontier.


Coming of age in this industry back in 1976 (gasp!) I have always been intrigued by, and place great importance in Ye Grand Ole Demo Traditions. I can categorically say that some of the elite salespeople (the ones who write the most business and make the most dough) perform the best demos, and thus the best dealers in the country (the ones that sell the most stuff and make the most dough) make a strategic point of drilling their staff in this ancient art form to enhance their bottom line. Yes, you heard that right, an art form.

It is never too late to immerse yourself in this winning strategy nor is it passé to brush up on one’s finely honed sales skills from time to time. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane and review the basic tenets of effective selling practices, while at the same time bringing new relevancy to the topic by specifically addressing the video demo techniques that can make or break your higher end system sales. Let us review, then, “The Art of the Video Demo.”

Rules of the Sales Highway

Too many sales “wannabees” actually get in the way of closing business by not following the basic rules of selling ANYTHING, much less audio and video gear. While we’re here to specifically address the Art of the Video Demo, it doesn’t hurt to once again go over the major steps that help you close ANY sale.

There’s the effective approach, introduction and personal greeting – the all-time easiest: smile, stick out your hand and say, “Hi I’m <… your name…> and welcome to our store!” You’d be amazed how often this simple, easiest of steps is ignored. Next the qualification phase (your Q&A part of the tour to better understand their true needs: “What sort of room are we dealing with?” “Will your new system be used for enjoying movies with the family, music listening, playing games, or all of the above?”), the demo AKA proof positive that your vast expertise can fulfill their needs (always with well-defined objectives stated and met before any product demo: “Here’s a great scene from The Fifth Element that shows off exactly what this projector is capable of”), a trial close or two as you overcome objections (“When might we be scheduling an installation date?”), and of course the close itself (“Great, let’s get the contract going!”).

Of course there are innumerable techniques and nuances to each sales situation – for example, greater in-depth qualifying of your customer, how to best anchor the key buying cues, special techniques to overcoming objections, the skillful use of multiple trial closes and the actions to take when receiving customer buying signals. All these take time to learn and practice to master, especially when trying to keep your total pitch simple yet successful. But, I believe that if you can consistently conduct effective and stimulating demonstrations, you will increase the chances of closing your customer regardless of other factors surrounding the sale. Customers want to own it once they’ve been blown away by it. On the other hand I can almost guarantee that if you flub the demo, you’ll be hearing those dreaded words as they head toward the door, “Do you have a card? We want to think about it…”

Mastering The Video Demo

Here are my six basic steps to live by in order to conduct highly effective and stimulating video demonstrations:

* Know your equipment and venue—strengths and limitations
* Know your audience—think and plan ahead
* Choose appropriate demo material well in advance
* Set the stage verbally — tell them what they’re going to experience … and they will!
* Employ successful “Brain folding” techniques
* Know when to stop and close the sale

1. Know Your Equipment and Venue

It’s no surprise that, as a custom solutions integrator you’re constantly and consistently seeking out the best combinations of equipment. What works best with what? That is, after all, part of what we all get paid to do. Our priority and job description #1, as audio/video and custom home theater professionals, is to deliver optimum performance in each venue of choice.

Give your demo room(s) a complete and total physical. Control and/or correct all room anomalies such as excessive noises (buzzes/burps and whistles), ambient light problems, seat positioning, air conditioning or lack thereof, messy or untidy cables, and more. Remember what your mother taught you – Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Insure everything works. Sit down yourself and see how comfortable you feel, imagine yourself as the customer and see if the environment puts you in a buying mood. Test drive each demo on your store partners and best friends; solicit their comments and reactions. Then nail down this demo sequence and repeat it again and again (and again and again…) until you are willing to stake your very next paycheck on the performance of this amazing system. Guess what, young Jedi video master; you will be staking many forthcoming paychecks on your demo and the system’s performance!

2. Know Your Audience

Are you dealing with an individual or a couple? Who “wears the pants” – who appears to be in control? Is one person the buyer and the other an “advisor” <…gasp…>? Can you maintain your well-rehearsed timing and still satisfy the expert sitting there, always at the ready to prove their mettle by pouncing on your every comment? It often takes great skill (and some intestinal fortitude) to partner up with this “advisor”, commending them on their vast knowledge of All Things Video and their superb decision to stop by today… and even more important, get them quiet long enough while you demonstrate some tasty film clips. These are just some of the thoughts that should be running through your head as you prepare for the demo. How you react to and interact with your clients plays a big role in determining everything from what type of demo material to use, to how the actual presentation should be orchestrated, to its eventual and successful conclusion.

Some of this may seem to be common sense, but the disconnects are real and often happen in showrooms across the country. If you’ve got a wealthy couple on your hands that appear to qualify for AARP, it’s probably not a good idea to crank up the audio system to the threshold of pain. Older hearing is quite sensitive to amplitude so turn it down a few notches. On the other hand, if you have two 26-year olds wearing “Hasta la vista, Baby!” t-shirts, it’s probably okay to peel some paint off the walls during your demo. Pay close attention to what your customer is communicating back to you, then demonstrate the right gear (at the right price, at the correct sound pressure levels) – and all based on the valuable feedback you’ve been getting before and during your demonstration. Impress your customer correctly and they will be one step closer to pulling out their wallet.

3. Choose Appropriate Material

Carefully prepare between 2-5 demo clips – no more and no less. Avoid satellite, cable or over-the-air broadcasts since you have absolutely no control over the content. Keep each demo clip short and sweet, each approximately 2-4 minutes in length. Always try to tell a complete story in each clip, with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end — never cut off a demo at a cliff-hangar and always ensure the fat lady sings to her very last note. Try and choose clips that have a positive message and outcome. Avoid gratuitous violence, excess blood, guts, tawdriness and gore, as such clips tend to generate negative impressions and increase psychological angst. A positive message can often lead you more quickly to a positive conclusion.

4. Set the Stage

Give a quick verbal overview of what they’re getting ready to experience. Introduce yourself, the equipment, the room — speaking and consulting “with” your clients, not speaking “at” them — in a positive fashion. Remember, PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) is contagious! Prepare them for the magic they’re about to experience.

Tell your audience EXACTLY what they are about to experience, pointing out the positives to come and a few of the key benefits that set your system apart (without mentioning any competition by name—and never disparage anything or anyone—ever!). If you reinforce multiple positive images before starting your demo, that’s exactly what your clients will see, hear and experience.

With novices in your audience, avoid most technical talk. With the more savvy videophiles address their inevitable questions but try not to get drawn into long-winded, often theoretical discussions. When questioned give concise answers, never BS or evade the truth, but at some point cut the conversations and ask that they hold all further questions until after your demo.

5. Brain folding

The human brain is comprised of billions of nerve endings, electrical connections, stored in hundreds of folds. Your mission is to deliver that spine tingling, amazing and memorable demo that adds at least one more fold to your customer’s brain. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when their eyes open wide, their jaws drop, hands reach up to clutch their heart and they say, “That’s one of the most amazing video’s I’ve ever seen!” Brain folded, mission accomplished.

6. Know When to Stop

Conclude your demo with style and purpose. Never let your demo run ad nauseum without focus or control. Thank your audience for joining in this experience and then whip up my favorite trial close: “Ready to install one of these in your home?” Stop right there. Pause, smile, nod your head. NEVER speak next to answer that question yourself, let the buyers do their part.

The Art of the Video Demo

In conclusion, make every effort to demo your most exciting material, using the best source playback gear and in the highest video resolution possible. Use bright, dynamic scenes and avoid dark, malevolent content. Cull your demo clips from current DVD’s but don’t forget those oldies-but-goodies, because while you might have seen “Top Gun” a bazillion times, (what are arguably some of the best air acrobatics scenes ever captured on film) it’s often all quite fresh and new to your customer.

Always be prepared, be in control, and above all make it fun. That’s what a good demo is all about. Share your knowledge, passion, and the possibilities our state-of-the-art video gear has to offer to entertain, amuse and amaze. Get your customers smiling and excited about their impending purchase. Once you’ve mastered the “Art of the Video Demo” you’ll be smiling all the way to the bank!

Jim McGall is a consumer electronics industry veteran and a home theater enthusiast. He serves as Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Vidikron, a manufacturer of high quality video display technologies. He can be reached at