Sure, I can show you a demo of CRM, but why?

I am not a fan of customer demos or trials. To paraphrase the infamous Tommy Boy, “Sure I could demo CRM for you, you can also get a good look at a T-Bone by shoving your head up a cow’s ass… but I’ll take the butcher’s word for it”.

I swear I will use that line one day. But, the fact is, the client is not going to take my word for anything, at least not initially.

Don’t Help Me

I think the worst thing that can happen, and I am speaking specifically to the SMB space, is for a client to sign up for a free 30 day trial of CRM. I was speaking to someone “in the know” at Microsoft who said that typically when someone signs up for a trial they may spend a little bit of time immediately that first day or even hour, but most of the time they do not log in again during the trail. I can’t remember how many times a client has called me in a panic asking for an extension because they did not get a chance to look at it in the 30 days. Most of the time, after I get them the extension, they never even log in again. The trial conversion rate is abysmal, and those that do convert, churn out very quickly. I can’t call this a “slow death” as nothing was ever even alive. I doubt that anyone at Microsoft could argue that the customer initiated trial is not death. It can’t even be called a harmless waste of time. At least without having seen a trial, I am only starting at zero with a customer, instead of trying to get back up to zero after their confusing self-guided experience.

I had a prospect call me a while back and say “I don’t want to listen to anything you have to say, I just want a link to the CRM trial”. Whatever… I sent him the link. The next day he calls me back and asks if I can do a screen share and show him how to add a contact. Seriously! Today, there are a lot of SMB customers interested in Microsoft’s Cloud Products, too many for me to spend much, or any, time with the difficult ones. So I said, “How about we take a huge leap of faith and assume that contacts can be added, to any CRM system, and instead talk about what your business is about?”. Realizing that I was not going to show him how to add a contact, he only had two choices: find another partner who would show him, or talk to me about his business. He decided to open up a little bit, and we both soon came to the conclusion that he was not even a CRM prospect; his particular needs would be better met by SharePoint. Had I acquiesced and shown him how to add a contact in CRM, he would have disappeared forever, instead he is now a happy SharePoint customer. As a former Certified Consultant, one of the best things about our move to Microsoft is that we don’t have to try to solve every problem with a CRM solution.

I cannot speak for the enterprise focused partner, I really have no idea how that world works, but I do know that the same techniques will absolutely not work in SMB. It is an interesting time at Microsoft. With their cloud platform we now have the ability to provide what have historically been “enterprise only” products, like SharePoint and Dynamics CRM to the SMB. As a Microsoft Cloud Partner focused on the SMB space, this is both awesome and daunting. Microsoft has jumped into SMB with both feet and they too, are learning on the fly. Step one, [search and replace] “Enterprise” with “SMB” on all of the marketing materials and methodologies. “Microsoft Solution Selling Process” and “Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step” are enormous hammers to whack the SMB nail with. There is this huge emphasis on getting to the demo.

I don’t know this to be true, but I would assume that enterprise customers are a fairly sophisticated bunch, and at least the term CRM is not foreign to them. I also assume that most often they will have “people” whose job it will be to oversee and manage the CRM system. Not so with SMB. There will be no in-house CRM expert; someone who can effectively analyze the alternatives, oversee a deployment and massage the system over time. No, it will be someone who has a full plate of other mission critical duties, little if any concept of CRM, and very little time to figure it out.

The SMB prospect will most likely have surfaced as a result of some high-level message like “CRM will help you make more money”. The SMB prospect is expecting a simple, inexpensive, turn-key system that they can start using tomorrow, with no training at all, so they can start “Making more money”. If it does not meet all of these criteria, it is a non-starter. Firing up a demo will only serve to prove that none of these criteria are met. So what chance does the SMB customer have of satisfying these criteria on their own with a trial? None. So am I saying that CRM is just a waste of time for the SMB customer? Absolutely not. But you will never get them there with the enterprise selling methods.

SMB is really two groups: the “Small” and the “Midsize”. For whatever reason, whoever coined the term SMB decided to toss these two completely different business types into one pile. The fact is, 99.9% of the “Small” businesses neither need, nor can they afford CRM. Basically, anything you ever hear me say or write is really talking about that Midsize customer. If your focus is on selling CRM to the “Small” business, you can ignore everything I am saying, you won’t be around long anyway.

Everybody has a different definition of “Midsize”, for context, mine is based on a low-end of maybe 25 users, where CRM starts being something that could add value, up to the point where I will probably not get to play which is over about 250 users. I am aware that 300 users is not considered “Enterprise”, but the big enterprise partners will happily drop down to that range and probably blow the smaller partner out of the game. I am a realist.

Personally, I feel that the Midsize” range that I described is the best one for CRM and the whole Microsoft Cloud mix. Let’s face it, Midsize is absolutely the most technologically dysfunctional; the challenge is that most of them don’t know it. They are quick to dismiss “enterprise” systems as overkill, which actually means they think they cannot afford them, all while they are usually hemorrhaging money on their existing cobbled together total shit infrastructure. They often have grown from a “Small” business and are still using a lot of the same stuff they started with, plus a bunch of crap they have bolted on to plug the holes. While they may say their systems are fine for them, they usually know they are not.

The “real” hurdle is usually not cost, but change and the feared bandwidth that will require. The other even larger hurdle is most often the person they tasked with exploring CRM on their behalf. This person is never a decision maker, and frequently is not even an influencer, and their first question is invariably “So, what is CRM?” A demo in this situation is pretty pointless, and usually leads to something like “We have been using Outlook and Spreadsheets and it works fine, can CRM do it the same way?” What midsize business really needs is not for us to “sell” them CRM, but rather to engage us to help them fix a huge mess that they are oblivious to, and if CRM is part of that fix, so be it.

I was listening to a partner-facing webinar the other day on “New Buyer Behavior”. I assume that I am under some NDA, but I will risk sharing a couple of general points the speaker made that I have been aware of, heard elsewhere and agree with. Buyers look for reasons to support their pre-conceived notions and generally ignore facts to the contrary. Unless you really bash them over the head with the facts early, you are DOA. This is tricky to do, I know, but imagine beating them over the head with a Valentine.

Another thing he mentioned was that CRM is moving towards commodity status. It would be hard to convince long-time Dynamics CRM partners that their product is the same as say Salesforce; just as hard to convince Salesforce consultants. Having been in both camps, I can say that the customer who watches a demo of both solutions, will most likely not be able to make a decision based on the demos, especially not the person you were stuck having to demo to. All-in-Cost will most likely be the tipping point factor and I don’t need a demo for that conversation.

So, by now you probably get the feeling that I believe the value of Demos or Trials to SMB is dubious. I do think there is a place for something like this in the process though, the “Proof of Concept”. The POC is short demo of a specific capability, tailored to the client, that takes a lot of time and effort to put together. If you do not spend a lot of time, it is a demo, not a POC. You must be paid for POCs, or you will go broke very quickly.

The challenge of selling without the dreaded demo is painting a perfect picture in your client’s mind of a solution and having them buy based on that Utopian feeling. Of course you don’t want to paint a picture you cannot execute. A generic demo, or worse a trial, will totally melt all of the paint off your picture. Clients get very queasy when they see how the sausage is made. If a POC is desired, and you require to be paid for it, it will serve a couple of purposes. First, if they do not want to pay for it, you will have just saved yourself a huge amount of wasted time, as they were never going to buy anything in the first place. If they do agree to pay for a POC, you can bet that the decision maker will be involved now.

So, a little rambly I know, but you get my points I hope. I have no doubt that there is an army of people who probably disagree with every single point, or most of them, that I made. I am long on opinions and have not offered all the specific solutions, so please feel free to add to this conversation, either below if you are on our blog, or the source if you are reading this elsewhere.

Add your thoughts below, just don’t pimp your stuff on my blog 🙂


  1. Mike Springer

    Steve- I love your rants and give you props for telling it like it is. I’m a student of the Sandler sales system (not Solution Selling) and when I have to give in to a trial, I have to set a very rigid up-front-contract which includes the crystal ball of what I expect them to experience if they’re typical.
    The medium-business space that you’re in may not generate the multi-thousand hour projects that enterprise implementations can, but it’s much easier to garner the trusted advisor role with clients that size because you are working as much with the business decision makers as you are with the IT folks.
    I read this blog a little delinquently, but am glad I came across it.
    Mike Springer
    PSC Group

  2. Brad Hodson

    I understand your frustration (it happens to us, too.) It’s a very bad thing if someone signs up for a 30 day trial, if the vendor doesn’t attempt to contact that signup.

    Like you said, the real idea is getting down to being a consultant for the customer. You need to hear from them, learn about what they do, learn about why they need CRM (or learn that they need something completely different.)

    The demo is extremely important and can prove a software’s worth, but finding out what the signup or searcher is looking for is the vendor’s job (though it would be much more convenient for the client to explain first.)

    Brad Hodson
    JobNimbus –


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