North American Association of Sales Engineers

North American Association of Sales Engineers

European Association of Sales Engineers

The Dunning Kruger Effect and Demos

By Peter Cohan

“In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.” [Wikipedia]

In other words, people often don’t know what they don’t know.  Interestingly,

“Other investigations of the phenomenon, such as ‘Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence’ (2003), indicate that much incorrect self-assessment of competence derives from the person’s ignorance of a given activity’s standards of performance. Dunning and Kruger’s research also indicates that training in a task, such as solving a logic puzzle, increases people’s ability to accurately evaluate how good they are at it.”

[Note:  I am certainly not saying that you are incompetent…!]

But consider:  In the field of software demos, have you been trained – and in what ways?

There are a number of potential areas of training with respect to software demos:

The product itself:

  • Learning how your product operates – e.g., set-up, navigation and workflows.
  • Learning what your product delivers – e.g., reports, dashboards, alerts, and problem resolution.
  • Learning the surrounding technologies and infrastructure.

Presenting the product:

  • Learning demo flow, scripts, and talk-tracks.
  • Presenting workflows, individual screens, and deliverables.
  • Communicating value.

Interacting with the customer:

  • Engaging multiple players at multiple levels (execs, middle managers, staffers, admins).
  • Managing questions.
  • Working with customer champions and coaches.

This list goes on – this is a small starter set to spur conversation.

Now consider just two of these items, “presenting screens” and “communicating value”.  Have you been trained on how to do these?

Presenting Screens:

  • What do you say? (And what does your customer hear and remember?)
  • What is the customer looking at while you are speaking?
  • What is the customer actually seeing?
  • How do you use your mouse?
  • How often do you apply annotation tools?
  • Do you present meaningful color elements?
  • Do you communicate graph information clearly?
  • Are you “connecting the dots” for the customer?

Communicating Value:

  • Are you communicating value?
  • How compelling is the message?
  • Are they your (vendor) value statements?
  • How often do you communicate value?
  • What does your customer hear and remember?

Perhaps it’s time to assess yourself – but not by yourself (due to the Dunning-Kruger effect!).

Start by asking a colleague, a mentor, or your manager to review an example demo – but be aware that they may be at a similar level of understanding as you are (particularly if they were the ones who provided the training!).

So, consider asking a customer or a 3rd party to take a look at a sample demo or two.  Do you know what you don’t know?  What you learn could be enlightening!”

The Dunning–Kruger Effect – and Demos

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