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The Twenty-first Annual Interactive Audio Conference
BBQ Group Report: Always Be Closing
(This isnít marketing after all)
Participants: A.K.A. "Perfect Pitch"
Phil Brown, Dolby Anastasia Devana, Magic Leap
Chris Forrester, Microsoft Ty Kingsmore, Waves
Peter Otto, UCSD Jack Joseph Puig, Waves
David Roach, Magic Leap Will Wolcott, Netflix
Facilitator: Linda Law  
  PDF download the PDF

Brief statement of the problem on which the group worked:

Our problem concerns making a compelling argument to an internal or external stakeholder for a new audio feature, innovation, or quality improvement. Often, key stakeholders do not have a depth of audio knowledge that allows them to immediately understand the benefits of an audio proposal. What are the best strategies and practices for getting the stakeholder to believe in the idea?

A brief statement of the group’s solutions to those problems

In order to appropriately convince a stakeholder about the benefits and necessity of an audio proposal, you must take into account many factors including those that have nothing to do with the actual proposal being pitched. These include various selling strategies (understanding the audience, building coalitions and/or sponsors, competitive analysis), knowing when or when not to demo, and developing and delivering a compelling demonstration. In order to deliver a successful demo, you must minimize audience distractions, control the environment as best as possible, and take into account any audience sensitivities. After delivering your pitch, you must be prepared to follow up on the demonstration, and you must be persistent in your sales promotion. You must also understand that different strategies may be necessary for internal or external customers. Finally, once a stakeholder becomes your advocate, you must enable them with the tools that allow them to continue selling the proposal to their stakeholders.

Expanded problem statement:

To clarify, stakeholders are various key influencers and decision makers, who decide which audio features are going to make it into a product and eventually to the end consumers. Examples of stakeholders include yourself, your teammates, your managers, from your reporting manager all the way up the executive chain, as well as 3rd party ecosystem partners.

Here are some examples of making an argument for audio:

  • You are a vendor of a new type of DSP chip, and you are pitching it to a device manufacturer. In this case a stakeholder may be the audio lead of the device manufacturer, and you are presenting a new audio feature in return for a contract with the company.
  • You are an audio team lead, and you would like to hire 2 new people to work on audio innovation. In this case, stakeholders would be your direct supervisor and their supervisors and all the way up the executive chain. What you are presenting is audio innovation in return for added resources.
  • You are an audio programmer, and you found a new way of improving output of an algorithm, given some extra system resources. What you are presenting is an improvement in audio quality in return for additional system resources.

Expanded solution description:


Given the complexities and challenges of getting your audio message across, a good approach is to first develop an overall strategy.

Position Your Proposal

Develop a perspective on how you are going to position your audio feature in the demo. It helps to consider how the feature would be marketed to the end user. Consider the feature advantages and selling points. Understand the customer’s pain points as best you can. What problem does the feature solve? What is the user experience you want to convey? Work with the marketing team on how that feature will be marketed - think about the bullet points on the box, or potential names for the feature and use this in the demo.

It may be that just demonstrating the user experience will be sufficient to sell your feature, but often the audio feature is more subtle in which case user research data may be a key element of the sell. In this case, get data if possible to back you up - seek out available research in the literature, and if it is not available, consider doing your own user research, for example through a direct study or a general beta trial.

Understand Your Audience

Take time to understand your audience and tailor your presentation and demo appropriately. Are you demonstrating to an audio expert or audiophile, well versed in audio problems and solutions? Or are you demonstrating to a naive listener with little listening expertise and audio understanding? Then consider the needs of the listener. The audio expert doesn’t need as much context and background material to set up the demo. However, a naive listener needs help in framing the audio feature and what they need to pay attention to in the demo. Consider how best to make an emotional connection with the listener - success is much more likely when the listener feels spoken to personally, so consider the listener and how best to do this.

Depending on your product or audio feature, you need to consider the relative importance of what you are pitching within the product concept. How does audio factor into the purchase decision for your customer and end user. For example, audio capabilities may not be part of the purchase decision or may be weighted less heavily depending on user preference. Or, on mobile devices, size, weight, look and feel are critical to the purchase intent, and audio is oftentimes not considered at all.  On a pro-audio speaker however, audio capabilities are the most important element and your demo approach must take this into account.

What is the business impact?

Consider the business impact of your feature - what are the costs and what are the benefits? Knowing your audience will eventually include the business decision maker, you need to be well versed on what information they need to help make the decision. Point to competitive solutions, if there are any. Tie in to the overarching company goals. Pitch your competitive advantages. What are the benefits of your solution, what is the new user experience? But as importantly, you will be challenged on the costs - e.g. size, shape, CPU, memory, battery life, etc - and you need to have the answers to questions around this.  Seek out those who can provide details on what the business leaders and decision makers care about, and have answers ready to their concerns or objections.

Find the Decision Makers

It is important to find out who the key decision makers are and who needs to be included on the demo.  Oftentimes it is unclear who makes the final decision and you will have to build on the success of each demo to get to the next decision maker - be prepared for this when dealing with larger, more established companies.   In these cases you will likely have to provide several demos to different company stakeholders, like marketing, product management in addition to engineering as you make your way up the decision tree.  Be persistent until you have demonstrated to the key decision makers and be consistent with your message.   So factor this into your strategy and tailor your presentation and demo according to the audience.  Consider potential objections up along the way, and always anticipate the needs of each audience member.  Try to enlist a sponsor who will champion your audio feature to the decision makers.

Perfect Your Demo

Once you believe you have a solid strategy, test this with several folks first.  Find a devil’s advocate and try to poke holes in your approach.  Be objective and open to what can go wrong and deal with it head on.  Having taken steps to consider your strategy and how best to get your message across, you will be that much closer to achieving your demo goals.

Listening Demos

As one wise and clever person said, “talking about audio is like dancing about architecture”, so listening demos are a key strategy when making an argument for a new audio feature, quality improvement, or innovation.

Some cases that can be greatly aided by a successful listening demos are:

  • Showcasing a new audio feature or audio quality improvement
  • Showing progress to supervisors and ecosystem partners
  • Showing that you have a certain capability or feature
  • Demonstrating a proof of concept or a mock-up in a bid for audio innovation resources

However, listening demos can also work against you for a number of reasons, so you must consider carefully when deciding whether to present one.

When To Do A Listening Demo

So when should you do a listening demo for a stakeholder?

When doing an A/B demo, you must make sure that you have a clear, demonstrable difference between what you’re presenting and your reference material. This difference needs to be dramatic enough for your target audience. For instance, if you’re presenting to an audio professional, they should be able to discern minute differences between A and B. However, a non-audio professional would require a much more significant contrast between two options. If you’re not sure if the difference is clear enough, you can present your demo to friends and colleagues and collect some data and opinions from them.

For the most part, A/B demos are a preferred way of presenting audio, however in some cases, a reference is not required. Such cases would include a purely experiential demo, or a demo to show that you have certain capabilities as a part of a bigger suite of features.

When Not To Do A Listening Demo

In some cases, doing a listening demo is not the best strategy.

  • There is not a clear difference between A/B material. This can happen when the current audio quality improvement maybe a part of a long-term cumulative strategy, so the current short-term incremental improvement is not significant enough on its own.
  • The improvement is not about audio quality on its own. Perhaps the improvement is improved CPU system performance or lower latency.
  • Your demo isn’t solid.

Other Considerations

Other factors to consider when creating and presenting a demo include various financial and legal considerations. Make sure that you can afford the cost of producing a demo, and get various NDAs and other legal protections in place.

Listening Demos - Best Practices

Demonstrating your audio product or innovation is often the best method to convince a stakeholder of the product’s viability and desirability.  However, the method in which the product is demonstrated will have just as large of an affect on the demo results as the product itself. You must take the demonstration method and environment into account in order to achieve their desired result.

Some of the best practices that Perfect Pitch discussed include:

Develop the Demonstration and Establishing the Environment

  • Rehearse your demo
    • Find a Devil’s advocate that will challenge the viability of your demo.
    • Rehearse with critical audience
  • Understand that you may need different approaches for internal vs external stakeholders
  • When possible, the demonstration should use controlled source material
    • The quality level of the source material should be chosen to match the demonstration.  For example, if you are desiring to demonstrate an algorithm that improves the quality of poor source material, then you should demonstrate on poor source material. 
    • The demonstrator chooses the source material when possible.  This is not always feasible or reasonable.  Many times, when demonstrating to other audio experts, they will be “put-off” by the fact that they cannot try the demo with their own source material.  Know your audience and what to expect.
    • Choose content to emphasize important points.
  • Anticipate how you may lose control of the demo (stakeholder using their own material)
  • It is desirable to demo in your own space or a space you control.  This will allow the best possible results for the demonstration.  Many items can be considered when developing the demonstration environment, and for best results, these items should be carefully chosen:
    • Give your customer adequate time to provide you the space. Request what you need in advance (room, WiFi access, hardware, etc)
    • Sound treatment materials will allow for a less “reflective” environment.  Reflections can cause issues with the perception of the audio and possibly with the audio innovation one is trying to demonstrate.
    • Electrical noises must be discovered and eliminated.
    • External noise control should be considered.  Can you control the audiences who are not actively listening to the demonstration?
    • Sufficient power to run the demonstrations.
    • Physical comfort 
      • Drinks
      • Snacks
      • Comfy chairs
    • Choose the time of the meeting carefully.  Morning times are typically more successful.
  • Control the lighting (some studies have shown that people hear better in low light situations)
  • Make them feel good (Compliments/cheerfulness of the presenter/etc)
  • Calm them down first (especially important for stressed executives)
  • Minimize your audience’s distractions
  • Get your audience ready / receptive
  • Don’t talk over it
  • Know who will be in the room (ask in advance). If you can’t get the names, ask which categories of people are going to be present.
    • If possible, give separate demos to marketing and engineering people. Be willing to defer questions, if there are unexpected groups of people in the room.
  • Assume a one hour meeting maximum
    • Expect them to be late, and be prepared to do it in 30 minutes

Understand the Psychology of the Demo Audience / a.k.a. the “demonstratee”

  • Why should they care?
    • It is important to get the stakeholder to believe in the concept being demonstrated
    • How will the demo solve a problem for the customer?  Is it relevant to the customer?
    • Emotional impact is key in achieving belief
  • What do they love?
    • Understand your stakeholder as best as possible.  Ask executive assistant “what music do they like”
      • Give them something that they like
      • Something familiar
      • They can deeply connect with music & repertoire that they like
    • Cultural sensitivity (Different cultures prefer different music)
    • Novelty - something they have never experienced is powerful
    • Choose the source material that will evoke the most powerful emotional response
    • Focus on maximizing emotional impact
      • Content you choose
      • Smell or look of the room
      • Setup
    • Induce these experiences
      • Delight
      • Awe
        • Walk in the woods
        • Climbing a mountain
        • Fireworks
        • Concert
      • Surprise
  • Consider hearing loss in your stakeholder
    • Often they will tell you if they have a deficit
  • Know how savvy your audience is when possible
  • Have something ready to give them for their evaluation
  • Prop up your internal contact to make the internal pitch

Perform the Actual Demonstration

  • Educate your audience on the topic you are demonstrating in the few minutes before you do the demo
    • Vocabulary for describing spatial quality of music / audio
      • Depth / Width / Height (of auditory image)
      • Separation / Definition (of musical instruments and effects)
      • Spatial quality / Envelopment
      • Air / Sparkle / Warmth
      • Clarity / Focus
      • Wet / Dry
      • Punch
  • Explain to the audience what your demo is supposed to accomplish.
  • Give user control over the A/B switch and let them do it themselves
    • Show them how to do it and give them option to do it
    • Make it easy
  • Let them set the volume level when appropriate
  • 15 seconds long for each A/B piece is desired.
  • Use consistent demo material, loop, synchronize
    • Same pitch
    • Same texture
  • Teach them the vocabulary you want them to use, and train them on how to use this vocabulary
  • A/B listening demos are best, but in specific scenarios you might want to do a single experiential demo without a reference
  • Read the audience’s reaction, because verbally they might be more reserved
  • After the demo, summarize what happened. 
    • Here’s what you heard and repeat if necessary
  • Enable the person that you sold to, and give them the tools to sell to their stakeholders

Known Shadow Tactics
(not necessarily desirable)

  • 3 db increase on the A/B testing
    • Make “B” louder
    • Louder is always better
  • Use stereo imaging differences to provide a “wider” image
  • Falsely degrading the source material to provide a low anchor.
  • Choose a “false competitor”.  For example, compare a competitor that shipped a 1” speaker while you’re showing a 4” speaker.

Items from the brainstorming lists that the group thought were worth reporting:

Success and Not Success Stories

In making a pitch, there are many tactics that can prove effective or futile for a given audience. What follows are some techniques and lessons-learned when advocating for audio.

  • Educate them about the competition
  • Guilt-trip for innovation
    • “We’re choosing to be behind”
    • “Missing out on the opportunity”
    • Explain how passing on this would be a big mistake (puts you behind)
    • Stay ahead of competition, place bets on something new
    • Taking the high road - make an argument that there is a fundamentally correct course of action
    • “We’re ahead now and want to stay here”
    • “We got here by taking risks and investing in innovation”
  • Even failed attempts yield information
  • “Memo-shaming”. Document the rejected proposal
    • Memos may circulate beyond a rejection
    • Your audience may reconsider
    • You may be proven right at a later time
  • Defer is better than decline
    • “Would you reconsider in 3 months?”
  • Force / compel them to “buy” it using external pressure (in some secondary way)
    • Build it into a standard
    • End-run it - go to other stakeholders or business partners that have great influence
    • You have a big customer who wants it
  • Go into the demo knowing what the outcome should be
    • Know the objective
    • Know what to talk about and not talk about
  • Show to one person and make them a believer
    • Then when showing to another person, let the first person do the talking / sales
    • Foster internal evangelists to help champion your pitch
  • Celebrity endorsement

section 5

next section

select a section:
1. Introduction
2. Workgroup Reports Overview
3. The Future of Voice Interfaces
4. Audio Sensor Opportunities: Market Requirements and Technology Challenges for the next Decade
5. Always Be Closing (This isnít marketing after all)
6. R.I/O.T: The Next Great Interactive Group Listening Experience!
7. The Need for a New Wireless Audio Network Standard
8. Creating Immersive Music with Audio Objects
9. Schedule & Sponsors