How to Get More from Your ERP Software Demos

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: June 16, 2021

When evaluating ERP systems, the whole vendor demo process is a complete waste of time. In doing this for 20+ years, we found that those demos can give you an inaccurate picture of what the software can and can't do. There's almost always a disconnect between what you see in demos, what products can actually do, and how those products might actually fit your organization.

Demos Don’t Show the Real Software

One of the advantages of being a sales rep for an ERP or HCM software vendor is that you get advanced versions of software. These are the versions of the software that you're always seeing.

In demos, vendors will not show much of the software at all, instead they're showing PowerPoint screenshots on their local machine. The truth is they're not even accessing the cloud version of the software.

Sales reps have a number of tools at their disposal that may or may not be reflective of the software that you'd actually be purchasing. This is the first problem why vendor demos are a waste of time.

Demos Hide Gaps and Misrepresents Capabilities

The second problem with ERP vendor demos is that they're biased. ERP vendors demos are biased because they are meant to show you the bells and whistles, cool technologies, and the great advancements that have been made in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The process intendeds to show you what the product can do and what it can do well.

These vendors don't typically show you are all the things that the software can’t do. That's arguably the more important part even if you're you know that you're going to choose a certain solution, you should be given the opportunity to see what the software does so that we know how we are going to address the implementation. Whatever the case may be, those are some of the reasons why the demo processes are typically biased.

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One issue with the demo process is that even when they are showing you actual software, vendors are showing you one configuration of the process and one option with how the software can work. In today's day and age, most modern ERP systems can be configured in multitude of ways, but honestly the simplest workflows and transactions can be set up like this, so it really doesn’t give you that extra detail that you are looking for.

It’s important to show what that process might look like within your system. This assumes that they're actually showing you the system and not just showing you PowerPoint screenshots and some of the other things I've already mentioned above.

In the end, this doesn't give you an accurate reflection of what the software could do for your business, it might show you one option, but it's not going to show exactly what you need for your specific requirements and capabilities.

Quality of Sales Reps

Something that is rarely talked about in the vendor demo process is the inconsistent qualifications and capabilities of the sales reps themselves, the ones that are trying to sell you the software. Occasionally, we'll see products that we know aren't a great fit for a client, but the sales rep is good at what they do. They will only show all the great strengths and benefits of the product, that it overstates the benefit of the product and the fit for that particular organization.

In other cases, you may get a terrible sales rep who's selling a great product, but they completely bombed the main demo. They're unprepared and in the end, don't understand your business, and don't have configured demos that are specific to your needs into your demo scripts. They end up failing and passing on a system that may be a great fit for you which would not be good for anybody.

One of the disadvantages that we have being independent is that we have no control over the vendors. What we do have control over however is how we help our clients to ensure that the vendors are as well prepared as possible. As consultants, we want to provide knowledge and expertise to fill in the gaps that the vendors weren't able to demo.

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With all of this being said, with the failed demos that you have seen, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you do not prefer seeing the vendor demo process, there are many alternatives out there to help.

Alternatives to the Vendor Demo Process

I wanted to first say that I'm not suggesting that you don't do demos at all. If that's your primary focal point for your evaluation and if that's the number one thing you're going to base your decision on, that's a mistake.

I would, at best, treat it is one of several data points you use in evaluating making decisions on your ERP or HCM product. Look at it this way, the data points that can be even more beneficial than a demo itself, are going to be things like quantitative ratings of how the system is actually being used.

Those data points end up being an objective way to look at how do the different systems in the marketplace stack up side-by-side against your criteria as an organization without the sales spin. Here is the bottom line, it's critical to get past that sales spin and get quantitative and objective data. Why do I say that? Not all requirements and needs and evaluation criteria are going to be equal, nor should they be equal.

It is important to prioritize and weigh the different decision criteria you're going to be looking at, so that you can quickly narrow the field and prioritize important criteria for you as a business, not necessarily what the software vendor wants to show you. Having these decisions in place is another important alternative, or at the very least augmentation to doing the whole vendor demo process.

Steps to be sure your demos are valuable:

  • If you are going to do demos, I encourage you not to spend too much time on them. We see a lot of organizations that want to spend two- or three-days full days, looking at a single ERP system.
  • If you get to the point where you're wanting demos to last more than a full day per product, then you're getting into analysis paralysis, and you're probably getting into a lot of things that aren't going to be material or shouldn't be material to your decision process.
  • If you are doing demos, take it with a grain of salt, limit the time you spend on it, and just use it as one of many data points you might use in your overall evaluation process.
  • If you come out of the demos, feeling like the software can do everything you want it to do, something's wrong. You haven't seen the entire solution because every product out there.

In the end, make sure that you use the demo process not just as a way to validate that it's a good fit for you. Remember, to validate where those holes and poke holes in the product itself. This is just as important arguably as what the system can do and how it can fit your capabilities and needs. These are just some of the alternatives to strictly relying on vendor demos for your evaluation process. Choose wisely.

Key Takeaways

My thesis here is that vendor demos on their own are a waste of time. If that's your only evaluation point, I would suggest you include other aspects of how to optimize demos. At the very least, use vendor demos as one of several different data points and analysis. Do not overly depend on vendor demos. I would also make sure you recognize and take with a grain of salt what you're seeing from the sales reps.

I hope you found this information useful. I encourage you to download the 2021 Digital Transformation Report and if you have any questions, please reach out to me if you'd like to brainstorm ideas related to your ERP evaluation and selection process. I’m always happy to be an informal sounding board for you and your team.

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Author:
Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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