Mastering Software Demos: Best Practices for Effective Software Evaluation and Selection

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: June 5, 2023

Software vendors are a critical aspect of the digital transformation evaluation process. However, many organizations lack knowledge on how to effectively facilitate the entire demo process and maximize its value.

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One of the initial milestones we focus on when helping our clients with their digital transformations is evaluating and selecting the most suitable software(s) for their organization. A crucial part of this evaluation process is the software demo, which serves as an opportunity to assess how the software can meet business requirements and generate excitement within the organization regarding the potential improvements it can bring.

However, the software demo process can be complex, time-consuming, and challenging to extract the desired information. Today, I will discuss the essential steps and effective strategies that we have observed organizations successfully utilize during their software demo process.

Avoid A Sales Pitch

The first crucial strategy to consider for your demo process is to avoid receiving a sales pitch. It is essential to ensure that the software vendor does not solely focus on demonstrating the impressive features of their technology without relating it to your business operations, industry, and desired future processes.

To mitigate the risk of encountering a sales pitch, one effective approach is to create demo scripts. These scripts establish clear expectations for how you want the software vendor's sales representatives to present their solution. By doing so, the discussion shifts from a sales pitch to a practical demonstration that aligns with your day-to-day operations. It compels the software vendor or sales representative to showcase how the software functions based on your specific business processes. Additionally, this approach facilitates relatability, enabling individuals within your organization to comprehend precisely how the software will support their familiar business processes.

Creating demo scripts is an important step in ensuring that you receive a realistic depiction of how the vendor's technology can potentially enhance your business operations, rather than being subjected to a mere sales pitch.

Quantify Demo Scores

When assessing potential software options and evaluating software in general, it is crucial to understand that the evaluation is not a simple yes or no decision. In other words, it is not solely about determining whether the software can perform a specific task or not. Instead, the evaluation typically revolves around gauging how well the software performs that task. That's why it is important to introduce a degree of quantification when scoring or rating each software option under consideration.

To facilitate this process with our clients, we involve employees from the client organization in the demos. We ask them to quantify or provide ratings for each of the business requirements being assessed during the demo process. As the sales representative demonstrates how the software would function in the context of the client's business operations, employees or end users who would be utilizing the software are present in the demos. They assign scores or ratings, typically on a scale of one to five, to indicate how effectively the software can fulfill each major business requirement being showcased. A rating of five signifies the software excelling at handling a particular function, while a rating of one indicates poor performance. Ratings of two, three, or four lie somewhere in between. This approach enables you to gain insights and feedback from employees regarding how well the software aligns with your specific business needs and requirements.

Regardless of the specific scoring method employed, I encourage you to focus on incorporating some form of quantification into your evaluation during the software demo process. This allows for a more comprehensive understanding of how well the software can address different aspects of your business operations.

Don't Just Evaluate Functionality

During the software demo, it is important to evaluate the functionality of the software, such as how well it supports business processes and transactions. However, functionality alone should not be the sole focus of evaluation. There are other considerations that may be equally or even more important in some cases.

For instance, the sales representative conducting the demo may not be proficient in effectively communicating the software's capabilities. It is essential not to let personal biases or preferences towards the sales rep influence the assessment of the software's functionality. Additionally, apart from general functionality, there are other aspects to consider in the evaluation process.

One example is the platform itself. Evaluating the platform involves assessing its appearance, user-friendliness, and overall user interface. These factors may not be directly tied to specific workflows or functionalities, but they can significantly impact user experience and satisfaction, making them important considerations.

Another aspect to evaluate beyond software functionality is the tool set available to your internal IT group. They may need to assess how easily the software can be configured, customized, or integrated with existing technologies.

Furthermore, consider the business intelligence and reporting capabilities of the software. This includes evaluating the strength of the reporting features, analytics, and any artificial intelligence capabilities it may possess. These aspects may not be focused solely on business functions or processes but can be crucial in providing valuable insights and decision-making support.

When defining your demo scripts and deciding what aspects to evaluate during the demo process, ensure that you consider factors beyond simple software functionality and specific processes. Look into areas such as platform usability, IT toolset compatibility, and business intelligence capabilities that are significant for your overall evaluation.

Augment Demos with Objective Data

At the end of the day, the software demo process is an imperfect science. Even if you involve the right people and implement a process for assigning quantitative rankings, it is still subject to human perceptions and biases. Therefore, it is important to supplement the inputs from the demo process with other objective data points that can either validate or challenge what was observed during the demos.

For instance, at Third Stage Consulting, we utilize our internal software vendor database, which assesses nearly a thousand Enterprise Technologies against thirty thousand business requirements. This objective database provides quantitative rankings of how well different systems can handle various functions and capabilities. We complement the client demo scores with data from our database to validate certain aspects observed during the demos. Conversely, we also identify any inconsistencies that may require further investigation, such as conducting follow-up demos or delving deeper into the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

These are just a couple of examples demonstrating how objective third-party data can help validate the information gathered from the demos. However, it is crucial to ensure that the data used to augment the vendor demos is truly objective and not provided by biased software vendors. The goal is to obtain an unbiased understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the systems being evaluated. Thus, it is essential to exercise caution when relying on data from software vendors or system integrators who may have a vested interest in promoting their software. Similarly, one should be wary of industry analysts who might be paid by software vendors to produce reports that overly emphasize the superiority of a particular software vendor.

Considering these factors, it is imperative to incorporate objective data points to supplement the information obtained from the demo process, ensuring a more comprehensive and unbiased evaluation.

Balance Current Needs With Future Needs

At the beginning of this video, I emphasized the importance of creating demo scripts based on your business requirements and defined needs. However, it is essential to acknowledge that there may be capabilities and technological advancements of which you are unaware and that are not included in your initial business requirements. It is prudent to leave some room for flexibility and exploration to consider possibilities that could enhance or improve your business processes.

Nonetheless, it is crucial to exercise caution and not stray too far from the relevant path by exploring industries or capabilities that are not applicable to your organization. Focus on evaluating considerations that are directly relevant to your business and needs. The demo process can be a valuable opportunity to discover how technology can enhance your business operations. It's a double-edged sword—you should have a clear vision of your starting point, but also remain open to innovative ideas and possibilities that the technology can offer.

One way to accomplish this is by allocating time within the demo process for the software sales representative to discuss capabilities they believe are most relevant to your organization and how their product differentiates itself in helping you achieve your desired future state. This allows for a productive exchange of ideas and insights, ensuring that you consider potential enhancements that may have initially been overlooked.

Overall, striking a balance between a defined vision and openness to new possibilities during the demo process will help you make informed decisions regarding the software that best aligns with your business goals and objectives.

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Involve Key Business Stakeholders

One important aspect that I have mentioned briefly throughout this article is the inclusion of business stakeholders in the demo process. However, finding the right approach can be challenging. While involving every employee within your organization would be ideal in a perfect world, it is not realistic for most organizations. If you were to involve every employee in the evaluation process, you would receive input from everyone and gain their buy-in. However, this approach can make decision-making more difficult due to the large number of individuals providing input. Therefore, it is crucial to strike a balance by involving an appropriate number of stakeholders in the evaluation process. The goal is to include enough people without complicating the process or experiencing analysis paralysis.

Achieving this balance is more of an art than a science. It is important to identify representatives from major locations, departments, and work groups within your organization. This ensures their involvement and provides everyone with a voice and input into the process. This approach serves two purposes. First, it helps secure employee buy-in for the evaluation process, even if not everyone agrees with the final decision. Second, involving a wider range of stakeholders from the business in the evaluation process, particularly during the demos, helps ensure that no important aspects are overlooked and that blind spots, which the core project team might have, are uncovered.

Therefore, involving the right business stakeholders in the evaluation and demo process is crucial. It ensures comprehensive input, minimizes blind spots, and fosters employee buy-in.

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Assure Demos Are Aligned With Contract

One common issue frequently encountered in expert witness cases involving lawsuits due to ERP implementation failures is the discrepancy between the software demo and the actual contract execution. In these cases, clients are shown a certain functionality during the demo process, and based on that, they choose the software. However, when it's time to finalize the contracts, they discover that the terms do not align with what was demonstrated.

There are various reasons for this mismatch. It could be that the demo showcased a newer version of the software, but the contracts are for an older version. Alternatively, certain additional modules or third-party add-ons might have been included in the demo, but they were erroneously omitted from the contracts. Therefore, it is crucial to not only assess whether the software can fulfill your specific requirements during the demo but also to understand which modules, add-ons, or configurations are necessary to achieve that functionality.

It is essential to treat each demo as a potential basis for the contract because ultimately, you will likely choose one of the vendors who presented their software. When the time comes to execute the contract, statement of work, master service agreement, or subscription agreement for cloud technologies, it is vital to ensure that these legal documents accurately reflect what was demonstrated and what you expect to receive. This requires experienced scrutiny and taking the necessary time during the contracting process.

Beware of falling victim to time-limited offers or discounts from software vendors, particularly those supposedly available only until the end of a quarter, month, weekend, or day. These tactics are designed to pressure you into rushing to sign a contract. Instead, it is crucial to take the time to carefully review the contract, ensuring that it aligns with your expectations based on the demo process.

I would enjoy brainstorming ideas with you if you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, so please feel free to contact me at eric.kimberling@thirdstage-consulting.com. I am happy to be a sounding board as you continue your digital transformation journey.

Be sure to download the newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices.

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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.

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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