Step 7: Demonstrations – When to do them and what to look for

Following up our last article on the business software selection process, where we reviewed Requests for Proposal (RFPs) and Site Visits, we would like to take a closer look at on-site Demos.

You need to feel comfortable with the software you purchase, but you will not know all its warts or unexpected benefits until you are actually using it to run your business.  Don’t allow a flashy demo to tempt you into making a premature decision.

What is one of the first major steps most people take when buying a car?  You get in the car and take a test ride, right?  This is great for the salesperson.  His training tells him to get you in the car so that you fall in “love” with the car (an emotional response).  It has that new car smell, the feel of new leather, the power when you hit the accelerator – oh, and it is really quiet.  Of course, the salesperson cranked up the volume to demonstrate the great sound system.  You’ll hear comments like, “Wouldn’t you love to have this beauty sitting in your driveway?”  “Your neighbors are going to drool when they see this one.”  Oh, and this one, “The mileage is really great, best in class.”

What does any of that have to do with getting the right car?  Well, of course,  there is value in the test drive.  If the car doesn’t feel right, you don’t buy it.  However, you might consider many other issues, such as comparing various brands and the model’s fuel economy, maintenance costs, resale price, reliability, towing capacity and more.  Just because it looks great doesn’t mean it fits your needs.  For example, you don’t buy a Prius if you plan to tow a 5,500-pound trailer.

Business management software demonstrations are like a test drive.  It shouldn’t be the first step.  Why take a test drive in something that doesn’t meet your needs?  (Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, or you enjoy making a salesperson jump through hoops.)  The demonstration is about look and feel; ease of use; ease of integration to other systems (Word, Excel, etc.).  Can you see yourself looking at this program every business day for the next five to ten years?

There is no way that you will be able to simulate all the circumstances that you will be facing in your business in the years to come. The data you provide the software vendor with will not be broad enough to cover all contingencies. You will not see the product operating in your environment, fully loaded with your users, hardware and software. The value of a demonstration is to answer these and similar questions: “How easily will our staff be able to accomplish their tasks?” “Does this software seem intuitive and easy to use?”  “Will my training budget for new hires increase because of the complexity of this software?”

Let’s face it; the person doing the demonstration knows the software.  She should make it look easy.  She will show you lots of flash and sizzle, and, if she doesn’t, there is something wrong with her demonstration skills.  She knows where the warts and potholes are (every product has some, no matter what the vendor says).  She will not demonstrate those functions and features.  Every software vendor has classes with names like, “Demo to Win”.  There is an old saying in sales, “Sell them the sizzle.”  Hamburger sizzles and smells just as good as steak when it is on the grill.  The test is when you eat it.

There is no way to demonstrate every nuance of how the business software will handle all your issues.  Actually, the only way to get 100% assurance of the answer is to implement the software and wait six to twelve months for the result.  Not a practical method.

The demonstration is a small part of the purchase decision.  Frankly, by the time you sit through three or four demonstrations, it is likely that you will be confusing features and the look and feel of the products.  Just keep it all in perspective.

Keep the demo for the end of the process.  Use it as a proof of concept to demonstrate the methodology to solve specific problems or capture specific opportunities.  The demonstration should help you judge the ease of the solution and evaluate the look and feel.  It won’t answer every question, but it will help you and your staff get a feel for the general ease of the software.

Stay tuned for our next article where we will discuss the benefit of a Value Added Reseller.

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