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5 Steps to Successfully Conducting and Rating Software Demos

Written By: Sherry Fox
Published On: March 3 2009

So, you’re the guy/gal who’s been put to the task of choosing your companies next enterprise software solution? Well, if you’re reading this, you’re most probably well on your way to choosing that software by now. You’ve made your proposal to your stakeholders; you’ve gathered your requirements and prioritized them; you’ve gotten a handful of software vendors to complete your RFI. So now what? Well, there’s still one very important step that needs to be taken: seeing the shortlisted products in action!

There are five important steps to successfully conducting and rating on-site software demos.

1.    It’s All in the Script: Developing a Demo Script
2.    Requesting a Product Demonstration
3.    Inviting Vendors On-site to Show Them Your Environment
4.    The Demo: Lights, Camera, Action!
5.    Rating the Demonstration, the Vendor, and the Product

General Information about On-site Demos
The on-site software demo is the ultimate opportunity for vendors to demonstrate the capabilities of their product(s) to potential clients—and let’s face it; one of the last things they’ll do to either make or break the deal (apart from the pricing proposal). A demo gives perspective software buyers—like you—a chance to see if your impression of what the vendor says it provides will hold true to its claims—and if the reality of those claims will be satisfactory for the needs you’ve outlined.

Vendors will demonstrate real-life scripted scenarios as described in your demonstration script and are usually presented over a span of several days (usually half a day to one full day per vendor).

#1 It’s All in the Script: Developing a Demo Script
Every great performance starts with a great script. A scripted demonstration is an essential part of your selection process, and providing vendors with your own unique demonstration script will help ensure that the vendor addresses every factor that is important to you, including

  • the importance of a specific feature—relative to your business needs

  • some of the risks involved in implementing their system

  • the adaptability of their software to your changing business needs


The demo script should cover the following areas:

  • company introduction

  • system overview

  • menus

  • features

  • system navigation

  • customization capabilities

  • report writer

  • security features

  • support

  • and more…


If you request a demonstration but do not provide a script to follow, there’s no guarantee that the vendors will show you parallel functionality to compare. They may show you what they think are the most impressive features—which don’t necessarily cover the requirements that are most important to you. Ultimately, the demo script should be designed in such a way that enables vendors to show you how the software will increase your organization’s performance—in some visual and measurable way.

The script should be presented to only the top two or three vendors on your shortlist. Too many product demonstrations can lead to confusion—and leave your software selection team wondering which vendor had which features.

In order to give each vendor equal opportunity at the demonstration stage, it’s important to provide every vendor with the same detailed demonstration script. The script should be given to them at least 2 weeks prior to their scheduled demonstration date. This will allow them more than enough time to prepare.

Professionally written demonstration scripts can also be purchased online. They cover a variety of software systems and often focus on industry specific solutions. They provide an apples-to-apples comparison of criteria, which ensures consistency. A scoring system is already defined for you, which can save you time during the rating process.

#2 Requesting a Product Demonstration
To ensure the product demo goes as smoothly as possible, you’ll want to be sure that the shortlist of vendors are informed well in advance. The way to do is by

  • sending them a letter requesting a product demonstration

  • re-stating the scope of the software selection project and your business’ needs

  • proposing a time frame for any requests for clarification of the script

  • proposing a time frame for confirmations of demo with all pertinent details


Each vendor will be given the opportunity to clarify any terms that might seem ambiguous, or examples of business rules with your selection team prior to the demonstration.

Your selection team should not ask the vendor to customize the software any more than is necessary to demonstrate the real-life situations described in your scripted scenarios. However, to limit follow-up questions and subsequent demonstrations, each vendor should be encouraged to demonstrate all the items that you have listed.

#3 Inviting Vendors On-site to Show Them Your Environment
While it’s important for your company to see what a vendor’s product can do, it’s equally important for the vendor to know what type of environment it will be working with—if its software is chosen. Inviting vendors on-site to see your environment will give them a better understanding of what to prepare for the demo, as well as enable them to provide you with a more accurate proposal at the end.

This will also be the opportunity for the vendor to ask you specific questions about your current system, as well as the functional areas of the company. Having key staff present during these visits is recommended (thus, you may want to include staff from your IT department). Your public relations (PR) staff may also want to arrange a tour of the facilities so that the vendor can meet with the key users who will actually be using the system.

You have provided them with your demonstration script, and you’ve allowed them to see your environment. Now it’s up to them to wow you!

#4 The Demo: Lights, Camera, Action!
It’s show time! The time for the vendors to make their product(s) shine. Vendors often have very different ways of conducting their product demos. Some design theirs using PowerPoint slides with lots of bullet points and fancy fly-ins. They’ll often start by going over their company’s details, strategies, and future goals. Then, they’ll move on to discussing specific problems companies—like yours—may be having, and finally they’ll show you how their software can solve them all. Right!

This, my friend, is not a product demo. It’s a marketing piece—and it’s not showing you much of anything!

You shouldn’t have to endure a software demo. It should be conducted by the vendor in a way that makes it exciting for the audience. Using real data (preferably yours)—along with your demo script, the vendor must walk you through the demo like a finely crafted play. They’ll show you some fluff (they always do!), as well as a few of the cool and unique features. However, it’s important that they stick to your script. You’re the director, and they’re the actors—with a fine support cast (and a big bag of props!).

Crashes during the demo should be unacceptable. Think about it; if the software doesn't work well in a demo environment, how’s it going to work in your real life environment? There may be a good reason why something went wrong during a demo; so don’t be afraid to ask.

You’ve put a lot of time and money into your software selection project already, so make sure that your selection team sees everything they need to during the on-site demo, in order to help you make an informed decision.

# 5 Rating the Demonstration, the Vendor, and the Product
Each person from your software selection team attending the on-site demo should participate in scoring the vendor’s scripted performance—for each factor demonstrated.

Breaking down the vendor’s demonstration into different sections (each of which represents a percentage of the overall evaluation score) will facilitate the scoring process.

  • functionality or performance

  • ease of use

  • process and flow

  • flexibility

  • adherence to your script


The bidders are evaluated based on product functionality, ease of use, and process fit.

Product Functionality
The product functionality section is a list of features and functions for which the selection team would like a detailed product demonstration. Over and above these features and functions, vendors should provide a detailed description of the hardware, software, and networking configuration used during the demonstration.

Vendors should also provide a statement regarding the amount of effort and skills required to set up the demo as presented. Each member of the selection team should score the vendors’ script execution performance for each factor demonstrated. This can be done using a rating scale.

Sample rating scale


sfox_table_2.png

Ease of Use
For each process demonstrated, the selection team must rate the user friendliness of the software product.

Process Fit
Members of the selection team will rate the way they see the process demonstrated according to how it fits their business processes and whether that can be considered an improvement or not.

After all the demonstrations are completed, the scores from all members of the selection team will be consolidated as a single score for the performance of each vendor.

Conclusion
So, was it all that it was cracked up to be? Did the vendor’s performance and its product blow you away; or did they fail miserably? The fate of this sales opportunity now lies in the hands of you and your software selection team. Given all the information you have received from the vendor until now, including their RFI responses and the demo, are you confident that you can make a better informed decision about the software you want and need?
 
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