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  • Writer's pictureJeff Stevens

ERP Vendor Software Demonstrations – The Devil is in the Details

It’s not an easy job for organizations to evaluate new ERP software options to replace their existing business system(s). While it’s natural to want to see and feel what a vendor’s application looks like, the process can be convoluted and sometimes confusing. The business’s goal is well-intentioned … to see how the new software fits their business and technical needs. Thus, vendor demonstrations serve a specific and important purpose but can be fraught with ambiguity or disorganization.

Demos can range from high level overviews (sometimes delivered remotely) for a few hours to several day onsite events designed to follow a script. A well thought out script is a best practice which the organization should design (or get help from an independent ERP pro). It provides a consistent track when comparing software from multiple vendors. It also seeks to demonstrate specific functionality and predetermined capabilities. Whether the demonstration is high level, more detailed or something in between, to successfully achieve the desired outcome you’ll have multiple efforts to coordinate.

Software demos are an investment of time and money on both sides. Preparation for the vendor and the organization are worthy of some prework, focus and timely analysis.

Based on our experience we’ve homed in on three points to help ensure a useful and worthwhile demo:

1. Plan & Prepare – Focus your organization on what needs to happen before demos take place. What’s the time commitment, who needs to be involved and why? Participating employees need to understand their preparedness is crucial. They will perform better if they understand what specific responsibilities and expectations will be assigned to them.

Another key part of preparation is educating participants on the overall demo evaluation process (especially if they have not been actively involved before). Paint a picture of how the demos will work and maybe most importantly, the approach to evaluation and what is being asked of them. Clarify expectations like … is this the first series of demonstrations or the last? Help employees understand the landscape … will we get another crack at this or not? Educate them on the approach the organization will use during the demos to capture evaluation content in an unbiased manner.

Our research has found if someone is being asked to evaluate a business need they did not personally define, they may not have full appreciation of the real need or details. This means some prework is called for. Start with your list of critical business requirements and process scenarios. Once your requirements are defined, ensure the team understands the requirements in detail. Assign individuals ownership of specific requirements based on their backgrounds. Reinforce the importance of “owning” this responsibility as you move into the demo phase.

There should also be agreement and coaching on how to score demos and how those scores will be weighted and recorded.

2. Own the Demonstration – During the demonstration ensure you have someone (often an outside consulting partner) assigned to manage the overall event. This includes ensuring the vendor stays on task/script. Be sure someone is designated to document follow-up and parking lot items in detail. It’s frustrating to later review parking lot items and not fully remember what the issue or questions was.

Focus on quality vs. quantity of demo scenarios to help ensure you’re evaluating the most important functions of the new software. Ask to demo functionality of key requirements vs. testing for less important tasks. This will make the process more straightforward for all involved. Software vendors love to show you bells and whistles which may not be relevant to what you’re looking for. Prepare your team for this including how to maintain a consistent demeanor throughout the process. While a demo can be interactive, it’s best for your team not to show emotion during the demo (positive or negative). Doing so will work against you in the price negotiation stage.

By demo time there should be common alignment and understanding of “what each team member is looking for.” In this phase individuals should already understand their accountability for ensuring the software satisfies the requirements and functionality. As a point of validation, participating employees should be able to articulate the meaning or definition of each requirement. This will come into play as questions for the vendor arise or if the demo is not making sense. At the same time your participants should be consistently and confidentially tracking their feedback/evaluation content while staying focused on the demonstration.

A common flaw we see with demo cycles is the desire to compress timelines, resulting in not enough time between demos. Consider a couple of key factors when building a schedule. Many participants will likely attend a majority or all the demos resulting in eight or more-hour days, and fatigue will quickly set in. Effectiveness will also decrease if you do not space sessions out. Plan to have one or more days between demo sessions. Most companies do not replace ERP systems frequently so allow a generous amount of time to get it right. This investment of time will help maximize your results.

3. Timely Debrief & Analysis – You now have lots of data so what do you do with it? Next is to debrief and collect participant evaluation data while it’s fresh. Down days between demos to debrief as a group is a perfect time to do this. You may also be gathering additional information relevant to the evaluation, typically quantitative data from the demonstration.

While we’ve mentioned how to space demos to minimize fatigue, expect to have some distracted or burnt out individuals in your debriefing sessions. ERP projects are draining, and minds can wander. Thus, plan to have someone organize and facilitate each session preferably beginning with an activity to invigorate the group (this is a best practice). An independent ERP consultant can be a helpful and impartial listener/facilitator for debriefing sessions. They will keep the group focused and typically have working knowledge of the software as well as industry information. An example of industry information is alerting you a vendor’s product may be nearing the end of its life cycle and a new version is imminent. A post-demo debriefing is vitally important, so secure a strong resource to keep the group actively engaged … someone who can effectively facilitate and close the information loop. A consultant will allow opinions and feelings to be expressed but will keep the group focused on facts vs. ambiguities.

Decide who will own, organize and maintain the data that’s been debriefed. It should be documented and kept in a central repository team members can access, update or add to. This is also a good time review how scoring should be working (issues, questions and common understanding). This includes managing and acting on your parking lot items. If they’re deemed important, assign responsibility to a team member to get answers. This might include getting additional information from the vendor.

Be sure to discuss how the previous demo event executed, looking for opportunities to improve the next one (if need be). This allows you to provide additional direction to vendors who have not yet presented to accelerate effectiveness.

To schedule a live conversation about the nuances of software demos and what might work best for your company, reach out to us via our website

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