Chapter 5 — What to Ask in a Demo:
You may love demos or endure them, but they’re the most critical interaction you’ll have with a vendor. And there’s a lot going on. You get to see the software in action, and you should expect a clear and efficient download of info. You should also expect to see a salesperson that’s really trying to understand your specific needs, and can tailor what they show you to address those needs. Bad salespeople won’t look to establish a fit: they’ll just tell you everything is brilliant and play down the negatives. So going into the demo with some heavy artillery is well worth the effort.
It’s also worth remembering that it shouldn’t just be about a shopping list of functionality versus price. We’ve talked before about a vendor’s roadmap for their tech, and adding good functionality over time isn’t particularly difficult. What is difficult is building a simple, thought-through and coherent user experience that really drives engagement.
Questions to Ask
This list isn’t designed to look at specific functionality. Everyone will have their own unique mixture of needs and nice-to-haves (and we still maintain that it’s more sensible to choose the direction you want to go in than it is to write yourself a big long list of stuff you want). The idea here is to explore the higher-level, critical aspects that you should be aware of before diving into functionality.
- When and why was your software built and which specific problem does it solve?
- Is our organisation your usual target customer or do you usually serve larger or smaller organisations? What percentage of your existing customers are roughly the size of our company and can you give some examples?
- What is the ballpark cost? Ask this via email ahead of time, if they don’t already publish it clearly on their website (which they really should).
- Where is your company based and how many employees do you have?
- How does the system integrate with our HRIS system?
- What is configurable by us and which elements do we need you to configure?
- Show me how easy it is for a manager and/or employee to access and use the system: for example, how many clicks does it take to set up a check-in? Provide feedback?
Assessing the Demo/Vendor
I’ve seen suggestions of detailed scoring mechanisms when comparing demos. Unless you’re sourcing a highly complex and configurable system for tens of thousands of users, this is probably overkill. It’s usually a lot easier to differentiate between systems and it will come down to a few basic questions.
- Does the software meet the core needs you had before the demo?
- What is your first impression in terms of simplicity for the user? Imagine their first, all-important experience. Would they be able to use the system?
- Do you feel confident that you could ‘drive’ the system when shown the back-end? Are you comfortable configuring it or running reports?
- Was the sales person knowledgeable? Could they put your question into a wider context and provide rounded thoughtful answers? Did you feel that “cultural fit” we’ve talked about?