Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - What to Ask in a Demo

Buyer's Guide to Performance Management Software
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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?