You’ve made it to the make-it-or-break-it step of your software selection process: You have one or two favorite software options you’re evaluating and it’s time to see them in action.
But it’s also the make-it-or-break-it step for the vendor—which for them means closing the sale at any cost.
To determine whether you’ve found the right software for your needs, you need to cut through their sales pitch and get accurate details on functionality, features, true cost when customizations have been added, and technical compatibility.
The tips shared here are intended for the personalized, real-time software demonstration the vendor is going to show you, not the very initial discussions or software demo video walkthroughs they posted online. Weaved throughout this article, you’ll find universal recommendations pulled from a Gartner research paper, “How to Choose Your Best-Fit Vendor for RPA Software Platforms” (full content available to Gartner clients only).
We’ll cover software demo best practices and what you can do before, during, and after the product demo to get the info you need to make the best decision.
Before the software sales demo: Set yourself up for success
Ask the vendor for two different product demos
Here are the two different demos you want to seek out:
- One live demo that focuses purely on how the software will support your business process. For example, you want to see the workflows, intake forms, and iPad and mobile views.
Include your key business owners who who will be managing the teams performing these daily functions and the department head.
- The second product demo should be a technical deep dive for your technical team. Make sure to have IT reps from your company and from the vendor attend this one so they can discuss technical compatibility. For example, ask about the expected downtime for upgrades and where data will be stored.
Give the vendor at least two use cases the software should support
You should present at least one use case for the daily user with the workflow they’ll need, and another for an executive who would need approval thresholds and a high-level dashboard.
Example for accounting software: “As an accounts payable manager, I need to review and approve purchase orders in bulk and be able to reassign a batch to a processor to correct errors.”
If the software will be customer facing, ask to see a walkthrough from the perspective of a prospective customer.
Expect some of the steps you ask to see to be customized requests
Features outside of the platform’s basic functionality that require customization probably won’t be able to be shown during the demo in the standard version. Just make a note of these as they’ll need to be included in the scope for customizations during implementation.
Ask the vendor to include time to go over the software’s greatest strengths
This will give the sales team a chance to let the product shine. You could learn about functionality you didn’t know was available before but want to use.
During the demo: Questions you need to ask
Most software vendor demos are somewhat scripted on the vendor’s part, which is why it’s important to come prepared with questions that will knock them out of autopilot and force them to engage with you more honestly. Here are my recommendations to help you get started.
Of the features I’ve asked for so far, what is custom code?
While some custom code may be unavoidable, it’s costly and complicated to maintain during upgrades. In general, it’s best to avoid whenever possible.
Can I see these steps on the mobile app?
If there’s a mobile app, you’ll want to see what intake forms and dashboards look like. Sometimes they’re not as optimized for smaller screens as you’d assume.
Are the integrations I’m asking for “plug and play” or do they need to be built?
Your technical resource should have already asked this question, but don’t skip over it in case they haven’t.
Is there an alternative way to perform this function?
It’s possible that the way in which you’ve stated you want something to work—say how to do the handoff to the accounting team in an ERP—is custom code. But since this isn’t a unique business process, ask the vendor how they recommend doing the handoff. You may change your mind on the original steps and decide to go with how the vendor says the software is designed to perform it.
After the product demo: Get everything in writing
Hopefully, the product demos have helped you make your final decision—but don’t tell the vendors your pick just yet. Unless one completely bombed in their demo, ask both to supply documentation of what the implementation will look like.
This is often called a request for proposal (RFP). It is usually a formal document but not always. At the very least make sure it includes the following information:
What to look out for in the documentation
Does the RFP include the total cost, broken down by licensing, implementation, ongoing support, and custom code costs?
- One sum amount isn’t good enough. You need a line-item breakdown in order to negotiate and verify any previously stated prices.
Are the roles and responsibilities clearly laid out?
- It’s likely some of the work will be performed by your team and the responsibilities need to be spelled out. This can help you avoid getting overcharged or neglecting critical tasks.
What is your gut telling you?
- You know if there are red flags or things being glossed over. Don’t be afraid to tell the vendor what your hesitations are. They should be willing to revise the RFP (or other contract name being used in your case).
This is the beginning of a partnership and their response will inform how they’ll handle your requests in the future.
Recap and recommended reading
We covered a ton of information on how to cut through the sales pitch before, during, and after a software demo. But we have lots more advice to offer! Here are software-type specific articles covering the selection process in-depth: