Software demonstrations are generally a space for the vendor to showcase their product. They will talk about features, show how the product works, give an overview of the look-and-feel, and present a few use cases. This presentation is often worked on for months and it’s safe to assume is templatized and shown to you with a little variation.
But as a buyer, this cookie-cutter presentation is not what you need. As much as important it’s to understand the features of the tool, you need to turn the software demo into a space to ask questions and get clarity on the common challenges that could occur with the tool.
To help you out, we’ll cover the five areas you should focus on, and what you should ask the vendor about them.
At this stage in the software selection process, you’re likely to have clarity on what processes and business goals the software can help with. If you don’t, then take some time to list them out.
Before the demo, review the software needs and get clarity about the features that will be “must-haves” and “good to haves” for the business. For instance, in an eCommerce business, the ability to accept online payments is a “must-have” while social media integration is “good to have.”
Also, prepare a list of processes or scenarios that you’re planning to use the tool for, such as taking orders or managing the inventory. In the software demo, have this list handy to ask questions from.
With the stage left open, vendors usually tend to delve deep into the features they like the most. But these might not be the features most relevant to your business. So, refer back to your list and inquire about the functionalities important to you. Provide a couple of processes or scenarios you need help with and see if the vendor can show you how the tool fits.
|Who are some of your current customers?||To check if businesses like yours are already using the tool.|
|How often is the software updated?||To understand if the tool stays up to date with the changing market requirements.|
|Can current data be imported over in one go?||To know how the tool gels with your existing data and IT infrastructure.|
Product differentiators are features or functionalities of the tool that offer unique value and are not common with other tools on the market.
For instance, for a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, the ability to track customers social media activity within the app could be a differentiating feature. Integrations with ecommerce software to keep tabs on the orders and communicate shipment and delivery to the customer could also be a nice add-on.
However, to talk about product differentiators, it’s important that you first understand the offerings of the top tools on the market. For this, explore the top vendors on the market via listings such as our Category Leaders (here’s the listing for CRM software Category Leaders).
|Can I control what information certain staff members are able to see?||To see if the software fits with your hierarchical needs.|
|What is the track record of your software’s uptime? Is any service-level agreement (SLA)?||To know if you’ll have to worry about the software being down for maintenance or other reasons frequently.|
|What will happen to my data if I ever decide to switch to another software?||To understand if the vendor is focused on your business growth or tying you down with encrypted and nontransferable data.|
Whether it’s cloud-based or on-premise deployment, the actual cost of using a tool can end up much higher than what the tool’s price tag says.
For instance, with warehouse management software, fees for extra users or integrations, charges for customer support, or one-time implementation charges could be some extra costs a vendor could add on. Upgrading the computer systems, investing in a higher bandwidth internet connection, or buying equipment such as barcode scanners are other possible expenses you should plan for.
Use the software demo as an opportunity to talk about these costs. Inquire about the fees for adding more users, present hypothetical scenarios requiring customization, or discuss implementation charges. Talk about the storage costs, infrastructure requirements, support, and any potential need for updates.
|Would I need to upgrade my existing IT infrastructure to use this tool?||To ensure that the tool can work with your current infrastructure and doesn’t incur high upgrade costs.|
|What happens if I need to reduce the number of users on the plan?||Scaling up is easier on almost every tool, but some vendors might not allow equal flexibility while scaling down.|
|Can we integrate XYZ tools free of charge?||To know ahead of time if integrating the tool with others could end up costing money.|
Vendor support and training requirements often fall among the points of discussion that users typically forget. However, they are critical to the adoption and success of any software.
There are several variations when it comes to the support costs—some vendors charge extra for different levels of support (such as email-only vs. phone call), some offer support only to the paid users, while some fast-track tickets for special users.
Also, check the kind of training the vendor offers for the adoption of the tool. It is important because some tools that are not as technical tend to require less training than those that are technical.
|What are some common sticking points for someone using the tool for the first time?||To be prepared with the potential challenges and how to address them ahead of time.|
|What type of training do you offer during implementation?||To ensure that the vendor provides adequate training support to help your team learn how to use the tool.|
|What kind of support do you provide after implementation?||Some vendors offer a single point of contact for support, which makes the process of sorting out complaints much easier.|
Businesses taking software demos tend to be so focused on features and cost that they sometimes overlook data storage and security measures. The lack of proper data security can cost a business heavily in leaked information and reparation fines.
Whether it is a video conferencing software or campaign management software, every software has a protocol to store user data safely. This becomes even more important if the tool is cloud-based since a large part of the security aspect will remain out of your control and in the vendor’s hands.
Use the software demo to get a detailed overview of how the vendor stores the data and keeps it secure. Check if they maintain their own servers (where and how!) or use a cloud service provider. Most importantly, double-check that they meet industry security standards such as ISO/IEC 27040.
|Is the tool compliant with industry-standard data security requirements?||To know if the tool has added layer of security required by certain industries such as healthcare and finance.|
|Is the tool compliant with PCI DSS?||To ensure the tool is safe to accept online payments.|
|Has there ever been a data breach or hack of any kind on your tool? If yes, how did you deal with the situation?||Breaches happen even to the best of tools, so know how the vendor dealt with a bad situation.|
It’s important to realize that software demo is not the stage to have too many options. Before you reach this stage, you should:
Check the tool’s features in detail.
Compare the tool with competitors by using the “compare” feature on third-party websites like ours.
Read reviews to learn about the experiences of existing users.
Check the tool’s tutorials on the vendor website or platforms like YouTube.
By the time you reach the software demo stage, you should ideally narrow the list of options down to 3-5. During each demo, have a notepad handy to register important points and score each software (out of 10 or another scale you prefer) on the parameters discussed above, and compare these scores to make the final choice.
The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.