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ERP Software Demos: What You Need to Know

Published on by Adam Bluemner

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Business man protesting for better software demos

Product demos are an amazing tool for software buyers. But it’s important to keep one thing in mind: What you’ll see in your software demo will at least partly be defined by what you’re looking for. Are you looking for the right things? Asking the right questions? With a bit of preparation, you can be.

ERP demos: the benefits and limitations

Software demos are the test-drives of the software world. Their value lies in the fact that they help you get an immediate impression of the look and feel of your various options. They also represent an important chance to verify that the reality of features lives up to the claims made by software vendors.

But there are limitations to software demos:

  • Often ERP software demo presentations don’t support important customizations.
  • Demos typically utilize test data, which may have significant differences from your own data.
  • Out of the box demos likely won’t be configured for the settings that you would establish.
  • User privilege definitions and security settings may not be set up in demo versions, changing how the program behaves.
  • It’s generally very difficult to set-up demo software in a way that actually integrates with current, existing systems.

Because of these limitations and others, very often you may encounter vendors who are reluctant or unwilling to provide you with immediate (particularly self-guided ) demos. While we live in an immediate gratification world, it’s critical to first go through some real vetting and communication of your business needs before looking to have a vendor reflect their system’s capabilities in a demo. In reality, this is a good thing. An ERP decision will have major implications for your company’s processes. It will ultimately play a significant role in your company’s financial success. If it takes vendor reluctance to keep you from skipping critical evaluation steps, while frustrating, in the long run, that’s likely not a bad thing.

Understanding the various demo formats

The word demo can be a bit misleading in that it sounds like it refers to one specific thing. There are actually a number of different types of demos:

  • Video Presentations. The simplest “demo” format is a video presentation. It could be argued that this isn’t really a demo at all, since it lacks the element of interactivity, but it does serve to demonstrate key capabilities. Very often vendors will have video presentations, often broken into short clips of specific functionalities, which they can share with you.
  • Trial software. Self-guided, independent trials which can be downloaded or booted from a disc are fairly rare in the ERP market. Often, they are limited to less customizable, more entry-level type programs. Frequently, independent demos for more capable systems will restrict full functionality or will rely on pre-loaded dummy data. Because of the time and knowledge demands associated with configuring systems to use real customer data, full-access trial software is generally reserved to very large software implementations or support of specific, limited workflows.
  • Vendor guided demos. The most common type of demo is the vendor guided demonstration. These types of demos can be conducted online or in-person. Once a vendor has had a chance to understand your critical requirements and unique workflows, they’re able to provide you with a walk-through demonstration of how their software will meet your needs.
Video Trial Vendor Guided
Level of interactivity None High Limited
Adaptability of focus to user interest Low High Medium
Breadth Low High Medium
Use of real data None Frequent Rare
Time investment required Low High Low to medium
Availability to prospective buyers High Low Medium

Demo evaluation tips

There are a number of things that you can do to make sure you are getting the most out of your demo experience:

  1. Prepare the demonstrator. Today’s ERP programs are multi-module systems. Different module packs may be appropriate for different industries and use cases. Taking the time to share your specific requirements with vendors will help make sure they are demonstrating the system capabilities that are relevant to your needs.
  2. Normalize the competition. When evaluating software, you’re likely to see demos of multiple products. Making sure that you are comparing how each program handles the same specific functional use cases will help you make sure you don’t walk away from the demo comparing apples and oranges.
  3. Take notes! Software demonstrations can be vivid and immersive. It’s easy to forget to take notes. What appears unique and memorable at the moment can start to blur into other demonstrations as you move through multiple demos.
  4. Count the steps. The core benefit of software is automation and efficiency. Quantify that automation by tracking the number of steps and the time required to complete core repetitive tasks.
  5. Incorporate real users. Don’t overlook the tremendous evaluation resource you have in your own human resources. ERP decision makers are unlikely to be the primary users for all of the functionality the ERP system will deliver. Make sure you have a user from each of your core user groups when viewing the demo.
  6. Evaluate the demonstrator. It’s okay to evaluate the individual providing the demo. Their preparedness and knowledge should be considered. After all, they are the representative of a particularly important potential business partner, whose competence will play a big factor in the success of your software project.
Adam Bluemner

is a Managing Editor at Find Accounting Software. He's been helping software buyers make informed investments in business software for over a decade.

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