| By Rick Cook
ERP Software Demos That Deliver
The vendor demonstration is a critical part of selecting an ERP software product. Properly handled it will give you vital information to compare and contrast different ERP software systems and help you make the best selection. If it's not handled right it turns into a cheer leading exercise for the vendor's product, nearly devoid of useful information.
Keep in mind that although many ERP systems claim to do about everything, none of them do everything equally well. That means that choosing the wrong ERP software product can incur a lot of extra labor, expense, frustrations and user adoption challenges as you try to make up the product's shortfalls by customizing and developing work-arounds. It's your job to use the ERP software demo to help find the product that is the best fit for your business—and to identify the gaps before you make a purchase decision. Here's some tips to help the process.
Get To The Right ERP Vendor Short List
Attempting to many ERP software demos will likely confuse and overwhelm the purchase committee. You want to short list ERP products that are designed for your size of company, that offer the features you need and that fall in your price range. Those three considerations alone will eliminate a lot of prospects. But the main prerequisite to get to a final ERP short list is an objectively scored RFP (Request For Proposal) whereby your most pressing business requirements are prioritized, weighted, scored and compared among a longer list of potential solutions. Ideally you want to cut your prospects to the top three ERP vendors for demos.
Clearly Communicate Your Requirements
You need to communicate your needs clearly to the ERP vendors on your short list. Whether you do it formally with an RFP or custom demonstration script, or informally by memo, you should inform the vendors exactly what you're looking for in the software demo. This includes your ERP goals, how you expect ERP software to meet those goals and any particular feature sets or functionality requirements you want to see demonstrated.
Don't leave this to conversations with the sales rep. It's too important. Put it down in writing. It will take several pages to supply all the needed information. You want the ERP vendor to be as fully informed as possible on demo day. That way you can get a presentation aligned to your goals and capable of objective scoring.
Schedule Site Visits
Your prospective vendors should have the opportunity to visit you at your business (on their nickel) to see your operation and to consult face to face on your needs and expectations. Usually these visits start with a tour of the facilities and then proceed to meetings with your selection team, including the project's champion or top management. Here again, the purpose is to communicate to the vendors what you are looking for and what you expect from them.
Identify Gaps in Advance
Your selection team should spend some time before demonstration with the vendor to work out what to ask and what you're looking for. Pay special attention to potential gaps between what the ERP packages say they do and what you need to do. This sort of "gap analysis" is important in letting the vendor address those voids during the software demonstration.
Schedule in Advance
You've just dumped a lot of information on your prospective vendors and they'll need time to absorb it and prepare before they do their demonstrations. Giving them the time they need helps you to get the kind of demonstration you need. You also need time to get ready. Time to prepare your questions, work up data sets (if needed), create scoring models, etc. You'll also need time for your people to clear their schedules for one or two days for each demonstration; often times on full day for the demo and a follow-on day for debriefing and consensus.
Allow Enough Time
A good ERP software demonstration, one that will cover all the bases, takes time. Be sure to allow enough time in your schedule to analyze all the relevant features of the product. Also allow enough time for questions and drill-down demos on specific features. You should be the one to set the schedule here, not the vendor. The vendor will have a canned demonstration to run through in a given period of time. That may be an allowable starting point, but it won't address all the areas most important to your business. Give the vendors time to do their demonstration, and then begin the custom demo scripts. Don't limit yourself. Plan for this in advance and allow enough extra time for thorough reviews and follow-on questions.
You're likely to arrive to the demo with many questions on your list, and more are sure to arise during the demo. Some questions can be answered with verbal responses while others should go back and be reviewed in the software. Don't be afraid to ask for demonstrations on very specific points. And take notes, lots and lots of notes.
Let The Vendor Lead, But Keep Control
Most veteran ERP software buyers let the vendor lead the demonstration, but retain control of the agenda, timeframe and specific points to be demonstrated. Listen to the vendor's presentation carefully and take notes on any questions that arise. Some questions are best asked during the presentation while others can be grouped and saved for later.
A guided tour of the ERP system that demonstrates business processes, feature sets, software automation and reporting which all directly correlate to your most pressing business objectives is the only way to assure that these objectives can be achieved. Forget the simple stuff and concentrate on the areas that are most important to your goals. Certain capabilities are best understood by having a team member try it out himself. There can be a world of difference between watching a trained expert flow through multiple screens and forms, and actually doing it yourself.
ERP software demos can be done either with the vendor's data or your own data set. While your own data is inherently preferable – as it will better exercise the functions you're interested in as well as make the results more understandable – it may be more practical to begin with vendor supplied demo data.
After the ERP software vendor has left you need to have a meeting for all those who attended the demo. Don't put off the meeting until another day and memories quickly fade. Try to develop a consensus on each vendor among the team members. Look at what the product did well, what it can't do and what gaps in your needs will have to be plugged by workarounds or custom programming.
Solidify your conclusions and remaining concerns in a paper that reflects everyone's impressions as well as the group consensus. Strive for as clear a picture as possible, since this will be an important reference in the final software selection decision.
It's a lot of work, but there's a lot at stake. Choosing the right ERP software system is a precursor to a successful ERP implementation. The demonstration shouldn't be the only thing you consider in choosing a product, but it will likely play a very influential role.