Getting The Most Out of Your CRM Software Demos


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Ask a few executives after watching CRM software demonstrations which is their favorite solution? Many will advise “the last one”, as almost all the applications impress when left to demonstrating what they do well, and the last one is top of mind.

The challenge of course is understanding what the CRM systems don’t do so well, what’s being omitted from the demo and how that may impact achieving your business goals. Failing to meet this challenge certainly contibutes to the oft quoted CRM failure rates.

CRM software demo scripts can mitigate unforeseen problems, including a poor user experience, an absence of process automation, missing CRM software functionality, inability to get information out of the system or just a lack of needed reporting. Clearly these undetected gaps will impact user adoption, business process automation, information insights and getting an ROI on your CRM software investment.

Here’s the top 10 things you can do to identify CRM software shortcomings before making a purchase, and incurring the not so pleasant surprises once you’re already in implementation.

  1. Start with a Demo Script
    Begin with a Demonstration Script designed to deliver a guided tour that emphasizes the CRM feature sets most aligned with your top business objectives. CRM software demonstrations are tools used to clearly see and understand how the application software solves or responds to the company’s specific opportunities and challenges. To achieve this, CRM buyers should bypass the traditional dog and pony show demonstrations, and instead insist upon a custom demo that speaks directly to the company’s issues and requirements.

    Forget the generic demos and insist upon using scripted demos which apply directly to your most prioritized objectives. I’ve been giving, receiving, evaluating and scoring CRM software demos for 24 years and have yet to have a CRM vendor suggest a custom demo pursuant to the customers top business objectives. The onus is clearly on the customer to provide those objectives and application requirements to the vendor and assure that the demo clearly illustrates how the application will aid and enable those business objectives to be realized.

  2. Separate MUST HAVES from NICE TO HAVES
    Creating an exhaustive list of software requirements is not realistic as not all requirements are equally important. CRM buyers need to separate their ‘wants’ from their ‘needs’. Too many companies fail to make this distinction, and end up with CRM software systems that offer many capabilities, however, may be unable to accommodate the most strategic objectives. Consider weighting your requirements on a scale from 1 to 5, and then making sure you clearly see how the application software will achieve all of the highest weighted objectives.

  3. Focus on What’s Really Needed
    From many years in the industry, I have found that customers normally take advantage of about one-third of the CRM applications utilization. For various reasons, why more CRM functionality is available, many customers just don’t get around to using it. Therefore, trying to compare vendors based upon which application offers more functionality is just not relevant, as the bulk of that functionality won’t be used. Instead, it’s critical to know what you need and focus on just the (one-third or so of the) software features that will actually be used.

  4. Don’t Focus on the Easy Stuff
    The CRM systems all track accounts, contacts, activities and opportunities. They can all assign a weight and date to a sale opportunity. But can they track changes to the opportunity record so management can detect slippage? Probably not. Can they create an opportunity which may deliver revenues in more than one period? Probably not. Can the opportunity reference the competitors in the deal and share strengths and weaknesses relative to those competitors? Probably not. Does any of this matter? Maybe.

    It’s up to you to identify those requirements that are useful or important to your business but may be missing or clunky in the CRM applications. Skip the easy stuff and focus your time on those functions that are likely to really separate the CRM applications.

  5. Have the Right People in the Demo
    Demo scripts also permit advanced scheduling so the right people can attend the right portions of the demo. You probably don’t need to have the sales force view the contact center portion of the demo. However, while the demo audience should not be so large as to need a conference hall, there is merit in having the various key stakeholders present. For example, in addition to the sales, marketing and service managers and subject matter experts, the executive sponsor should be in attendance, IT management should be on hand to field any technical considerations and procurement staff should be invited for governance issues. Depending on the scale of the decision, its impact on the business, and the budgetary implication of the software deployment, significant C-level presence may also be required.

  6. Stay on Course
    Some CRM vendors emphasize the hype and are only too proud to boast their latest marketing award or advertising run. Some may even emphasize the hype of their newest software offering in a guided effort to change your buying criteria to align with their latest product features. This dynamic adds even more confusion and complexity to the already arduous task of selecting the optimal CRM software. Even worse, force fitting new, never before considered software features into an implementation effort may unnecessarily add cost and risk. Instead, stay the course and don’t get enamored with gadgets, bells, whistles and features you didn’t know existed. These new items may add value in the long run, but are unlikely to trump what you need to get done first. Focus your software selection on the most salient and concrete criterion collected during an internal information gathering phase and which most directly correlate to your organizations most strategic business objectives.

  7. Even In The Cloud, Technology Matters
    Don’t forget technical considerations that may impact cost, risk, success and ROI. CRM systems don’t live in a vacuum. To achieve business process automation that extends outside of customer facing processes, and to achieve a 360 degree customer view which includes data in back office accounting and ERP systems, CRM software must integrate and share data with other legacy applications. It’s important to make sure that all business applications which contribute to common processes can be easily integrated, that data is not siloed or isolated, and that data is automatically updated simultaneously across applications.

    If you have system integration needs or may incur software customization to accommodate software gaps, it’s important to understand the tools and methods available. Does the vendor offer a Platform as a Service (PaaS), visual design or other tool for these technical tasks? Based on the tools and methods, who can do the work, how long will it take and how much is it going to cost? Is system integration a set-it and forget-it task, or will it need to be modified with every CRM software seasonal release? These are the types of questions that can dramatically influence total cost of ownership (TCO) and ROI.

  8. Score the Demos
    Only when each CRM software vendor responds to common requirements can an apples to apples comparison be made. Therefore, it’s critical for every CRM vendor to adhere to the same custom demo script so that the vendor solutions can be objectively compared and scored. When vendors respond to your requirements, and you score their responses, a simple decision will follow. One last caution note here. What worked for your last company may or may not work for your next. To this end, it’s also important that demo attendees with prior software experience exercise caution not to introduce bias based on what they previously learned or what best fit a prior company.

  9. Score More Than Just Software
    CRM demo scripts aren’t just about software. Further considering and objectively measuring the vendor’s reputation and stability, any proposed implementation consultants or similar services, and of course customer references all factor into the final score.

  10. Consider Outside Help
    Don’t be afraid to ask for help when reviewing CRM software applications. Even minimal advice from experts can add value, reduce risk, answer lingering questions and keep you pointed in the right direction. CRM software selections are very infrequent events, generally not occurring more than every five to seven years for most companies. With such long intervals, and a rapidly changing CRM software and technology industry, companies seldom possess the in-house skills to perform such a meaningful project in a reasonable time frame and acceptable level of risk. Engaging (independent and objective) CRM software selection consultants, even on a part-time basis, can bring structure, reduce the learning curve, lower the time requirement, reduce risk of choosing the wrong product and segway the effort directly into a thoughtful implementation effort.

Once the demo is complete and the vendor has parted, the attendees and project team should immediately hold a consensus meeting. Don’t put off the meeting until another day and memories fade quickly. Your goal is to develop a consensus on each vendor among the team members, considering what each product did well, couldn’t do and what gaps will have to be plugged by workarounds or custom programming. Solidify your conclusions and any concerns in a document that reflects the group’s impressions. Strive for as clear a picture as possible, since this will be an important reference in the final decision.

Key to a successful software demo is maintaining a balance between customer control (i.e. ensuring the vendor addresses the customer’s priorities) and vendor freedom (i.e. allowing them to show their product in its best light). Demo script requirements must be addressed, but they shouldn’t prohibit a vendor’s creativity and ability to showcase their solution.

Demonstration scripts deliver thee big benefits. First, they facilitate a common approach and objective scoring model which delivers a clear decision. Second, they empower customers to identify (before making a purchase) those business objectives and software requirements which the CRM application will satisfy and not satisfy. Finally, they save time by allowing people to attend just the parts of the demo that are relevant to their needs and accelerate the final decision making process without all the anguish. In many ways, the software demonstration is the crux point of the CRM selection process. It is the best opportunity to see hard evidence of whether the solution can meet your needs, or not, as the case may be.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Chuck Schaeffer
Chuck is the North America Go-to-Market Leader for IBM's CRM and ERP consulting practice. He is also enjoys contributing to his blog at


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