Here at Idealware we watch a lot of software demos.  And with experience comes wisdom, or at least a thorough understanding of the demo formula.

First, cue the power point about the vendor’s commitment to the nonprofit field and an overview of their perspective.  Only after that (often way too long) slide show do we get to jump into the demonstration.  Remember, standard demos most often highlight the tools strengths while trying to breeze through weaknesses.

This formula makes sense, I mean the vendor is making a SALES pitch.   The problem is you don’t want a sales pitch, you want the nitty gritty details of what the tool does well and where is it lacking.

So how in the world can you cut through the marketing lingo and get to what you really want to know?  Here are some tips from a team who does this all the time:

  1. Skip the PowerPoint.  The PowerPoint is most often a marketing pitch about the vendor, why they are the best and why their tool is the only one for you.  This is all great information, but let me tell you, they are all pretty similar.  What you really need to spend your time on is seeing the tool in action- don’t spend more than 10% of your time watching a slide show.
  2. Come with a list of questions that you ask to each vendor, including a list of features that you want to look at.  This will give you the ability to compare apples to apples and ensure that you see everything that you need to see, not just what the vendor wants you to see.
  3. Ask your questions one at a time.  If you ask two or three important questions at one time a good demo-er will cherry pick the question that shines the best light on the system and may not ever get to the others.  Asking one question at a time will ensure that you get all the answers you need.
  4. Ask the demo-er to run through a series of real life processes to see how things will actually work.  For example, if looking at donor management systems, ask the vendor to show you the process for entering a gift, creating a new donor, creating a mailing list and generating a report (or other processes that are important for your org).
  5. Don’t get distracted by the bells and whistles.  Remember that no matter the number of fancy or fun features, the system still needs to do what you need it to do!
  6. Stick to your budget.  Make sure to get quotes on exactly how much it will cost you to get the system up and running.  Know the start up costs and how much the ongoing costs will be.  And don’t forget support and upgrade costs!  Often the sticker price is just a starting point.

An informed consumer is the best consumer!  Do your research and due diligence.  Ask the vendor to give you a list of other organizations who are using the tool so you can do some reference checks (a good tip here is to ask for a list of a specific type of organization similar to your own so you can avoid getting the vendor’s go to reference and instead actually access general users).  And make sure to know more than the name of the system going into the demo (shameless pitch alert) by reading about how the tools you are looking at compare in one of Idealware’s articles or reports.

Okay, now go and have fun!  Grab your coffee, something to take notes with and demo away!

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