Getting the Most from a Software Demonstration

By Bill Kennedy - You can buy Microsoft Office from any authorized dealer. When you're considering accounting software however, half of your time should be spent evaluating the consulting firm. There is a lot of skill involved in fitting accounting software to a company in terms of determining requirements, examining business processes, converting data, training staff and staying within the budget. Obviously, you want the best consultant you can find.

In the past couple of weeks I have attended two demonstrations of Microsoft's new reporting package, Performance Point. I will have more to say about the actual software in a future post. Right now, let's concentrate on the demos.

Both firms are experienced at what they do. They both say they have a large number of happy clients. They both are represented by a seasoned sales representative who knows how to run a demonstration confidently, with no errors or software issues. The problem is that the demos were virtually identical. How is a customer to decide between two firms when their presentations are so similar? I have two pieces of advice for companies who demonstrate software: customize the default demo and don't tell me, show me.

Customize The Demo

It was no coincidence that the two software demonstrations were so similar. When you sell Microsoft software you are provided with a sales toolkit, including scripts for demonstrating the product and cool examples of what it can do. It's all there for you to follow. All you have to do is practice until you can do it without stumbling or software problems. This material is golden, particularly if you have a technical or accounting background and you have not ever actually had to sell anything before. It helps a small firm reach the level of professionalism that a sophisticated market demands.

If you are a seasoned implementation firm however, then you have actual client experience. You can enhance Microsoft's cool examples with some of your own. Why would you want to do that? Three reasons:

  1. Microsoft's examples are aimed at an international audience, whereas you will want to show you're in touch with local needs,
  2. It gives you a way to show your expertise, and
  3. It differentiates you from your competitors.

Even if you decide not to go to all of the trouble of creating the sample data and turning a specific client report into a generic example, you can still talk about your experience, in other words, show, not tell.

Tell & Show

If a consultant tells a prospective customer how good they are, the customer will at best ignore the statement. If the same consultant shows the prospect what they have accomplished with other customers, particularly if the other customers have something in common with the prospect, then they will have the customer's attention.

In an individualized sales demonstration of course, the sales person will have done their homework and explored the real or perceived needs of that particular prospect. I would argue that even when you are just buttonholing people at a trade show, it's important that your presentation be tailored to show your expertise, because your competitor may be in the booth right beside you. And they have everything you have, unless you focus on your specific customer experience.

Tailoring the presentation does not have to be that time consuming. For example, Performance Point includes financial analysis software. Let's say you did a project for a company importing goods from China. The demonstration script could include a paragraph like:

Many of our customers import products for resale here. Recent large fluctuations in foreign exchange rates have made pricing their products difficult at best. To address this issue we not only helped a customer create a report that showed the effect of foreign exchange rates on gross margin by product, but we also added a parameter to allow them to see the effects on forecasted rate changes.

Faced with that kind of practical experience versus an out-of-the-box demo, I know which consulting firm I'd choose.

This blog

by Bill Kennedy, CA.IT, PMP - With over 25 years of accounting experience, Bill has a varied background in accounting management and accounting systems implementation, with a focus on the charitable sector. He is also an experienced volunteer board member and fundraiser.

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