Software Buying Tips

The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Most Out of Product Demos

Published by in Software Buying Tips

You have limited time to see software in action before purchase. Follow these tips to get the most out of your product demos.

header image shows a computer with warning signs, targets, and a bullhorn

Live software demos are an extremely valuable resource when considering new business software. But many people sit in on product demos as passive viewers and, therefore, don’t get much value out of them.

Be an active participant and prepare for the demo so you can get more out of it. You’ll leave your demos with more information on how the software will work for your specific business and might help address your needs.

In this article, we’ll cover what you should keep front and center going into software demos. By setting an agenda for the demo, you can make sure that the vendor addresses your questions and needs, and you’ll ultimately feel more confident in your final software selection.

Set an agenda for your product demos that covers these 4 key topics

Software demos take precious time, and it can sometimes feel as if you’re not in control of the process. By planning key topics you want to cover in advance, you can guide the vendor to show you what software features will matter most to you and encourage a more tailored experience.

Set an agenda beforehand with all of the considerations you want to cover, including the following:

1. Product differentiators

At the end of the demo process, the most important question you need answered is, “Which product is the best fit for my business?” To that end, you need to see which products stand out from the crowd based on your business needs.

  • Ease of use: The software you choose should be relatively easy for your team to adopt. Pay close attention to the design of each solution and how intuitive it would be for new users.
  • User interface: Chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time with this software, so you want an intuitive user interface. Many users also prefer software that’s aesthetically pleasing.
  • Integrations: If your business already uses another type of software that you want to connect to the new product, be sure to ask the vendor what integrations the product supports. Dig into how the integrations work, especially if you need a built-in integration instead of just connecting through a third-party integration tool.
  • Features: Software vendors will talk about the “best” features of the product, but these may not cover what you need the software to do. It’s important to have a list of the features you’d like the software vendor to go over in their presentation. Ask to see your must-have features in action.
  • Customization: If desired, find out whether or not the software can be tailored to fit your needs. Vendors may or may not be willing to work with you on customization. If a vendor does promise they’ll add something for you, ask them to put that promise in your contract.

2. Total cost of ownership

Often, pricing is the first question that businesses ask when they’re searching for software. That’s understandable. But a useful answer involves more than just the sticker price. You need to know the total cost of ownership. That includes how much the software costs to purchase, implement, and maintain.

  • Purchasing: Ask about pricing and, if there are pricing tiers, what is included with each tier. Also ask about any additional purchase charges, such as fees for extra users or data capacity. Many vendors offer discounts for those paying annually (instead of monthly) or for nonprofits, so ask about ways to reduce the price.
  • Implementation: Ask about any projected implementation costs, such as if the vendor charges for installation (for on-premise solutions) or training.
  • Maintenance: Ask if the vendor charges for any updates post-purchase or for ongoing customer service and support. If the software will use a vendor’s server, ask about associated energy or usage fees. You also need to know if there are any other end-user costs you should anticipate.

3. Vendor support

Will you be on your own once the purchase is over? If so, are you comfortable with that? Decide ahead of time the level of customer support your business will need and if you’re willing to pay extra for it.

  • Training: Ask your demo leader if training is included and if so, how it works and what it covers. If training is available, learn whether it’s for select users or an entire team. You may also want to ask about common sticking points for employee onboarding and how to counteract those. If you have an internal IT team, talk to them before the demos in case they have any technical implementation questions they’d like you to ask the vendors.
  • Support: Some vendors charge extra for different levels of customer service (such as email only vs. phone support). Ask your demo leader about service tiers and how much they cost. Be sure to leave with a sense of the service logistics, such as whether support is available 24/7, only during certain hours, or in a different time zone.

4. Data and privacy

Businesses risk losing a substantial amount of money from a data security breach, not to mention the significant and lasting hit to customer trust. So it’s important that the software products you use take the safety of your data and your customers’ data seriously.

  • Security: Ask what kind of security the vendor uses for its databases and what processes it has in place to protect your information.
  • Compliance: If you have an international customer base, ask about GDPR compliance. If you operate in the U.S., ask if they will be CCPA complaint by 2020, when the California state law goes into effect.

Don’t over-schedule product demos

Participating in too many software demos will cause them to run together, and it will also take valuable time away from your team’s daily responsibilities. The demo is best used as a method for getting to know your top three to five software choices in depth.

Don’t pack too many demos into a single day. Schedule no more than two demos per day, and no more than five overall. By focusing only on your shortlist, you’ll be better equipped to make a final selection after the demos.

Need a cheat sheet to bring to your next product demo?


About the Author

Kristen Bialik

Kristen Bialik

Kristen Bialik is a senior specialist analyst covering customer experience for Capterra. She holds B.A.'s in English and Communications from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in Journalism Research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Follow her at @kebialik for insight on CX for small and midsize businesses.



Comment by Jordan Krizman on

You can really learn alot about a vendor from their demos.
Good signs to look for are: attentive to your questions, allow you to control the pace and knowledgeable in the software. Two vendors can give a demo on the exact same software, yet the one who shows more credibility is the one to choose. Also, a demo is just one step in your decision process. Get to know your vendor well before purchasing software from them.

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