On the occasion of my colleague and good friend, Mark AuCoin, being named Microsoft’s Global Pre-Sales Specialist of the Year, I thought I would share some thoughts on the CRM Demonstration process. As a potential CRM customer, I’ll describe what you should look for or expect from a product demonstration.

Every major CRM product has a very rich online experience that allows you to view a video demo of the primary features and functions. In most cases you can also download whitepapers, case studies and industry reviews of the product. The largest vendors allow you to sign up for time restricted (usually 30 days) access to their ‘vanilla’ out-of-the-box solution, which will allow you to try the various modules, enter test data and view reports. So with all of this information available, what should you be looking for out of an in-person demonstration of the product?

A CRM demonstration is one part product and one part implementation partner – it should really be a test to see if you are talking to the right company as much as it is a test of the right application. All of the major CRM products have, at their core, very similar capabilities. What differentiates your solution will be the people you work with who assist you to mold that product to your specific needs. So how do you test the partner?

The test really starts before the company arrives to provide the demonstration. If they agreed to demonstrate without first requesting a requirements conversation or meeting then you can go ahead and cross them off of your list. All you are going to see is exactly what you can see for yourself online. In a requirements call, you should map out one or two primary business processes or user scenarios that you are looking to address with the solution. Provide those to the companies preparing your demonstration. The way that they handle your scenarios will tell you a great deal about the project experience you can expect.

The first rating criteria should be based upon how clearly they understood and represented your requirements for the product. Were assumptions made correctly or, at least, logically? Did they use any experience gained through projects with other similar companies that add value to your scenarios?

The second criteria is the knowledge of the product being demonstrated. Does the demonstration only utilize the features and functions available in the standard product offering or are they showing anything outside the box? Are they illustrating a deeper understanding of the product and platform? You will be able to tell the difference here, especially if you have two partners demonstrating the same base product. The last criteria is the amount of effort the company put into the demonstration preparation. Do they show any knowledge or understanding beyond the information you provided to them in your scenarios? Have they configured or customized the standard product in any way to better fit your requirements? With this criteria, you are looking for effort – the amount of effort put into preparation for your meeting is a good indicator of how important your project is to the company and likely the level of effort you can expect on the actual implementation. Think of a CRM demonstration as a window into the company conducting your presentation. Your responsibility is to provide them the background information they require to do an effective and hopefully impressive job.