The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

Evaluating the Demo

Evaluating the Demo

Feb 16, 2011

I’ll admit that a while back (wow – are we going on 10 years now?) I was an SC.  You know – those guys from the vendors that the salespeople count on to demonstrate product during the sales cycle.  SC’s are a highly valued commodity.  They are highly trained product experts that must float between the functional world that many of the HR practitioners in their audience live in, the technical world that many IT people in their audience live in, and the sales world that they are part of.  I mean seriously, how many people do you know that can have a functional, technical and sales conversation all at the same time?  The best SC’s are truly rare, have extraordinarily hard jobs, and in my humble opinion are actually quite underpaid for what they bring to the table.

I was attending the HR Demo show in December (put on by the one and only John Sumser) and it was really quite interesting watching back to back to back demos.  It was even more intriguing to listen to the commentary and watch the twitter feeds at the show.  Personally, I watched 3 demos (I was only there for the first day).  Not in any order, there was a horrific demo of a terrific product.  There was also a middling demo of a middling product, and a terrific demo of a fairly poor product.  However, I’m not sure that the verbal or twitter commentary really reflected this.  Part of this is the varying degrees of capability in driving through to what the core product capabilities are from either a functional or technological perspective, and reading past the SC’s ability to sell (that is after all what they are there for).  Let’s face it, a 1-hour demo of a product is designed and probably scripted to show all the best that a product has to offer.  The best SC’s are going to show all the flash in a way that looks incredibly simple.  Even if the product is absolute crap (I’m not saying I saw anything that was), the sales job is to convince you that you can do everything you need to do within the product and that the capabilities are not only sufficient, but that you love them.

At the same time, the technologists in the room are looking around at the exact same demo and not listening to a word about functionality.  Instead, they are watching the screens, table driven values, background integration, web architecture and all sorts of other things that are not being explained verbally.  Thus, I can watch an incredibly dry presentation but still come out of it saying, “wow, that was cool” while the functionally driven people in the room might be saying, “wow, that sucked.”  Functionally, if we are talking about core HR, I’m going to say that the product capabilities of the best demo and the worst demo were within 5% of each other.  However, technologists and functionally driven practitioners are going to come out of a demo with different perspectives.  Unless you are an analyst or have a specific background, I’m not sure that you’re going to be able to pull together these perspectives in a single individual.  That’s why, even though some HR people get a bit tight, we invite very broad teams of HR, IT, Finance, etc to watch demos.

As a parting thought, here are a couple of hints when you ask questions during the demo:

  • When the SC says, “Our clients handle that situation by using this functionality over here” means that it’s a workaround.  No matter how good and convincing the demo was, it’s a workaround and does not really exist.  You should also be aware that many of the workarounds that SC’s come up with are totally legitimate, but that the implementation groups may not be aware how to implement them.
  • When an SC says, “We suggest that you handle the situation this way” means there is a band aid.  You might be exiting the application, or using a workaround, but be in no doubt that once again the functionality does not exist.

2 comments

  1. Jeff Hofmann /

    Evaluating the Demo…demonstrations are more subjective than objective because usually the “vendor” is in there due to problems with the current system or perceptions they can do it better in a new system there are other drivers as well. The variables that get a company to this point are typically a new regime managing this project or departments, no current ownership on current solution and cost saving directions coming from above. The demonstration should absolutely connect to the key drivers to why they are looking. To many times I have seen companies get hooked on bells and whistle that are not what is going to to solve their immediate key drivers. As well as I have been involved where the “C” level states I am letting the users of the system pick the solution which is scary because they might not be aligned to the directions the “C” level is looking to gain from cost efficiency, reduction in staff, TCO etc. It is foolish to think all users are perfectly aligned to management and will make the best objective recommendation and not have any subjective influence. The users are looking to make their immediate world better and if a click here and click there makes there issues diminish it is what they are looking for in the new solution but this could cause them to be misaligned because the demonstration did not hit the mark on the direction from above. It is very important all who have a stake in this play a part and understand the core reasons to make a change without it they might be back sooner than later participating in more demonstrations.

  2. Hmmm… that last bit is a pretty interesting angle that I was not really thinking about – how the activities during the sales and demo cycle make a purchased solution sticky or not. You (buyers) making the right decisions allows you not have to see another demo for 10 years instead of 3. Sounds like that should be motivation enough.

    Not that I don’t like watching a good demo. As you know Jeff, the masters craft their demos and are both hugely informative, stay on the provided script, and are entertaining. Unfortunately I see more bad demos than good. People don’t realize what a craft a demo is, and how good the good SC’s really are.

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