Tech Selection Tips #13: Hold Demos on Your Own Terms

Demos serve as a kind of bridge between a narrative proposal and subsequent hands-on prototyping, taking an abstract process and making it more real. Rather than discuss what a solution could theoretically do, the bidder has to show your team. If planned and structured meticulously, demo sessions can be highly revealing about the technology and the vendor, as well as the true relevance of your scenarios.

How to Schedule the Day

The first question you’ll want to answer is, “How long should the demos take”? The answer, as always, is: “How important is this technology to your enterprise?”

With a structured and disciplined demo agenda, you control the pace and itinerary. At the same time, you need to be fair to vendors, giving them ample time to demo and explain, while being sure to treat each one equally.

Here are some boundaries. On simpler, SaaS-based solutions we’ve organized half-day demo sessions. For more complex, mission-critical tools, we’ve run three-day demos, although at that point you’re almost conducting a PoC, which really should be the next phase. For most procurements, a single demo day for each vendor should suffice.

The key is to return to your original set of relevant user stories, spending enough time on them to allow bidders to demonstrate meaningful differences.

You can see a sample one-day itinerary here:

Sample one-day demo schedule


  • Make sure that the entire selection team can attend all demos; it’s only fair.
  • Hold a demo prep meeting with the team to educate and set expectations.
  • Give yourself and the vendor enough demo time, typically a full day.
  • For more complex situations, consider “double-tracking” part of the day to have separate technical and business sessions for larger or more complex projects.
  • Make sure that the vendor is only demoing shipping products (not future versions) and only the modules they priced, unless explicitly noted otherwise.
  • Allow for a private caucus session preceding a final Q&A segment.
  • Make sure that everyone on your team is using the same evaluation form.
  • Remember that a strong chair needs to keep things moving along.
  • Keep a separate list of unanswered questions and give bidders a deadline for written responses.
  • Avoid vendor sleights of hand where they show you something off-script to distract your attention from a shortcoming.
  • After the demo, hold a quick recap meeting among your team.
  • Begin clarifications and negotiations with vendor account reps in a separate meeting that same day.
  • Remember that the goal is not to identify an ideal vendor — which doesn’t exist — but the best “fit” for the subsequent hands-on bake-off.
  • Avoid the temptation to downselect to a single vendor; try to set up a competitive PoC to make the best decision.
  • On the other hand, do not invite a bidder to the follow-on PoC phase if you are certain you would never select them.

Next Steps

If you're selecting digital workplace or marketing/engagement technology, be sure to check out RSG's hard-hitting vendor evaluation research.

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