Why is my prospective software vendor asking for so many conversations before demoing?
On the Importance of Demo Discovery in the Software Buying Process
As a Senior Sales Consultant at Mitratech, I have the privilege of working with our clients and prospects to create solutions for business needs within our product suite. If that sounds vague, that’s intentional. That’s because it is pretty difficult to narrowly define my role; I’m part consultant, part sales person, part solution designer and engineer, and all product expert. When a client approaches Mitratech with a business issue, I (or one of my teammates in the same role) am the person that is asked how to address it in software. I love this part of my job… it’s when I get to be creative and work through questions and ideas. And usually, I get to respond to the request by saying “Yes, we can! And here’s how…”
There’s one key step in the process of buying software that allows me to do this with accuracy and to consistently deliver excitement to our clients, but it’s usually considered a dirty word by businesses. This step is Discovery. Discovery is a conversation between myself and key members of the business community who can aptly represent the interests of the user group at large in preparation for a demonstration. It’s meant to help me understand what is important to a particular group, which tasks are currently difficult, and what the hopes and dreams are for a better future working environment.
In our line of business (supplying legal matter management solutions to law departments), this word, “Discovery,” carries a particularly negative connotation. Discovery is what happens when a party named in a lawsuit has to produce all relevant evidence and often give interviews of personal experiences in anticipation of appearing in court. It’s long, tedious, expensive, and painful. Sometimes one side even requests or produces an excessive amount of material just to make it more difficult for the opposing side to sift through. Ouch. Who would want to volunteer for that?
So when it comes time to conduct Discovery for a business optimization project, there aren’t a lot of legal professionals that raise their hand and say “Sign me up!” While some similarities between Demo Discovery and Legal Discovery do exist, there is a vital distinction. Demo Discovery is always performed to benefit our clients. Always, no exceptions.
I hear some Procurement professionals saying, “Now wait a minute! My job is to run this selection process, and you asking for a lot of the business’ time is a huge inconvenience! They don’t have time for so much talk, that’s why they hired me. How can you claim that taking their valuable time is a benefit for us?”
Excellent question! Let me answer that by sharing the five things I’m using our discovery discussions to do.
First, I’m using our discussions to elaborate on the requirements from your RFP (Request for Proposal), if you’ve already provided me one. The main goal of a Discovery call is to provide focus on the right areas of the solution in a demonstration. An RFP is usually comprehensive, but a demo is not (and can’t and shouldn’t be). While an RFP is written to ensure the software you choose meets all of your basic needs and, hopefully, provides the business with some extra functionality they may not have ever had before—the fundamental purpose of a demonstration is not to prove that our software can meet all of those requirements. Rather, it is to demonstrate to daily users how this project and its accompanying software selection will make their lives better when they are using it in the future, and put executives and management at ease with how their investment will make them better business partners by surfacing data driven reports and analytical decision making tools.
Elaborate Key Processes
Next, the discovery conversation is an opportunity for users to provide more detail about the requirements listed in the RFP. I know that when you created the RFP, you already spent a considerable amount of time talking with key stakeholders and learning about their needs. Then you painstakingly distilled those hours of conversations down into a document to send to prospective vendors, and you were thorough in the curation of those requirements!
When I ask for time to talk with those key stakeholders myself, it’s not because I think you missed something. An RFP is formatted to elicit a scorable response from vendors, making shortlisting possible. This saves time by not requiring demos from all vendors. It’s because of the nature of the RFP document that it can’t tell me everything I need to know about the processes at your business. It’s only telling me the “what” your business needs, so that I can respond “yes” or “no” to those requirements. It’s not telling me the “how” or “why” of the business need.
There’s a very big difference in how much a demo attendee remembers when the demo goes from “Yes, you can approve an invoice here” to “The approval route will mimic your current process, but all electronically. First, John will do a once over for basic validation as the billing coordinator, then Sarah will do an in depth invoice review because she’s the Professional in Charge. All of their changes are captured in the record, and the invoice is automatically routed for payment upon Sarah’s approval. Finally, when the invoice is over $100,000 it will also be routed to Veronica, for executive approval.”
In short, Demo Discovery is the step which connects a human element to the static checklist that is the RFP, and shifts the focus from my product to your solving your business issues.
Uncover Other Opportunities
A couple of the first questions I have for business stakeholders on a discovery call is: “Are there any initiatives (other than this project) going on across the organization or in your department?” and “How will they affect what is required of you?”
This is a really important line of questioning since the project may not have even conceived of how a new solution can support other corporate initiatives, facilitate business process change management, or help respond to regulator requests quicker and with ease. When we uncover other things that the solution can help with during discovery, the scope of the possible benefits of your project expands, as does the justification of your business case. As a consultant, I don’t want to only address your current pains; I want to present you a solution that will handle your needs today, as well as adapt to your changing needs in the future.
In most cases, these other opportunities will not become part of this project, so you needn’t worry that this is drastically going to change your timeline and jeopardize the work you’ve already done. It’s more likely they will be slated for future projects after the solution goes live with users. The important thing is that it gets people excited for an implementation project to start. I have even seen clients pull other departments and executives into demonstrations when we’ve demonstrated the vision of future adaptability. This allows the originators of the project to gain broad support outside of their department and smooths the path to final approval.
Make You Look Good
Speaking of gaining support—one of the other purposes of a discovery session is to allow me to make you look good in front of your peers, business stakeholders, and managers. How often have we all been in a demo of a product that was excruciating? The vendor didn’t understand your job, didn’t know what your processes were, and therefore demonstrated all the features, bells and whistles of their product without real direction or connecting it to your business. Were you thinking, “I’d give my right arm to be anywhere else right now!”?
A targeted, impactful demo that leaves attendees hopeful and excited builds your credibility in the eyes of the organization. It signifies that you did your research, vetted the options, communicated the right information, and brought the right vendor onsite for your business’ needs. It makes you a rockstar at project management and procurement!
Save Everyone Time & Money
That leads me to the last benefit Demo Discovery provides; it saves everyone involved in the project time, and by extension, money. You’re thinking, “How does it save the stakeholders time if you’re asking for more time to talk with them?”
I’ve noticed that clients who provide us with good discovery are often quicker to make a decision, get final approval for the project, and require fewer demonstrations to ensure the solution meets their needs and wants. Discovery helps me maximize every minute of time we have together, so we don’t squander a moment on things that are low priority.
Let’s extrapolate a little from these observations. Clients that require fewer demonstrations are more likely to be able to make a decision quickly, as there are fewer touchpoints when a number of stakeholders are required to be in the room to constitute a quorum. We know from experience that the longer a decision drags out, the more a project is at risk. Not only does the project lose momentum as people begin to deprioritize it in their schedules, it may be literally deprioritized by the organization as other changes in the business arise—causing the project to be postponed, or scrapped altogether.
When the project does not march onward, all of the deadlines for your internal timeline are suddenly put at risk. For instance, if you planned to make a decision by June 1, to sign a contract by June 30, and to start an implementation by August 1 – needing an extra unplanned demonstration could force the entire timeline to slip. Assuming nothing else takes longer than expected, your implementation will not begin before September.
Additionally, if it takes too long to make a selection and commit to an implementation start date, you run the risk of losing the services team which would build your solution. The way that services are planned requires a backlog and if you lose your window, it may be months before you can be penciled in again. For folks who are looking to ease the pain of their user communities, this is certainly inconvenient. For organizations preparing to respond to regulatory requirements, a delay can be absolutely detrimental… resulting in fines or lost court cases.
Further, when we help a client through a selection process, there are a lot of people involved. It represents serious time and monetary commitment for both your organization and mine. As much as you want to protect your business’ time, I want to protect the time of my business partners as well. As the consultant in this process, my interests are always aligned with your interests. I want to provide you with the best solution for your needs. The last thing I want to do is take up your valuable time trying to sell you a solution you don’t need, or which doesn’t meet your minimum requirements. Demo Discovery also gives me the opportunity to honestly tell you whether my product is the right fit for you, or if you’d be better off looking at another solution.
Finally, there are two things I promise I will NOT use the demo discovery call to do.
First, I will not try to circumvent procurement in this call. In fact, I invite the project manager to be on the line if they have the time. Second, I will not use this call to sell. There are plenty of opportunities to show the value of my software during the demonstration, and I will not waste the time you’ve offered and trust you’ve placed in me. If you have run across a pre-sales consultant using discovery for selling, I apologize on behalf of all of us. That is a misuse of the precious time Discovery offers.
Just like it was hard for me to narrowly define my role in a few sentences, it’s nearly impossible to deliver a meaningful demonstration of a software solution with all the “bells and whistles” in 90-120 minutes, based on the requirements defined in an RFP. Demo Discovery is essential to distilling down the hundreds of possible features I could demonstrate to the essential content. And, unlike Legal Discovery, I will reduce the amount of information demo attendees need to absorb, not intentionally create more! Go ahead and give Demo Discovery a chance. It’ll save you time and money, ensure your users feel heard, and provide acute focus to maintain interest in the project.