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How to Be Sure a Software Demo Isn’t Just Smoke and Mirrors

By Charles Gustine

Selecting the right PSA software can be a daunting task, especially with the growing number of options available on the market. Before letting vendors court you with proposal decks and software demos, I think it’s important to take time to brief internally on what you’re trying to achieve. That way your team is ready to ask the right questions during the evaluation process. What outcomes do you need the software to drive? What do you need to see in demos before you can commit? And, crucially, is everything you were promised in demos actually going to be included when the software is implemented?

Be Appropriately Skeptical of the Art of the Demo

It may not seem like it when you’re putting a hard-hitting RFP together, but buying based on requirements lists actually makes it easier for vendors who may not be the best fit for your organization to craft a narrative that makes it seem like they are. You’re handing over a checklist of the things you need to see to sign on the dotted line, and you’re giving them ample time to make sure you do see precisely those things. Seasoned veterans of software buying processes will know to be on the lookout for smoke and mirror shows, but for organizations just starting to pick through the competition, here are some valuable tips.

Tips from Seasoned Software Selection Veterans:


You are more likely to see through the beautiful illusion of a custom or wireframe model if you catch a vendor off-guard with a demo request rather than giving them days of development time to put something together. There will always be some requests that can’t be facilitated instantly in a demo environment, but what you’re trying to gauge is how functionally complete the standard application on offer actually is. If the vendor can’t hit any of the curveballs you throw their way, you might be looking at a high-code solution that will be difficult to adapt and change. So, spring surprises on them in the moment – suddenly take them off their script and see how they react. If they stay focused on your business concerns while displaying the flexibility of the standard application, that’s a good sign.


When specifying your software requirements, ask the vendors what they can provide your business to achieve important goals rather than leading them down a rabbit hole of all the custom requirements you’d like to see. Give them enough information to provide you with an educational and specific demo, but put the onus on them to build an argument for how their software is suited to your business. You will have an easier time judging whether you’re seeing the real deal at a big picture level – that is an ideal fit for your needs – if you don’t over-specify what every need is.


Before choosing a software vendor, make sure to do your homework. Seek out references, check review sites, ask around your professional network, and focus on this question: what is this vendor’s track record when it comes to reliability implementing the required functionality? Don’t forget to take into account that there are people behind each of these software applications. Do those people have a reputation for delivering what was promised during the sales process on a reasonable timescale? When you’re evaluating software, buy on culture as well as capability.


Always be absolutely sure that the incredible solution you’ve had engineered for you during the sales process will actually be available and performant in the software on time and on budget. Below are two questions you should consider when you’re wowed by an incredible demo.

Are you Getting a Custom Demo but Standard Pricing Quote?

Software developers are absolutely able to take the pain points of your organization and custom code in features that would be game-changers for your business — but this requires a hefty amount of time and energy that doesn’t get calculated into their standard pricing model. Typically, a vendor will present a standard pricing option to prospects while simultaneously providing a custom demonstration. Make sure you are being presented with both the standard and the potentially customized pricing options, as the two will be vastly different.

Are the Features Being Demonstrated Workable Within Your Timeline?

Sometimes, the custom features, reports or workflows that were built in a demo environment would require months or years of actual development in order to be available in a live environment. Maybe your budget could stretch to include these customized offers, but the timeline of an inflated implementation would hurt your business and consume valuable time from your own resources. Make sure you are asking what can realistically be done in the timeline you have established. A certain feature in a demo may look too good to be true, and the key to finding the right software is assessing where that’s exactly the case – where it’s not true that the system you’re seeing can be delivered and work for your business.

The lesson I think you should take away here is that evaluating PSA solutions is complex, and there are lots of tips and strategies to consider so you make sure you’re selecting the right one. There are no stupid questions in PSA software selection — the more you questions you ask, the better the software you select will serve you.

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