When it comes to evaluating Sales Performance Management (SPM) software, such as CaptivateIQ, SAP, Varicent, or Xactly, going through a software demo is a pivotal step in the decision-making process. While demos offer a glimpse into the capabilities of the software, it’s essential to approach them strategically to sift through the marketing hype and make confident decisions. 

Having facilitated numerous vendor evaluations for our clients, we’ve compiled a set of best practices to help you prepare for software demos and ensure that these sessions empower you to make informed choices.

1. Customized Demo: Tailor it to Your Needs

Instead of settling for a one-size-fits-all demo, insist on a customized presentation. Share your specific challenges in detail, outlining the aspects of your SPM operations that require improvement and your expectations from the software. Provide this information well in advance of the demo so that the vendor can craft a personalized presentation, focusing solely on the modules that interest you. 

 2. Preparing Vendors: Set Expectations

Arrange a meeting with the vendor(s) to discuss your problem statement and establish clear expectations for the presentation. Share essential documents such as Plan Documents and sample Statements for a few Compensation Plans that represent your SPM landscape. Additionally, provide insights into how you handle critical components of your SPM program, such as Draws, Guarantees, Termination, Claw backs, and Splits. If you have a Terms and Conditions document for the SPM program, sharing it can help vendors configure the demo to align with your needs. 

 3. Data Sharing: If Unique, Share Real Data

Share real-life sample transaction data ONLY IF there are unique characteristics about your data. For instance, if you expect the software to handle complex crediting rules, provide sample files for Transactions, Crediting Hierarchy, Territory Definitions, etc. Specify the use cases that the vendor should cover in the demo. In most cases, vendors can use dummy data to demonstrate your use cases. 

 4. Demo Script: A Comprehensive User Experience

The demo script should encompass the system interactions for key stakeholders, including Compensation Administrators, Salespeople, Sales Managers, and, if applicable, Finance and Accounting for tasks like T&Q, Accruals, and Plan Modeling. If you plan to utilize the system for analytics without an external Business Intelligence (BI) tool like Tableau, include the BI goals for each stakeholder. Ask vendors to showcase various reporting and analytics options, such as static reports vs. interactive dashboards and what-if analyses. 

 5. Capability Evaluation: Go Beyond the Surface

Rather than relying solely on surface-level demonstrations, delve deeper into system capabilities. For a few selected use cases, challenge vendors to reveal how configurations are executed behind the scenes. Ask them to build a new report or workflow during the demo that wasn’t part of the initial demo script. Evaluate the time and expertise required to implement system configuration changes. It’s advisable to have a technical resource lead this discussion.

6. Scoring Matrix: A Structured Approach to Evaluation

Even before creating the demo script, establish an Evaluation Criteria and Scoring Matrix. These criteria should be aligned with stakeholder problem statements and your future vision for the software. To create a Scoring Matrix, assign weights to each item in the Evaluation Criteria based on its business importance. After the demo, use a 5 or 10-point scale to assign a score to each criterion summarizing your team’s opinion on how well the software meets the expectations. The cumulative weighted total can serve as an objective guide for your decision-making process.

7. Evaluation Session: Making an Informed Decision

Immediately following the demo, convene the core evaluation team to review the presentation and assign points to each criterion in the Scoring Matrix. It’s crucial to assess the software’s capabilities, not the quality of the demo or the professionalism of the vendor’s sales team. Keep in mind that after the decision is made, you’ll rarely interact with the vendor’s sales team, but the software will remain a crucial part of your operations.