In the course of my work with many different clients in the professions, I get to sit through a lot of CRM demonstrations – sometimes they are “bolt on” modules for accounting systems and sometimes they are standalone systems, sometimes they are tailored to a particular sector’s needs (e.g. property, law).

But there a couple of things that I note about the effectiveness of the demonstrations which suppliers might do well to consider before organising a demo in the future…

1.       Know your audience

Sounds basic really doesn’t it? But the amount of explanatory material you include, the key features you demonstrate and even the language you use will depend entirely on the nature of the audience. If it’s all marketing and business development folk then that’s one thing. If there are a few IT folk/geeks then that’s another. And if there are fee-earners involved then it’s a different ball game altogether.

In professional service firms, the marketers will understand these systems and will be keen to see a) that all the common CRM and sales pipeline features are included and b) how your system is different from others. The IT peeps will, in the main, be interested in how the system integrates with everything else, how user and technical support will be provided (they want a quiet life after all) and how the underlying database, reporting and security features operate. The fee-earners will be on a large spectrum – from those who think that anything you show them is wonderful to those who are completely befuddled by it as they have no idea why you would want to manage your contacts in a system and think that references to pipeline is you talking about the oil and gas sector. When you have all audiences in the same demo you will need to plan things very carefully to ensure everyone remains engaged.

2.       Tailor your demonstration

A telephone call with one of the main marketing people who will be at the demonstration will reap dividends. You will be able to determine the level of sophistication of the firm in terms of its marketing, business development and relationship management culture – so that you don’t pitch things at too low or too high a level. You should also pick up on the language that is used within the firm (for example, nothing irritates more than calling contacts “customers” when the professions usually have “clients”).

No doubt there will be some sort of system currently in use and you should enquire about the sorts of codes, lists and other facilities that are particularly valued – you need to show that these are available in your system. You should also ask about what features are most required in any new system – people usually have a good idea about the main constraints they face and the sorts of things that they would like to do.

Again, you should develop a demonstration that shows the sorts of things that a) the marketing and business development folk b) the fee-earners and c) the technology people want to see – they are likely to focus on different views and facilities of the information.

If you are really keen, then you might ask about what sort of classifications are used so that these can be built into the demo. It is much more reassuring to actually see the sorts of things you want to do than be told “Yes, it can do that”. We call that “hopeware” where I come from.

3.       Guide your audience

There is usually a lot of information and features to show during a demo – especially if you have to take it from the basics to the more advanced features. Therefore, guide your audience. Provide a checklist of the features you are showing. Get them to grade features and facilities at the outset in terms of “very important” to “not important at all” so that the lack of something unimportant doesn’t become a show stopper.

And rise above the technical features. Get the audience to think about the benefits of the system – the time it will save if there is only one version of the information to be entered and maintained, how receptive secretaries and support staff might be to facilities that are designed to make their lives easier, how fee-earners might find that integration with Outlook and/or their mobile devices might make it easier for them. If you are providing, for example, integrated emailing facilities or campaign management modules then get the marketing folk to think about how much they might save on external agencies and if salespeople are present, let them consider the efficiency gains of having their pipeline management systems integrated with the main CRM.

4.       Follow up swiftly

Remember that clients rarely choose a software solution on the technical merits alone. They will be keen to know what you will be like as a supplier and whether the support relationship will be effective. Quickly send a short note after the demonstration highlighting those areas that met the criteria or were impressive as well as a note of any outstanding points or details of what information is required in order to tailor further demonstrations to convince people and move the sales process onto the next stage. Remember too that whilst the IT guys may have invited you in, the decision makers on a CRM system may involve a number of senior fee-earners as well as the marketing and business development people.

Demonstrate that you understand the complexities of relationship management in a professional service firm by maintaining contact and offering helpful additional advice – such as proforma project management plans for considering the transition from their existing system to yours, or the details of agencies who can help with data cleaning or training.