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Key Factors that Contribute to a Succesful Solution Demonstration

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The discovery's complete. RFPs have been issued, and answered, and the responses vetted. The consultant has made his or her recommendations, and along with the client, has narrowed the field of vendors that might be awarded a contract to solve the client's business communications needs.

The next step: solution demonstrations.The demo is often the "make it or break it" point for a vendor's bid to provide a unified communications solution to an enterprise in need of better business communications.

What are the factors that contribute to a demo's success? Several caveats are consistent whether or not a consultant is engaged in the process. It's obvious that being on time, rehearsing and ensuring that all equipment is prepped and working, providing comprehensive information, and being sensitive to the client's needs and pacing are prerequisites. But when  a consultant is directing the process, a VAR may want to modify their standard demonstration approach.

We got advice from four industry experts, each of them a member of ShoreTel's Consultant Liaison Program,  who made these observations and recommendations.

"We have been to enough dog and pony shows to know that this is not the right approach, so  we no longer leave this important activity to a vendor's discretion," says Diane Halliwell, a Managing Director at Sperco Associates.  "We found the client's specific needs were not addressed, and we needed more depth. So now we put together a tight agenda, specific for our clients, with calls ahead to let the vendors know what we'll be covering, and what we expect." Halliwell says she finds that demonstrations are much more fruitful for the client and for the vendor when they are tightly scripted.

Melissa Swartz, founder of Kansas City-based Swartz Consulting, agrees.  "We put together an agenda, with the timeframe and the topics. For example, we might ask for five minutes for a company overview, and twenty minutes to cover collaboration," she says. "But vendors routinely switch the number and spend twenty minutes on their company and five on collaboration." She points out that the purpose of the timeframe is to help the vendor focus on the acquiring enterprise's priorities, and that those who do not follow the guidelines will be penalized. "When you don't follow our agenda's emphasis, and you were given this information up front, then typically this will be viewed by the client as a poor presentation."

Chris Thalassinos, of Toronto's Communications Intelligence Group, agrees about the importance that a vendor understand the client's requirements, which were clearly iterated in the RFP. Vendors must stage the presentation to demonstrate their solution's fit. "Just because you have a UC solution isn't enough," he says. Instead, VARs should be prepared to focus on the particular attributes of their solution that uniquely meet the client's needs.

Ernie Holling, President and Chief Strategist of InTech,  points out a related possible point of failure: uninformed demonstrators. "The person actually doing the demo needs to clearly understand the points in question," he says, recognizing that partners may have a demo team that is distinct from the account management side. "What answers to my client's questions will be provided in the demo process?" he asks. "Instead of spending ninety percent of our time covering boilerplate issues, I want to see eighty percent of our time on target issues and maybe twenty percent on boilerplate."

"If we tell you 'no fluff,' please don't bring your marketing stuff," says Halliwell.  "If we say we want a direct presentation, we mean a direct presentation."

At the same time, however, vendors must be very sensitive to the different needs of different audiences.  "The number one mistake vendors make is not knowing their audience," says Swartz, who recommends CPs make sure to know ahead of time who will be in the room so they can tailor their presentation approach.

For example, a buying committee will consist of "the consultant, the IT people and the business users. Often there will be more business users than the others, and they have the biggest voice," Swartz says. To a business user, "the phone is the system. The server and the stuff behind it? Business users don't live with it or do its care and feeding. The desktop client and the phone is their world--getting them comfortable with the app and phone is huge."

She cites a cultural difference within enterprises: "The IT guys don't care about the phones. They care about user admin and servers;  the phones are the last thing they get to.  But to the business user, that's the system. So make sure you know who you are presenting to. Know the makeup of the audience."

Equally important: shaping the makeup of the presenting team.

Even the most experienced system integrators can benefit from inviting a manufacturer's product development people to attend an important demonstration. "You want to have the right people in the room, and you need to make sure clients see live demos, as appropriate," says Halliwell. If they need support, channel partners can source product development resources by approaching the manufacturer's Consultant Liaison Program. ShoreTel's CLP is an information and relationship resource that serves the needs of both consultants and the channel partners they work with.

"The first thing you want to avoid in a demo is 'I'll get back to you on that'," says Holling. If the subject matter experts aren't available to attend in person, "make sure they're at the end of a cell phone," he says.  "Have experts on demand and available so you can reach out and solve problems then and there. This technique conveys available resources, a knowledge base and respect for the client's time."

In effect, use your unified communications tools to sell your unified communications tools.

Of course, prepping this expanded demo team to understand the consultant's perspective is important. "Here's a big 'no'," says Thalassinos. "As a consultant I don't want the partner or the manufacturer to try to convince my client that they should reconsider how the system should be designed. If I say I want two interoperable platforms, I don't want to see the partner go against that." Every demonstration detail should support the deployment presented in the bid. "I've been to demos where the room is full of phones," says Swartz, "but the phone the client will get is not one of them." Demonstrate the proposed solution. Anything less is disingenuous.

Ultimately, a solid demonstration will address "what the client is concerned about," says Holling. "Vendor differentiation, product specs, pricing. I've never found price to be the most important, but it is never forgotten. I've never been there when the door is closed and the client said, 'Who is the cheapest?' It just doesn't happen.  Feature, function and strategy play together, and cost becomes an arbiter."

And if you want to put some icing on the cake? Halliwell has a suggestion. "If you want to sell a million dollar system," she says,"pay for the client to come to the presentation" and meet your people and see your lab.

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Did you miss the first four blogs in this series?  Here are links to:

Our sources for this blog, members of ShoreTel's Consultant Liaison Program Advisory Board:

Chris Thalassinos of Toronto's Communications Intelligence Group has over 20 years experience in working with companies to strategize and realize innovative business and technology solutions. As an advisor, he focuses on project leadership, solutions development and client relationship management and guides organizations to effective deployments of emerging and converging technologies.

Diane Halliwell is a Managing Director at Sperco Associates, leading the Contact Center practice.  She has consulted in the telecommunications field for over 30 years and in the Contact Center arena for over 20 years.  She provides strategic direction for the evaluation, design and implementation  of voice systems including contact center solutions. She also identifies problematic workflows, processes, and gaps in communication within an enterprise and provides recommendations to address these issues.

Ernie Holling is President and Chief Strategist of InTech, which he founded in 1986.He specializes in providing crisis intervention at the enterprise level and in developing technology strategy for complex, multi-site/vendor environments and contact centers. He is a member of the Project Manager Institute, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the Utilities Telecommunications Council, and is a past vice president of the board of directors for the Society of Telecommunications Consultants.

Melissa Swartz has been providing telecommunications consulting for her clients since 1991.  She is the founder of Kansas City-based Swartz Consulting,  a firm that assists clients in managing telecommunications technology and costs. The consultancy provides a range of services from analysis, planning, acquisition, design, and implementation to ongoing support. She is currently the President of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants.