June 2019 - Striven

How to Get the Most Value From an ERP Software Demo

You’re searching for a new ERP software product for your business. Perhaps you’ve outgrown your current software, or it has become a legacy product. Maybe you’re just not getting the support you need. If it’s not working now, you have the sinking feeling your software will be completely useless to you within the span of a month. Whether you’re looking to manage your accounting, customers, projects, human resources, or inventory, the choices become exponential. Even if you’re looking for an all-in-one business management solution, you’ve still got plenty to choose from. To make the smartest choice, you’ll need a software demo.

Demo Booked

Even if an ERP software product’s website is informative, that’s only a snapshot of what it has to offer. Pre-recorded video demos and feature videos can also be helpful, they will never specifically address your business. A personal demo is your opportunity to get the information you need to make a smart decision.

The way vendors conduct ERP software demos don’t just reveal valuable information about the product. They reveal a lot about the vendor, too. That matters because it gives you insight into how much faith this specific ERP vendor has in the product. 

Most importantly, an ERP software demonstration can show you how the product works with regard to your specific business processes. Not all industries work in the same way, but not all companies within a single industry work the same way either. 

No one knows your business better than you. As such, you have an intimate understanding of your processes, including where your opportunities are to make them better and more efficient. In that sense, a great ERP demo should be a “meeting of the minds,” where you and the vendor are discussing your business as much as the product in front of you.

Real ERP Value Comes From Process

In order to properly evaluate whether a software product is right for your business, you should think beyond the demo itself. That’s because there are really three stages of a single product demo: before, during, and after.

Your objective: by the end of the demo, you should have a solid assessment of whether the product will work for you. If you’re confused, irritated, or concerned, there’s a good chance you’ll need to move on or expand your search.

Now, let’s walk through the three stages of your software selection process and review the tips you’ll need to get the best demo possible.

What to Do Before the ERP Software Demo

team discussing erp software

It may seem counterintuitive, but the demo doesn’t actually start with the demo. It starts with you and the needs of your team and company. You should be thinking about (and taking) the following steps prior to scheduling a demo:

1. Assemble Your Team

It’s always helpful to evaluate software with a team. Whether you’re the decision-maker, have a C-suite role, or you depend on a manager to lead the software transition, you’ll need input from someone other than yourself. That’s especially true if you’re looking for your software to perform multiple functions. An integrated CRM and accounting software, for example, should require you to have a representative from your sales and accounting departments on the team.

Having a team allows you to put your heads together, share requirements, and discuss the software from multiple angles. It’s also a question of process. If you’re looking for a new project management software, and you’re not the project manager, you can be sure that person will have questions. If it’s possible, get everyone in the room during the demo. Things tend to get lost in translation, and the more streamlined you can make the demo process, the sooner you’ll know what’s right for your organization.

2. Create Your Requirements List

There are many good ways to create a requirements list. The MosCoW method is one of the best, as it prompts you to categorize the level of necessity regarding the features you’re looking for. This method breaks those categories into must have, should have, could have, won’t have (or wish it had).

It is so important to take time with this process. Many organizations mistake features that they could have with features that they either should or must have. In other words, there’s a huge difference between bells-and-whistles and true functionality. It’s up to your team to make those distinctions— when you do, your demo experience will be much more valuable. 

If you’re not sure how to make requirements distinctions, ask yourself why you need a certain feature. Is it essential to a process? If so, can it be done another way? Your answers to these questions will help you understand your own flexibility when matching your needs with the features a software product offers.

3. Prepare a List of Questions

Your questions will vary depending on your needs. Having questions ready and assigning them out to different team members will ensure your software vendor doesn’t just “run the show” during the demo. While you need to get a good look under the hood of any product, feel free to ask about anything from customer base to industry focus and support services. Even if you have done some of this research already, the way your software advisor answers your questions will tell you everything you need to know.

4. Decide Your Budget

When coming up with your budget, make sure you have a range. Also, decide how flexible you’ll be near the top of that range. Pricing terms aren’t always set in stone, and a software vendor can potentially work with you to determine an optimal price for you. That depends, of course, on how the software is priced and how you’d pay for it.

This should go without saying: never evaluate only one software solution. Do your research on what vendors are charging and determine what competitive pricing looks like to you. If you’ve looked long enough, you can develop an objective sense of what you should be paying. Match that with the value of the product.

5. Schedule a Discovery Call

Discovery calls are great. Before sitting down to do the actual demo, spend 30 minutes on the phone with the software advisor who will be conducting the demo. Discuss your business goals, your core processes, and anything else you feel is relevant. The more information you give the vendor, the better equipped they’ll be to show you the most appropriate aspects of the software.

What to Do During an ERP Software Demo

people taking notes on erp software

It’s showtime. Here are some tips for making sure the actual software demonstration process goes the way you want it to:

1. Decide on the Demo Structure

Don’t settle for a canned, one-size-fits-all demo. Because your company is unique, your demo should reflect that. If you’ve already had a discovery call, your software advisor should have a sense of what you want to see. 

But if it seems like the person handling the demo is slipping into the script, feel free to stop them and focus on your own objectives. Of course, if you prefer to sit back and let the advisors do what they do best, that’s fine too. Just keep in mind what you really want to see, and focus on that. 

You should also be able to determine how long the demo should take. The standard software demo is between 30 to 60 minutes. Need longer than that? Say so. Depending on the level of depth you’d like to achieve, you may need the time for discussion.

2. Record the Demo (And Take Notes)

If you’re getting a demo over a screen-share program, make sure you have a recorded version of it to refer to later, when you’re debriefing. A recording is a great way to make sure no information is forgotten or slips through the cracks. A video will be especially helpful to send to team members who weren’t available to see the original demo.

If you can’t record the demo, make sure each member of your team takes notes very carefully. They don’t need to jot down every word, but they should note the features or processes that they deem most important. You’ll want some time, later, to compare notes.

3. Ask Your Prepared Questions

It’s important that every member of your team gets a chance to ask the questions that they’ve prepared. In order to move forward with a software product, your team should feel confident that it’s the right solution. Sometimes, asking questions is the only way to get there.

A software demo can sometimes seem overwhelming. You’re being presented with a great deal of information about a system you may have never seen before. Your questions can help your software advisor identify and respond to your areas of interest or concern. That process is ultimately beneficial to you.

What to Do After An ERP Software Demo

good ideas about erp software systems

If you’re ready to sign up directly after a winning software demo, congratulations! It’s a great thing to connect so immediately with a product you’ve evaluated. Regardless of whether you’re ready to move forward, there are some best practices you should follow to ensure you’re getting what you need.

Don’t think of it as due diligence. Instead, see it as an opportunity to honor the reasons you’re looking for a new software solution in the first place.

1. Debrief With Your Team

Following your demo, make sure your team has the opportunity to share their first impressions: what they liked, what they didn’t, major opportunities or concerns, etc. It’s best to do this directly after the demo. You can even have team members read directly from their notes.

As you debrief, you’ll be able to determine your next steps. Especially if they include moving forward with future demos.

2. Schedule a Follow-Up

Having a single software demo probably won’t mean you’re ready to sign up immediately. After you’ve had the demo, debrief with your team and decide who, if anyone, needs a second-round demo. With a bigger, more complex software system like an ERP, you’re likely to want subsequent demos.

That’s a good thing. It means you’re delving deep into the full functionality of the software. Again, the goal of the demo is to be confident that your software solution will do what you need it to do. Take the time that’s necessary for you to get there.

3. Re-evaluate Your Requirements List

At this point, you have a great deal of information about the product. You should also have more information about your own needs. The best software demos should prompt reflection, so make sure to take some time and do it.

You may find that the one thing you listed as a “must have” is really a “don’t need to have.” It’s entirely possible that your software advisor showed you a new way to complete a process. That could make your previous process either more efficient than it was before or eliminate the need for it entirely. 

It’s always best to balance your bottom line with an open mind.

4. Discuss Implementation

You’ve probably had a discussion about ballpark implementation costs with your software advisor (always have this on your list of questions). But now it’s time to talk turkey.

See how much your vendor is willing to help with implementation. Will they, for example, import your list of customers for you? How business-ready, and how specific to your business, can they configure a system?

Team Strategy

Some (but very few) companies even offer concierge configuration services that will significantly offset the cost of implementation. 

Think of it this way: if your software vendor is willing to do some of the work for you, that’s a strong indication of how well you’ll be treated throughout the rest of the process. You can tell a lot about vendors by their level of willingness to help you. Alternately, you can easily spot the vendor who is just trying to make the sale.


A software demo is so much more than a 30-minute product review. It certainly can be, but that’s not going to get you the information and value you need to confidently move forward. 

Make sure you get the right people on your team, do your research, and ask the right questions of your vendor. If the product seems right, the demo is only the beginning of your relationship with them.

Knowing what you want while still being flexible is the best way to approach a software demo. You’ll likely learn a lot— not just about the software, but about the ways you run your business.

How to Find the Best ERP Reporting Tools

A reporting tools riddle: what’s faster than your hand, a calculator, and a file cabinet worth of documents?

Before you answer that one, try another.

What’s faster than two software applications that need data exported or converted to make a report?quote management software

If you guessed ERP software, congratulations. You get a prize. As you may already know, today’s cloud ERP is much different than the giant, tunneling enterprise applications of the past. It’s much more suited to SMB, and its reporting functionality can’t be beaten.

After all, what company doesn’t want on-demand reporting for complex data from multiple sources? It’s the perfect recipe for any organization to make smart decisions based on the information they’ve identified as being important.

The Power of Integrated Reporting Tools

The amount of success your business sees is largely a function of your ability to track performance and other data throughout your company. It’s about having the insight to make decisions based on what you’ve seen, and what you can reasonably predict for the future.

Here are some ways that ERP reporting tools can process the complexity and scope of company-wide data sources much better than individual applications.

ERP software has faster reports

For reference, see the opening of this article. Because ERP software is designed to store large amounts of data, it can automatically make calculations without intervention. That means you won’t need to enter a formula or (worse) create one yourself.

In addition to speed, accuracy is essential to good reporting. After all, what’s the point of a quickly generated report if the data is wrong?

ERPs have more dynamic (and customized) reports

Part of what makes ERP software so powerful is its ability to report on data from anywhere in your organization. That means you can generate many different types of reports from within a single source.

Here are just a few types of reports you should expect to run:

Revenue Projection
Project Profitability
Task and Project Status
Sales Order Status
Opportunity Reports
Service Metrics
Team Efficiency
Customer Data

Balance Sheets
Profit and Loss
Cash Flow
General Ledger Transactions

And there’s more beyond that. Because the true power of an ERP solution is its ability to generate custom reports. Pre-defined reports are great for the amount of time they save. But sometimes you’ll need to define data fields specific to your organization.

Setting up custom reports should be easy, intuitive, and flexible. When you’re able to run reports on the exact data you need and filter when necessary, you’ll have the right information to make the best decisions.

ERPs can store documents in one place

ERP systems have excellent document storage and management capabilities. These applications connect data from multiple departments within an organization and store them in a central location. That means finding the data you need is an easier process.

Many companies experience major strains on time and efficiency when they have to pull data from multiple sources to report. Others use integrations to connect two or more applications. Those integrations result in varying levels of accuracy. A single storage source ensures that there is only “one version of the truth” for your data.

Data is easily accessible with ERP software

Because your data is centrally stored in an ERP system, all employees can access what they need with the click of a button. Your company should, of course, be able to restrict employee access to sensitive documents. By simply managing permissions and organizing your files, you can easily gather data from multiple sources.

ERP Software Enables Predictive Analytics

Whether you’re managing a supply chain, customer pipeline, or financial records, ERP software can help you leverage the vast amount of data it collects for future decisions. As Aaron Continelli writes, “By incorporating entire data sets full of information instead of sampling… Big Data allows ERP systems to find patterns and derive meaning from those patterns, supporting decision making with more accurate information.”

Reports work for multiple job roles using an ERP

Without integrated software, employees will be generating reports from different applications. Not only will those reports look different, they may also lack consistency in data. ERP software will allow people in management, finance, admin, and sales roles all to gather data from the same source. The result? Reports become more consistent, and each manager gets the insight needed to create action plans.

Integrated source reporting is also great for project managers who need to track profitability and expenses. Because this data is going to come from the accounting department, it could take a long time to gather. In the ERP, however, financial data is instantly accessible.


Reports exist for insight and action. Your company’s divisions need to process data in order to understand how you’ve performed in the past, how you’re performing now, and what the future could look like. The faster you’re able to get that insight, the more time and care you can take to make the best decisions.

Data stored in separate applications can waste your time and effort to gather. Integrated ERP solutions allow for company-wide data to flow through a single system, accessible to anyone who needs it.

If you’re interested in an ERP system, it’s important to do your research in order to find the best business management solution for you. When you do find it, you’ll undoubtedly have a much better data solution, and the ROI to prove it.

How to Increase Your Project Profitability

The eternal struggle: finishing projects on time, within budget, and making sure they’re profitable. Even with project management software, a skilled manager, and a dynamite team all working within carefully structured tasks and deadlines, there are always obstacles.

Scopes change. Orders change. Members of your project team get sick and miss work. No matter what industry your organization works in, Murphy’s Law probably applies when it comes to projects.

The numbers speak for themselves. An article in Gallup notes, “A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which reviewed 10,640 projects from 200 companies in 30 countries and across various industries, found that only 2.5% of the companies successfully completed 100% of their projects.”

What about time and budget? Gallup notes that a study by Harvard Business Review found that “average [project cost] overrun was 27%, but one in six projects had a cost overrun of 200% on average and a schedule overrun of almost 70%.”

That’s because projects, though varying in size and complexity, have a lot of moving parts. Finishing projects on time and within budget requires not only successful management of what’s known, but also having the agility to adapt to unknowns.

Project Management

As with most organizational success factors, access to information is key. And the best way to access all of your company’s information at a glance? The best business management ERP.

Information, with respect to projects, isn’t just about who is working on what. In fact, many different kinds of data, from multiple sources within a company, comprise a project’s life cycle.

In this article, I’ll discuss what’s really involved in successful project management, the roles multi-divisional data play throughout project timelines, and how integrated software solutions go beyond the limitations of traditional project management software.

Project Tools: The Roundup

You can tell a lot about what’s popular in project management from some of the popular software products on the market. Gantt charts, task management systems, and agile team communication are all central to keeping your workforce aligned and aware of project status.

erp software system on laptop

Indeed, consistency and efficiency in the way work is assigned, assessed, and communicated are all essential to project vitality.

But you’re not interested in just managing, right? You want projects to be profitable.

For more profitable projects, you need complete transparency, data access, and streamlined workflows. That means having a system robust enough to handle the complexity of each project stage.

Beyond Basic: Essential Project Management Tools

Any project management software worth the price tag must be able to cover the basics. But nearly every application does that.

Here are some of the necessary tools you should expect from your project management software.

Skill Management

Most projects require employees with special skills. But some are more specialized than others. From CPA services to someone certified to use specific machinery (a jackhammer, for example). Making sure you have the right person assigned to the right task is integral to project management.

However, those tools aren’t always included in typical project management software. You should be able to pull data from your HR division to give you more insight on which team members are best suited to project tasks.


When planning a project, you need to know who is available— and when they’re available. You also need to quickly see your team’s workload so you can properly schedule assignments.

But if your calendar isn’t connected to your project management software, you’re going to spend far too much time tracking down schedules and trying to make them fit into your project timeline. Having a dynamic, fully transparent scheduling tool can help you make sure you’ve accounted for every detail.

Time Off

You can’t easily schedule a project without easy access to employee time off. What if members of your project team are scheduled for vacation during a major deadline? Knowing that, and being able to make adjustments within the same software system, will prevent your projects from being delayed.

Order Management

As you’re planning your project, you’ll naturally ask yourself a version of the following questions: How much of the budget can we use on design? How much was approved by the customer for this construction labor?

No matter what industry you’re in, you want to make sure you don’t go over your budget. Having the visibility to see exactly what your customer ordered and approved will provide the details you need to allocate hours and resources on tasks and spending.

Communication and Visibility

There are many ways to communicate with your customers throughout a project’s lifecycle. But few of them are quick, simple, and built into the software you’re using. What if messages get lost, and you’re late replying to a customer?

Keeping your customers informed of their project status is the best way to limit risk and confusion. It’s also how you develop a good, long-term working relationship. In fact, if you’ve waited for your customer to inquire about a project, you’re probably not being proactive enough.

Having a customer portal allows your customers to see their project status without ever having to ask. They can also view messages, respond to them, and pay their invoices directly through the system. Customer portals provide a much cleaner way to communicate— you eliminate confusing email chains and the potential for missed messages.

Contract Management

mobile app erp system

Having the ability to upload a PDF contract is nice, but that’s a far cry from instant approval. Imagine submitting an order, having your contact review and approve it, sign it electronically, and store that information with the order and project.

There could be a great deal of interaction involved in getting orders approved. But there doesn’t have to be. With proper contract management software built into your system, you’ll easily be able to see what was ordered. You’ll also see whether (and when) the customer approved the order. All without the annoying back-and-forth.

Budget Commitments

A lot of project management software applications allow you to track your overall budget. But shouldn’t you really know how much money your customer approved for specific items, milestones, or project stages?

When you have integrated accounting and project management software, you’ll get a drill-down level of insight that’s very difficult to collect from separate applications. Seeing committed budgets in the form of invoices and line items can help you understand what has been paid for and plan for working hours to accommodate that payment.

Expense Tracking

Similar to your budget commitments, you should have the ability to track expenses down to specific levels of detail. For example: do you need to record expenses for specific job tools? Do you need to know how much you’re paying subcontracted labor?

Being able to track and bill for these expenses is a huge advantage in managing your project profitability.

You should also know when a customer paid for your service without them having to tell you. Closing a milestone is one thing, but being able to receive a payment against an invoice is entirely another. When you’re trying to understand how much income you’ve received, an integrated accounting and project management solution is essential.

Profitability Tracking

Understanding profitability isn’t just the core question: how much money did we make from this project? It can also give you insight about how (and whether) you should approach projects like it in the future. A good report can help make sure that no expense, billable time, or payment falls through the cracks.

Profitability Tracking

In short, your profitability helps you make decisions about what’s working best for your company, and it gives you the data to understand why. It can help you learn from your mistakes, go after winning projects, and adjust your processes for the future.

A detailed profitability report needs to pull in your financial data, which is why a solution that integrates your accounting and project management functionality is ideal.

In short, your profitability helps you make decisions about what’s working best for your company, and it gives you the data to understand why. It can help you learn from your mistakes, so that your total expenses couldn’t harm your net income much, go after winning projects, and adjust your processes for the future.

Document Collaboration

Throughout the course of managing a project, you’re going to need easy, centralized access to documents. Whether you’re requesting a blueprint, compliance doc, or financial record, you should be able to access it in seconds.

Traditional project management software is unlikely to store all of the documentation you need to access your project information. And it’s not just a question of access. You’ll need to share documents with your team throughout the project timeline. Centralized document storage helps you make sure your team can stay on the same page as your project progresses.

Conclusion: Project Management Centric ERP Software

Successful projects are both profitable and timely. To properly manage and account for every variable, you’ll need integrated resources that go beyond the limited scope of typical project management software.

Otherwise, you’re likely to spend half your time trying to track down information from accounting, human resources, sales, and whatever other sources of data comprise your projects. Being able to communicate within a single system that streamlines information is the best way to be completely in control of your projects.

When you’re evaluating management software, make sure you consider everything that affects the scope, profitability, and timeliness of your projects. When you find a solution that can account for all of them, you’ll know that you have chosen wisely.