The WMS demo: turning a vendor shortlist into a partner list

In the final stages of WMS selection is the most anticipated and exciting warehouse management system demo. Demos allow you to see everything in action and get a feel for the online inventory management tools you’ll be using to make your life easier.

You might also be seeing the tool that turns each day into a nightmare.

A robust software demo process is what stands between that joy and terror. So, we’ve put together this guide to help you learn some software demo best practices and put together a variety of evaluation forms and tools to make the process easy and effective. We want to focus on creating the understanding and basis for a script too.

The ultimate goal here is to get you thinking about your demo needs, team, process, and how you’ll evaluate companies after you see their software demo presentations. So, let’s get started with our software demo tips on what you’ll want to see in a WMS or any other software demo presentation.

We'll cover

  • Using RFPs to create your vendor shortlist
  • Creating your warehouse management system demo team
  • WMS demo preparation (with software demo tips)
  • Evaluating WMS demos
  • Online WMS demo resources for further research


1. Use RFPs to create your WMS vendor shortlist

If you’re at the stage of considering WMS demos, then you likely have an RFP or RFI under your belt. We recommend the RFP process because it allows you to start weeding out vendors who can’t deliver what you need.

Use our WMS requirements template to identify and prioritize requirements for your RFP

Turn the data they provide into a quick WMS demo checklist. Make sure you’re looking for vendors who meet all your must-have criteria. You don’t want to waste any time on demos of software that can’t support mission-critical operations.

For vendors who do offer the features you want, rank their overall RFP responses by section. We like to suggest a rating scale of 1 to 5, allowing the highest and the middle score to land on your shortlist.

Remember: You won’t always pick the vendor with the highest score. They may be too complex or costly, so be sure you’re picking the top options from the leaders as well as the smaller players who meet your needs.

"Partners with institution industry memory and knowledge are extremely valuable, especially if your niche has a variety of unique requirements"

Next, look at systems that have worked with companies similar to yours. Partners with institution industry memory and knowledge are extremely valuable, especially if your niche has a variety of unique requirements. You can also ask your existing software partners who they’ve integrated within the past. Start with your ERP tools, but also consider CRM and order platforms.

If your list is still a bit too large — depending on your time, you may want to get down to as few as 3-5 vendors before the demo process — narrow down using software characteristics that you prefer. This might be about choosing a cloud versus on-premise solution or looking at companies who have a history of growth.

Initial vendor demo outreach

The location of this section might seem a little early because you don’t know who is going to review demos or what script to use yet. You might not even be sure what to expect during a demo.

So, why should you start reaching out as soon as you have your shortlist together?

This is your first chance to cut vendors off your list. If they are slow to respond or don’t get back to your initial request, that will give you an idea of what they’re like as a partner. Plus, this can be used to start your prep work when companies do respond and ask what you’re looking for or what data you have to use in a software demo presentation.

Look for supportive companies and get rid of those that feel like a pain to work with. Your WMS is going to require a great relationship with your vendor to help when things go wrong or when you’re ready to grow.


2. Create your warehouse management system demo team

Here’s some really good news for your demo process: use the same team from your RFP process or your existing WMS selection process. Nominate or chose a lead from each group, and you’ll be set.

If you haven’t put together a team yet or you went through the initial selection phases alone, it’s time to change that. Get stakeholders together from every crucial element of your business. This will include those who use the WMS, send/receive orders or data to and from it, and the people who’ll pay for it.

Besides you, there are at least five groups who should be included in the process and have a presence during each demo. Together, they should be able to determine the right questions to ask and concerns to raise when seeing a WMS in action.

  • Customer and vendor relationship team: your supply chain partners are going to be interacting with your WMS on some level. Bring in your relationship managers to have an angle on how software can support — instead of interrupt — the relationships at the heart of your sales, supply, and distribution efforts.
  • Executives: if you want to secure a WMS that you can afford, bring in leadership. It’ll help them see the value of the cost and give you approvals throughout the process. Plus, they’ll be included in the conversations where you discuss initial onboarding as well as long-term costs.
  • IT: every WMS installation comes with an integration process, even if you’re just automating manual tasks. Bring in your IT team to see where you can integrate, where you’ll need custom software or development, and ensure you can safely operate on the devices the WMS supports. Having a strong IT lead is the best way to reduce software headaches after selection.
  • Sales leads: when you bring on a new WMS, you’re getting a great chance to streamline orders, provide customer details about their goods in transit, maximize how you allocate space, and see where you need to cut to move inventory. In other words, this is a sales tool as much as it is a space and inventory management tool. When sales is happy, your warehouse will be happy (and feel secure in the future of their jobs too).
  • Warehouse/floor leaders: warehouse professionals are the easy ones to remember. They’ll be using the WMS more than anyone else and need to make sure it’s something they can handle. The real trick here is to find managers and leaders who will end up teaching other team members how to use the WMS in the future. Identify your leaders and make sure it’s a system they can learn. They’re also the perfect people to ask about features and make sure you see what’s most useful during the demo.

Depending on your mix, you could have a few more people involved. If you get past six, however, it’s good to have an idea of who can talk during a demo and who should just write questions for future review. You don’t want a demo to end up getting hijacked by questions that won’t impact your core offering or capabilities.

So, it’s good to prep for your demo, including a script or checklist to follow.


3. WMS demo preparation and software demo tips

Demoing a robust WMS will often take a day or two, especially if you’re looking at secondary systems and integration possibilities. Your job is to make sure the demos stick to a script of sorts so that everything is checked, and all questions asked.

Software demo scripts are useful because they make sure you can compare demos to each other. Get your entire team together and begin building out a list of needs. Allow the script to form slowly and layout which processes and workflows you need to see in the demo.

Get more software demo preparation tips with our comprehensive WMS selection checklist

You can also take some time to create a cleaned version of your data — removing sensitive customer or proprietary data — and delivering this to your vendors ahead of time. The data will allow the demo to focus on your warehouse and operations, making it a more realistic event.

We recommend a script that goes through different processes in a specific order and makes the requests clear. You can, for example, ask the vendor to walk you through a cross-dock or show a complete fulfillment from order management and picking instructions through timed picking and packing with final shipping label creation.

Here are a few other thoughts on a successful WMS demo:

  • Assign someone to create a record of what’s said. This should be someone who isn’t asking questions, but more serving as a scribe. It’s good to have a clean record that isn’t clouded by an individual’s thoughts or specific take on a presentation.
  • Keep the entire process in “show-and-tell” mode.
  • Create a time limit for each section covering both watching the software in action and giving your team time to ask questions.
  • Include a block of time to ask general software questions.
  • Request to see live processes and ask the vendor to pause during a process to verify that it’s live.
  • Have an agenda in front of you to make it easier for you to control the flow and conversation.
  • Clarify what features are available right now and what are “in the next version” that you won’t get at launch.
  • Have everyone record notes and set aside a time for your team to compare.
  • Make sure your notes include bugs or areas of concern.

Learn the golden rules

We’ve previously established three ground rules for a demo and based on reader feedback; they’re on money and worth repeating. So, here are your golden rules for a demo:

  • Make the vendor use live, operational software on a computer. You’re not here to watch some slideshow.
  • Use data to walk through how actual processes work. The best-case scenario is that you provide cleaned business data of your own for the demo to use.
  • And finally: don’t talk price. A demo isn’t the right time for that conversation. Focus on functionality and capabilities. The pricing negotiations start later in the process and pushing early could make them feel uncomfortable with you.

Questions to ask during each WMS demo

Ask about what matters most to your operations and capabilities, whether that’s running three warehouses or tracking hazardous materials and the equipment used to control it. It’s your turn to learn about on-premise and cloud-based inventory management tools as well as any features you deem as must-haves.

Create a list of questions that fit your needs and write them down. Ensure that they get answered during each demo so that you can properly compare notes and make a smart selection

Get our WMS selection survival guide for a step-by-step run through of the entire selection process

To help you get started, here are some of the most usual questions that should apply to almost anyone looking to use a new WMS:

  • Which features make our day jobs easier?
  • Can I customize the dashboard and display elements?
  • Can the WMS integrate with outside systems and software? What about my specific software?
  • Does anything need to be customized for implementation and integration?
  • How does the platform handle data? (i.e., Can I make my own custom reports? Will it keep our historical data?)
  • What databases does the WMS support?
  • In our RFP we provided a list of mission-critical business functions. How many does your WMS directly address?
  • In which phases do you offer support and which of those come with additional costs?
  • What do you need us to do next?

These are a good start to making sure the test-drive goes smoothly and checks all of your boxes. Put your questions together and use them to create a software demo evaluation form. Give this to every team member to use along with their notes for an easy way to compare demos.

What to expect during a demo

Demos come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors. You’ll have a different experience with each vendor, and that can be a useful tool to determine what company culture fits you best. Here are our thoughts based on WMS needs and software demo best practices.

It’s a conversation, so it’ll be unique and have an ebb-and-flow. That said, there are a few things you’ll want to look for in your vendor demos.

Start off with a full review of the software and actual applications or processes. Get the vendor to walk you through an entire process from start to finish for all of the most common use cases of your WMS. Feel free to ask them to go back and review elements or change something on the screen. You want this to look how you’ll operate the WMS.

"If you’re facing a salesperson who is demanding and trying to control the entire process, this may indicate that there’s something to hide in the system."

Ask questions, but avoid making a lot of statements, so that the vendor is doing the talking. You don’t want to accidentally say a function is available when it isn’t because someone in the presentation may become confused.

Vendors with a strong WMS will tend to have a more relaxed demo where you can ask questions and see functions, directing the demo per your agenda. If you’re facing a salesperson who is demanding and trying to control the entire process, this may indicate that there’s something to hide in the system.

Demos take a long time. So, expect the vendor to act like a normal person. They may get a little frustrated if things don’t work. They’ll need to pause for lunch or to use the restroom. They’ll probably be very excited about whatever they view to be a competitive advantage.

Let the vendor be themselves while you control the pace and flow of the demo. It’s the easiest way to judge the software and the company while getting all your questions answered.


4. Evaluating vendor demos and next steps

After you’ve seen your demos, it’s time to bring together the team and all of their notes. Review your script and your checklist for every demo you witnessed. Be sure to bring those software demo evaluation forms too.

This is a time to go through what you liked, didn’t like, needed, and what wasn’t supported. It’s also a time to become a harsh judge for some items.

"On the positive side, give companies credit when they were honest with tough questions and when they used your data if possible."

If you had demos that didn’t show the real software but relied on slides or videos, look at them unfavorably. The same goes for systems that didn’t adequately address your core functions. If the integrations you need weren’t supported or they would take a lot of additional work, that’s also a concern.

On the positive side, give companies credit when they were honest with tough questions and when they used your data if possible.

Rank each regarding how well they supported your core needs in common WMS realms, from pick and pack to ERP support as well as support for the devices your team uses and anything you’ve identified as a growth option for next year.

Add a few brownie points if they discussed support, how to install the system, and long-term maintenance without getting into the weeds on cost or waffling on details of how often existing customers face downtime or errors.

You’re judging both the core mechanics that can be rated on a scale, like a 1-5 slider, as well as the honesty and capability of the company itself. You need real answers to your questions, and now you have the team decide jointly if they felt each vendor was open and honest as well as useful.

Gear up to implement your new software with our WMS implementation guide


5. WMS demo resources

The demo process and WMS selection process can be a bit complicated. To help you understand how things should look and what steps you might want to take next, we’ve put together a few resources to help you get started.

Take a look and be sure to share any additional items you know of with us. Best of luck in your demo process!

WMS software demos available online

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Geoff Whiting

About the author…

Geoff is an experienced journalist, writer, and business development consultant with a focus on enterprise technology, e-commerce, and supply chain development. Outside of the office he can be found toying with the latest in IoT, searching for classic radio broadcast recordings, and playing the perpetual tourist in his home of Washington D.C.

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Geoff Whiting

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