A useful reverse demo is probably the single most helpful thing you can do to find the right AMS for your association. Cobalt has navigated dozens of reverse demos with clients, and we can describe the best way to prepare for one and the things you should make sure to include. Your time and resources for the search process are always limited, but you want to be able to choose a new vendor with confidence. Keep reading to walk through our suggested best practice advice for a great reverse demo.

The Purpose of a Reverse Demonstration

Vendors should be willing to give you a general and customized demonstration of what they can do for your organization. It’s a critical step (later in the process) that I’ve outlined in our 2023 Association Management Software Buying Guide. Ideally, however, those demonstrations would happen after you’ve met with top vendor prospects for a reverse demo.

In our experience, there is no better way to begin understanding what your staff needs in their day-to-day tasks and workflow than a thorough reverse demo. How can a vendor honestly give you an estimate or helpful tour of their platform and services if they don’t know what you need? I’m always amazed at how many companies try and skip over this step. The complications and frustrations aren’t far behind for either party, though, if you leave this out.

How to Prepare for Your Reverse Demo

These five things will all give you a better return on your investment of time and energy for a reverse demonstration:

1. Be Open & Honest with Prospective Vendors 

The reverse demo is not the time to hold your cards too close to your vest or hide the current challenges you are facing. We sometimes talk with associations that are nervous about sharing too much at this stage. I think it is perfectly acceptable to ask vendors to sign a non-disclosure agreement in that case.

2. Focus on What’s Most Important

Many organizations looking for a new AMS focus on processes that are only used by one person a few times each year and forget to review the day-to-day tasks that contribute the most to keeping their organization functioning smoothly. Here is a great, practical way to avoid this pitfall.

Before you meet with prospective vendors, poll your staff about their top 10 daily tasks. Compile and condense that list and be ready to address each of those top 10 things during your reverse demo.

At Cobalt, we do this with our customers during our implementation process, and we’re always surprised that two or three items on the list never even came up during the sales process.

3. Be Open to Change

When you and your team have grooved a way of working with an old system, I understand how hard it can be to imagine new processes and tools.

It might help to remember to focus on these things:

  • the outcome of your processes (instead of the steps to get to the outcome)
  • the processes that really frustrate people (and make them say: “This should NOT be so hard!”)
critical current integrations you need to maintain (but identify the ones you that can/should be replaced)
  • clear articulations of business needs (not demanding a given solution, since that’s what you’re paying expert vendors to recommend or develop for your needs!)
the shortcomings you see in the processes you focus on in the demo.

This last one is especially important because that is where your team might be surprised to find out there is an easier way to do things without an AMS burdened with a decade of outdated, ill-fitting customizations.

4. Don’t Forget About Your Customers/Members

When you’re creating requirements for demonstrating your current system, make sure you show both the customer-facing and staff-facing components. A top 10 daily tasks poll from your staff is essential, but you should also spend time finding out which processes your customers use the most on your website or member portal. Google Analytics is a helpful, accessible tool you can use to show actual traffic and usage patterns.

5. Be Prepared

I know this sounds basic. However, my advice is to prepare for this demo as if you were training the prospective vendor on the system.

If you get to the meeting without an outline or script and decide to wing it, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

You are sure to miss critical areas and go off on tangents. In your preparation, remember the goal is to make sure that the vendor has a solid understanding of how you use your system today. Through our experience at Cobalt, we know many of the key questions to ask to get the answers we need. No vendor can account for things you forget to show them, though, so schedule a time to prep for this meeting.

6. Set Aside the Time

I’m sometimes surprised at how stingy some prospective customers can be with the time they give to us during the sales process. This is including deals we’ve won, too.

What AMS you choose could be the most important decision your organization makes all year. It will absolutely impact most, if not all, significant aspects of your business for the next five to ten years.

This is not something you want to rush or cram in between other competing priorities. It might take three or four hours for our team to dig into the needs of your organization. During the search process, even if you wind up giving five vendors ten hours each over the course of several months, I believe it is well worth the investment to make sure you get this right.

The Rest of the AMS Search Process

We’ve packed a lot of information into this post! Hopefully, you have a concrete framework for how to think about successfully preparing for this part of the search process. If you have questions or want to explore particulars about a reverse demo, get in touch.

The Cobalt team has also created a huge, free resource you might be interested in—our 2023 Association Management Software Buying Guide is crammed with the best of what our team has learned in 20 years of helping organizations just like yours. It will give you best practices, checklists, and a prioritization for your search that will make it more manageable and something you can start tackling right away.

Get the 2024 AMS Buying Guide

This comprehensive resource covers everything from how to assess your staff and members’ true AMS needs, to this year’s top AMS providers, to what you should ask AMS providers to ensure you’re getting the system you really need. Download a free copy for your team today!

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Association Management Software 2023 Buying Guide cover image. It includes a large version of Cobalt's logo, the AMS Buying Guide title, and photograph of Cobalt's Washington, D.C. lobby.