I recently went to a nearby airport to a hanger where they sell and rent Lear Jets. I asked if I could take a test flight in one of the new jets. They asked a multitude of questions and then said that one of their pilots would have to take me up for a test flight. I argued back that I wanted to take the plane out alone, so I could play around with it and see how easy it is to fly. I mean, I’m not going to spend all that money on a jet without trying it first! They then asked me if I was even a pilot, and I told them no, but that I am good with cars and machinery. In fact, I even had a buddy that let me fly his single engine plane from Michigan to Wisconsin, and I wasn’t a pilot then either!

If by this point, you aren’t horrified by my story, you should be. Hopefully you, like myself, absolutely do not want people without training flying around all over our skies!

So, now I will tell you my story was slightly embellished, but the moral of the story is that in the above scenario, allowing me to take a ‘test flight’ would invariably have a less-than-positive outcome. In fact, the odds of a positive result are near zero, and the odds of disaster, bad publicity, and more, would be almost certain. Yet, if you use this type of scenario in the business world, every day, time after time, customers ask for ‘trial versions’ of ERP systems, and they too usually argue that “they are good with technology.”

Granted, the potential consequences of a failed jet fight are more significant than a failed ERP demo trial, but there are several similarities between the two. Both take a long time and dedication to master. ERP systems are complex pieces of technology that require vast amounts of time and study to understand, let alone master. Some systems have hundreds and even thousands of settings and configuration options that cause the system to react and perform according to the needs and specifications of a specific company.

Over my 25+ years of developing and selling ERP software, and 10+ years of ERP consulting, I have never had success with offering or using trial versions. This marketing method works well with video games or simple applications, but not with ERP systems. Vendors offer these as attention grabbers but often do a disservice to the industry by doing so. Many good products end up being eliminated because a ‘free trial’ wasn’t configured for their specific needs. Users also approach these trials with no real agenda and plan, so the odds of learning something meaningful are very low. It’s often like reading a Greek manuscript when you don’t know the first thing about the language.

Free trials and generic demos are only valid for a couple of things: a) you get a sense of the look and feel, and therefore, the technology behind a specific product, and  b) you get a cursory view of the depth (or lack thereof) of a given system. But that’s where the value ends. I tell my clients to go to YouTube or vendor websites if they want to see what a system looks like. There they can find hundreds of videos on any given product and get the same answers they would get through a trial.

When you really want to see a system in action (or a jet!), then ask a professional for assistance. Product specialists, implementation staff, and sales engineers can discuss your needs and then show you a meaningful demo without risk or frustration. Doing it the right way is quicker and easier, and it ensures that you don’t wrongly judge a product from a brief “free trial.” If you get tempted, ask yourself first if you really want to test that jet without the training. 

Daniel Carr

Daniel Carr has spent over thirty years in the ERP industry and has overseen over 2000 ERP implementations. He is an industry leader with deep experience in many industries including wholesale distribution, pharmaceuticals, educational technology, manufacturing, SAAS based companies, medical devices, and e-commerce.