In a cloud-first, try-before-you-buy digital era, businesses should be very sceptical about allocating budget to software vendors that don’t let them try out their products first. Expecting a free trial – or sandbox version – is not only reasonable, it should be assumed as part of the modern enterprise software sales process. If a vendor is not prepared to invest in the relationship, either by offering the test system or being prepared to tweak it to show the customer how it would work for them, that does not bode well for a longer-term engagement. After all, the sales process is where companies try their hardest and show off their shiny best. If they’re not making the effort at this point, don’t expect better treatment once contracts have been signed.

It’s important to differentiate between sandbox/software trials and vendor demos. In the latter scenario, the software provider is in control and will be showcasing the best of what it has to offer. In a sandbox scenario, the customer should be able to get their hands on the software, explore what it does in different contexts, and generally stress-test it in real business scenarios over a period of 2-4 weeks. If some element of configuration is needed to apply it for the target use case, a business software vendor should be prepared to invest in enabling that for the period of the trial – as a value-added part of the sales process.

Ask: what are they trying to hide?

Any attempt to deny the sandbox option suggests either that the vendor is not confident in the outcome, or that they do not value the customer’s prospective business.

All of this might sound obvious, yet too often organisations with large budgets ready to spend on the right solution are finding their requests turned down, even scornfully – as though the sales team has been mortally offended by the challenge to let them try out a system before committing to it.

This is absurd, given that companies could be spending hundreds of thousands on the eventual solution. You wouldn’t buy a premium car online based on a technical spec, multi-angle photo set and video review – you would expect to test-drive it, or walk away.

With all the talk of customer-centricity, respecting a buyer’s right to ‘try before they buy’ is the least enterprise software vendors should be offering to those making important, strategic investment decisions that will directly or indirectly shape their business for the coming years.

– Max Kelleher