Tips for Successful Software Demos in Schools

Technology in Schools May Not Be What You Expect

When your school sales team is asked to demonstrate software or an Internet program to educators, did you ever wonder why their eyeballs roll? It's like a teenager being told that the preacher’s kid would be a great prom date!

Salespeople know that even tech-simple programs have to work in a tech-hostile environment. While it’s simple to find a sturdy, clear space to demo textbooks and other paper curriculum products, in an academic setting it's less certain you'll find a computer clear of hundreds of free downloaded, space-hogging programs and with a sturdy, reliable Internet connection. Yes, it's hard to believe, but true, that many schools still have old hardware and lack the Internet bandwidth you might need to do a reliable job.

School sales and marketing managers should listen to sales reps. They know what awaits them in the classrooms and computer labs. Technology requires salespeople to adopt a new protocol for sales, and it requires the marketing department to provide them with the sales tools and knowledge to make the demonstration an uplifting experience for everyone.

Consider These Five Tips to Ensure Better Software Demos in Schools

Before your demo, have a person familiar with the technical requirements pave the way by making a couple of quick phone calls to the demo site to make sure the required equipment and network connections are there. For countless reasons endemic to schools, it is not good to assume that, for even a simple program, you will find a computer to run it.

  1. Contact a teacher and ask a couple of simple technical questions. If the teacher can’t answer your questions, go to the next step. Once I asked a teacher if a computer was available for a demo. She enthusiastically said, “Yes. I have five.” What she didn’t tell me (in truth, she probably didn’t know) was that only two of them worked and both of them were too old to run the software. Further, the computers were only connected to the school’s network, not the Internet. You can save the day by asking about the specific model of computer or her students’ favorite Internet sites.

  2. Contact a system manager and ask a couple of simple technical questions. If he or she can’t answer them, skip this step and bring your own equipment. Don’t be surprised if you are talking to someone who doesn’t seem to know much about technology. Schools have accomplished the financially impossible to get any technology into the building. Not all schools have enough professional staff and so have done what they have to: hire people who “like” computers. They raise their own tech experts. Even if the system manager passes the quiz, follow up with a fax or email with the specifications clearly written to outline what is required and when the sales person will be there.

  3. Contact another teacher and ask to have students there during the demo. It would be nice to believe teachers and school administrators will eventually embrace technology. Some never will, but that doesn’t mean they are not going to be carried along with the tide as technology becomes commonplace in the classroom. But students are comfortable with computers because they don’t know life without them. Therefore, get students to help demo the program. If the teacher is proficient, she will join in. If she is not, she will be content to let the students go and use their responses to gauge the quality of your program.

  4. When in doubt, take your own equipment. If there is any likelihood that the school's equipment will be insufficient, be armed with your own hardware. If the program requires an Internet connection, download some of the site onto a CD or your hard drive, or create a PowerPoint slide show to demonstrate the key screens and functionality. Once I went into a school that I knew had powerful new computer hardware. What I didn’t know was that their Internet connection was wimpy. I tried to use the Internet after school when every computer in the building( and the 30 other schools in the district) were being used to check email and do homework. It choked! If I had had the web pages I needed on a CD or on my computer, it would have saved the day.

  5. After the sale, call the client to check to see if your software is being used. A teacher once told me about purchasing an LCD projector. The company installed the projector but left the power cord dangling from the ceiling. There were no electric lines anywhere close. Who was to blame? The company that sold the LCD! As the teacher said, “They didn’t tell me I needed to have a power outlet close by.” That company probably never got another order from that school. Wonder why?

Why Bother Selling Software to Schools if It’s This Tough to Do a Demo?

I believe we are on the threshold of a boom in software and technology purchases. Here’s why. The first stage of getting computers into schools was for information exchange: the library, administration, and teachers’ computers. Hence, many more hardware purchases than teaching software.

Schools are now poised to use technology to support instruction and they are under pressure to do things differently with technology. This will generate a new round of software purchases, and then hardware buys will follow. Once a product is purchased, the system will automatically engage to get it installed properly. Demos are the hardest part.

But, most important, the move toward digital materials is being fueled by the real client: technology-savvy students who will not tolerate old, dog-eared textbooks and paper products. And they'll be supported by parents who want their children prepared for a technological workforce.

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About the Author

Betsy Price is the Director of the Adjunct Program at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. She also does project management and evaluation consulting for tech-based educational projects and products. sciedconsultants@xmission.com

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