You have written out your business goals, created your feature set list of “must haves-like to haves-nice to haves”, done your research on trends and technology, and talked with your staff about their needs. Now you are finally ready to start shopping around. (Earlier posts in this series cover developing business goals and feature lists, click here to read them.)
Before you reach out to any software companies, look online and ask around to find out the various offerings and reputations of each one. Many of the software companies post detailed information about their feature sets, along with demo videos, and testimonials on their websites and social media pages.
It also helps to talk with their current customers and hear what their experience has been. But, make sure to consider the source when you are getting feedback. If someone is adamant about how great or awful a particular vendor is, are they also someone who always grumbles or offers praise regardless of the situation? Or do they tend to offer fair and balanced assessments. Don’t ignore their input, just be sure to put it in context.
Once you feel like you have a good lay of the land, reach out to those companies that you think are going to be the best fit for you. At this point, don’t worry about pricing.
#2 Be Realistic
Keeping in mind that no software is going to do everything that you could possibly want right out of the box, measure the offerings against your goals and feature list. If a software package will give you the tools to achieve all or most of your goals, has all of your “must haves”, a few of your “like to haves”, and has a great reputation for customer service, then they’ll be a good fit for you.
On the flipside you don’t want to purchase software that only has a few of your “must haves”, lots of “nice to haves”, and doesn’t really help you achieve your goals, but it’s well within your budget.
#3 Nuts and Bolts
Once you have your short list of software vendors, you can then shorten the list even further by considering things like pricing, timeframe, data import tools, training resources, and cancellation/refund policy.
Let’s look at each of these briefly;
Pricing – This should not be your sole deciding factor. That said, you don’t want to choose something that you have to go into debt to purchase.
One thing to keep in mind is that purchasing software around the end of the Quarter or year (end of March, end of June, end of September, and end of Dec) can sometimes net you a significant discount. Many sales people are trying to make their quarterly/annual goals and may be willing to give you a price break in order to get your business. Or instead of lowering the price they may be willing to throw in additional services at no cost.
But be careful, this can backfire on you. If your salesperson is having a great quarter or year and doesn’t need your business to make their sales goals, not only will you not receive the discount that you’re hoping for but you could lose your window of opportunity for a timely installation. Tread very carefully with this one.
Timeframe – How quickly can they start working with you? Are they backlogged for two months or can they get started with you right away? What is the average amount of time that a company of your size takes to get installed?
Keep in mind that a backlog is not necessarily a bad thing. It can indicate that quite a few companies see the software as the best option to have. Where it can prove difficult is when their time frame doesn’t align with your timeframe.
Understand too, that how quickly or not an installation takes is largely dependent on you. Getting a feel for timeframe from the software vendor can help serve as a guide for budgeting your time and give you a realistic expectation.
Data Import – Can they do it? What can they import? Does it cost extra or come as part of the package? How much will you manually have to enter on your own? The answers to these questions will impact your installation timeline.
Training Resources – Do they offer videos? Live classes? On-site training? Are they extra or do they come standard? Do they break out training in smaller chunks to get you running or do they throw too much at you all at once?
One of the nice things I have found about video training is that you can refer back to it as often as you need to. You can pause, rewind, fast forward, etc. to suit your learning style. Video training is not the be-all-end-all, but it is a very valuable tool.
The way that I recommend to approach training is to focus on getting started, rather than learning everything there is to know. Learn what you need to in order to get up and running. Then go back and become an expert.
Cancellation & Refund – No one likes to get here but it inevitably happens once in a while. Different companies offer different things, so you’ll need to ask about this specifically.
One thing to keep in mind is that software companies incur costs and expend resources in helping you get installed. Like any good business they need to make sure that they cover their costs or they won’t be in business long. So just because a company doesn’t offer you a full refund, doesn’t mean they just want your money. They need to stay in business too so they can continue to support their customers.
Making a Decision
Now you can make the best choice for your business based on all of the variables. And most importantly, don’t ignore your gut. If it’s telling you to go with ABC Company even though on paper they may not be the best fit, don’t ignore that. Likewise, if your gut is telling you that something is wrong with XYZ Company even though they have everything you could possibly want, then it’s probably too good to be true. You may need to take more time, do more research, or talk to more people that use the product. That’s ok. Better to make a wise decision, even if it takes a little longer, than an impulsive one.
If you would like help in choosing new software, navigating a software installation, or getting back on track with an existing one, contact me through Contact tab on this website. I have managed and assisted with dozens of software installations and can help you make yours successful.
Next – Priorities