Choosing a New Software Vendor: The Six Critical Steps to Know and The One Everyone Forgets
A Bit of History
I’m in New York this week and, peering out my hotel window, I can just barely see the top of the Salesforce building. That got me thinking about the “No Software” revolution founder and CEO Marc Benioff started waaaaaaay back in 1999 during dotcom 1.0. Before SAAS (Software-as-a-Service), if you wanted software, you had to have hardware…installed and maintained at your home or office. It was costly and inflexible and complicated. There was one positive, though: you only had three, maybe four options of bad software to choose from. Analysis Paralysis? Didn’t exist. You dove in feet first and prayed you didn’t have a power outage that took all of your precious data with it.
Fast forward to 2019. Great software is everywhere. Cheap, powerful, always on and backed up. And let me emphasize everywhere. To give you an idea, G2 Crowd, a software evaluation site, currently lists 379 CRM software providers. 379?! How in the world are we supposed to navigate this? Perhaps I can help.
The Evaluation Process
When should I consider adding a new SAAS platform to my already growing list of services I pay for on a monthly basis? The short answer here is two-fold:
1) When you are struggling to understand an aspect of your business
what was my best selling product last month?
when did I last talk with our best wholesale customer?
2) When you’re spending way too much manual time on a set of tasks
I spent how many hours last week sending out order tracking numbers?
If I have to download one more spreadsheet of sales data…
Both of these scenarios are costing you time and money…and probably stunting the growth of your business. Time to find a software package to help, but there are sooooo many choices. Where to begin?
Anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed about making a complicated decision, I try and break it down into smaller, more manageable steps. Here’s my six-step process for choosing your next SAAS software vendor:
#1 Determine Your Needs
Fire up a fresh Google Sheet and start making a list (one row each) of everything you’re looking for this software to do for you, then divide this list into three categories: MUST, WANT, NICE. As in…must have, want it, nice to have. Always include built-in integrations with your current software packages on your list. This is a critical requirement for ease of implementation and ongoing use. You’re going to put your vendors-in-waiting as your column headers and start to fill out your new Super Software Evaluation Matrix.
#2 Build A Long List
Start researching options. As mentioned earlier, G2 Crowd is a good source of leads, along with Capterra. Ask friends and peers for suggestions. If someone has had a bad experience, attempt to verify it with another example and be sure to ask that specific software vendor about it later. (Maybe they’ve fixed this problem?) At this point, keep an open mind and try not to rule anyone out — even the most expensive ones. Money buys the best software developers who build the best software. You usually get what you pay for.
#3 Evaluate Your Options
Start paring down your list based on vendors that do not have one or more of your MUSTs. Chat, call or email their sales and customer service teams. How quickly do they respond? Are they able to intelligently answer your questions? Find them on YouTube. Yes. YouTube. I judge a software vendor based on the quality and quantity of the informational and instructional videos they make public. Plus, you can learn a lot about their UX, features, and capabilities by watching their videos. Also, be sure you have a clear understanding of any implementation fees along with which tier of service you’ll want. Almost all SAAS software has Bronze, Silver and Gold plans with an increasing number of features.
#4 Demo Your Short List
At this point, you should have a manageable single-digit list of choices. Watch a recorded demo (good), sign up for a live group demo (better) or, if offered, set up a one-on-one demo with a salesperson (best). Give them examples of what your software MUST do and have them show you how it does it. Pay close attention to their UX. Beautifully engineered software makes me happy. The opposite makes me (and you) frustrated. No one wants that.
#5 Choose and Integrate
Congratulations! You’ve chosen the newest member of your SAAS product family. Ensure you have (or have hired) the right people on your side to dedicate time to the integration. You may not want to hear this, but most integrations miss their Go Live dates or fail completely not because of the vendor, but because the customers did not allocate adequate integration time and resources. That being said, also ensure you have a single point of contact from your vendor for the integration along with a specific project plan and timeline from them. And always, always ensure they are available the day and week of launch.
#6 Train and Maintain
Were you wondering the step that everyone forgets? Well, this is it. As you are beginning your research into a new software package, talk with peers who have implemented something similar about the time and expertise needed to operate and maintain said package. Can someone on your current team handle it or will you need to hire someone new? What will the training consist of? How much time will be needed? As with any system, software is only as good as the people running it. The worst case scenario is firing up this great new package and having it fall flat because employees don’t know how to use it nor want to use it and, therefore, the data inside of it is not only useless but counterproductive to why you chose it in the first place.
Choosing a new software vendor is hard work, but can be exceptionally rewarding if it saves you time/money and allows you to grow your business more efficiently and effectively. At Bluprint partners, we have executed this process many times over to help our clients choose the right vendors at the right time. If you’re struggling with this process, feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org. Would love to see how we might be able to help!