Every company uses software, right? But there are so many providers out there, how do you know your company is making the right choice? As a software-user and the CEO of a company that provides software, I always consider a few points, both when choosing vendors to work with and in offering our services to clients.
Here’s my quick guide to evaluating software companies:
1) Does your company view vendors as strategic partners?
You should be able to trust your vendors. You should know they’re going to be there for you, staying ahead of the industry, following best practices, anticipating and heading off problems—today, tomorrow, ten years from now.
Really, it comes down to value. Do the people you’re doing business with enhance the value of your company? Does your software provider offer anything beyond the commodity itself? Do they offer guidance, support, troubleshooting? Do they communicate with you, listen to your suggestions, try to meet specific requests? You definitely don’t want to work with someone that you only hear from once a month, in the form of a bill…
2) Which means it’s all about the relationship.
If you really need customer support, how long does it take to get a tech on the phone? Because if something is delaying your workday right now, you can’t wait until tomorrow to fix it. At our company, we make a point of getting back in touch with clients in under an hour. Our goal is to get back in touch within 15 minutes.
Dependability is a huge facet in any relationship, and contact with a decision-maker should be an option for all clients, large and small.
As C.E.O. of the company, I’m a phone call away. We have an amazing customer support staff, but if a client really wants to talk to someone in charge, I always take that call.
In some lucky instances, clients have become my friends, my hunting partners, my board members—and I say lucky because it has been lucky, for me. Our clients are great people, and I truly value my relationships with them. But “breaking bread” with a vendor may not be your top priority, and that’s fine. You know what isn’t fine, though? A lack of responsiveness.
Even if the price is right and the program is smooth, if every tech employed by a software company disappears at 3 p.m. on the one Friday that you have a glitch at 4:15, then that glitch is the least of your problems. (Although that glitch can be incredibly frustrating—particularly when no tech calls you back until 10 a.m. on Monday.)
3) And that brings me to reputation.
Many of us think choosing a vendor is primarily about product claims versus cost. But no matter how inexpensive a product is, if it doesn’t serve its purpose, it’s worse than useless. Before you work with a vendor, you should know that the sales pitch rings true. If a software provider doesn’t put you in touch with references—unbiased, third-party clients already using their software—during the first sales pitch, that’s a red flag. Word of mouth and client reviews—you know, reputation— should be the #1 selling point when choosing your provider. This is especially true in today’s world, where vendors seemingly consolidate overnight, and sometimes the results are less consistent than you’d like them to be.
4) Remember the 80/20 rule.
No single software can do everything, but if a software can do 80% of what you want it to do, then it’s likely an appropriate fit. If the company has great customer service, they should be able to help you find workarounds and ensure you’re getting the user experience you want.
5) Know the cost of action—and the cost of inaction.
Everyone is busy. No one has time to learn a new software. No one relishes workday disruptions. But disruptions are easier if they’re planned. When you’re checking your software providers refs (and you are checking refs, aren’t you?), ask direct questions about the implementation process—how long did it take? How intuitive is the software?
You may not want to spend two months learning a new program, but if you put it off for another five months, you need to think about that in terms of lost productivity. How much will it cost your company to operate less efficiently for another five months? Maybe the most cost-efficient tactic is to hire a temp to help carry the workload while you implement the software now. Or maybe it really does make the most sense to wait till your “slow” season. Just make sure you weigh your options rather than letting procrastination get the best of you.
Okay, that’s it from me. I hope this guide has been helpful and will make choosing a software a less stressful process. Happy shopping!