Last week, I overheard a conversation between my coworker and a frantic prospect. The prospect asked my coworker to help her implement a solution her company had pre-selected. Since we weren’t involved in her company’s requirements gathering, my coworker requested some details on how they planned to use the software and what problems they were hoping to solve. The prospect did her best to answer the questions, but there were a lot of blanks left over. Our rep helped her realize that not only had the company missed the mark on necessary features, they’d also chosen a product that was not going to solve their problems. It didn’t integrate with their existing systems and its features overlapped instead of adding new functionality.
As software advisors, we see these kinds of scenarios all too often. Companies realize at the Nth hour they desperately need a solution, but no one on the team truly understands the requirements. Or, in cases like this frantic prospect, they are entirely off-base about what they perceive will solve their issues.
If you’ve ever researched a software solution, you’ll agree that this scenario is nothing to be ashamed of. Have you SEEN the number of products on the market?! There are thousands.
Even I, who work in this field, had a hard time writing a blog comparing document automation systems. I scoured review sites and product web pages searching for answers on what these products could and could not do, only to find the information was scattered and not directly comparable. The whole process was time consuming, confusing, and quite frankly, emotionally exhausting.
That’s why the worst advice you can hear about buying business software is, “You can do it yourself.” Software investment is a big deal. You’re asking your company to invest a significant amount of money and training hours on a long-term solution — so it better be right the first time.
You are very capable, but when it comes to buying business software, researching and implementing on your own can be problematic. Here are a few of the biggest reasons why:
1. It wastes valuable time.
To properly vet a system, a team first needs to understand what is lacking in their current system and determine business requirements. Then, they need to think about the systems they already work with. Can the existing integrated systems be integrated with any replacements? Next, they need to set aside the necessary hours to research the products, set up demos, and report on their findings. Time is inevitably wasted during this ongoing process. As software options are investigated, new questions arise, and teams must reconvene to decide on the answers.
Meanwhile, team members juggle vendors who are hungry for a sale and ready to flood inboxes and voicemails until they are heard. Because most companies don’t know how to approach software buying, the flawed process often ends in frustration and unnecessary delays. Many companies pick the software that demos the best and it’s not based upon their true needs.
2. It’s hard to know the right questions to ask.
There are many variables to consider when purchasing software. Earlier, I mentioned compatibility with current systems. The solution you choose should integrate with at least one of your other major systems. Especially in the case of CRM and ERP, or CRM and Marketing Automation, integration is a must-have to reap the full benefits. Another consideration is features. It’s not enough to say, “We need eSignature.” The ideal questions to ask would be “How would eSignature rank on our list of must-have features?” or “What is the savings by having eSignature?” Your company may recognize the need for certain features, but if you don’t rank the importance of each feature numerically, it’s easy to get distracted by the sea of possibilities out there.
We’ve also seen scenarios where companies believe they have a complete feature list, but through deeper analysis, realize they are missing some key elements. That’s why a software advisor asks you what results you’re looking for from your product; this helps us create a mental checklist of the questions you may not have known to ask.
3. It’s easy to underestimate your budget.
Did you know one in six IT projects has a cost overrun of 200%? Let’s look back on our frantic prospect’s situation. Once she and her team realized the mistakes they’d made, it was too late. The software had already been purchased. Now everyone had to scramble to get the functionality they still lacked. Luckily, our team was able to help them by custom building an integration between the two systems—but it put a major dent in their initial budget. Instead of simply buying a compatible software, they had to allot additional and unexpected funds to cover the complicated integration that made it work.
While this situation is hopefully more of a rarity, we see companies underestimate their budgets all the time. Sometimes they don’t account for the customizations they’ll need. Other times they haven’t fully investigated training and onboarding costs. And, in some cases, they decide half way through the project that they want to use add-on products to supplement the features their chosen product is missing. A good implementation partner will help you recognize the budgetary gaps and create a process that fits what you can afford.
Guidelines: Small companies should budget for software plus 3 times the cost of the software for implementation. For large organizations, the ratio is closer to 1 to 1.5.
4. Onboarding and training become another marathon.
In the software world, user adoption refers to the number of employees who are actively using your system. Ideally, your user adoption rate should be 100%, but it isn’t always easy getting people to try something new. The best thing a company can do is implement a training and onboarding program, which may have multiple tiers depending on what the users will be doing with the system. For example, when we train companies on how to use their CRM systems, we often do separate training for sales, marketing, and services end user; administrators (HR people and upper management); and advanced IT users (the guy in your IT department who will configure special functions). Different job roles need to learn different ways to utilize the CRM.
If you purchase the software on your own, the next obstacle is where to turn for this crucial training. It’s not uncommon for big name software vendors to outsource all training to partner companies. If you already have a trusted partner, this part is easy. If not, you’re back on the hamster wheel. A ”training the trainer” approach is a much lower cost solution with very high risk. If the trainers are not experienced, then it will require additional training and loss of productivity. This can lower adoption and even lead to complete failure.
5. You’ll be dangling without personalized support.
Ever call a customer service line and wait on hold for 2 hours? It’s infuriating. This is another prime example of why “you can do it yourself” is simply bad software buying advice. What happens after you are up-and-running? No software is perfect, so when the inevitable obstacle falls on your path, who’s going to fix it? An implementation partner supplies personalized attention and response rates that are a lot faster than a call center.
Even if you’re one of those lucky few who NEVER have an issue with their software, you still need to consider updates/upgrades. Software companies are releasing new versions multiple times per year, and eventually the legacy versions are turned off and will no longer work. This forces all companies to eventually upgrade. If done improperly, these upgrades could break parts of your software solution, interrupt a crucial integration, or slow down your teams more than necessary. The hope is that, when your company purchases a solution, it’s for the long term. Keeping dependable support in your back pocket is a safety net during your software lifetime.
Don’t fall for bad advice about buying business software. The process is not like buying a TV from Best Buy or picking out a new couch. Software purchases are complex and involve a lot of moving parts, so devoting the time and resources necessary to make the right purchase is essential.
By allowing a software expert to advise your purchase, you remove the pressure points. Software advisors are in the pits every day, staying on top of the latest products and analyzing features. A good software advisor will not recommend any product until they fully understand your business, its processes, and your goals for the future. They should interview your buying team to understand your challenges and ask the questions that help you start thinking on a deeper level about what you really need. At Technology Advisors, we’ve seen many customers have that “ah ha” moment when the right questions are asked.
Software buying isn’t a destination, it’s a journey—one that goes on for years after your purchase. The software itself makes up part of the equation, but the rest comes down to long-term support, ongoing training, and being aware of what’s available to you. All those details are taken care of in a solid partnership with a software expert. Plus, if you get a cool partner (like us!) you may also enjoy some added benefits, like free training and educational experiences for your staff.