Weighing Your Options
Best Practices for Selecting a Software Solution
By Beth Strobel
I recently had lunch with an audit executive who told me her team needed a new audit software solution. However, she kept putting it off because she felt overwhelmed by the myriad of options and the process of finding one. Wading through solution websites, stretching out mentally to determine which functionalities are marketing fodder and which are real, knowing she’d have to sit through numerous demos; she said she felt exhausted before she’d even begun!
Most of us can relate to this feeling. While more consumer options force suppliers to make their products better, it creates more work for the customer to educate themselves on all choices available in order to make the right decision.
I’ve worked in software sales for nearly a decade. My role allows me the opportunity to observe how companies make technology purchasing decisions, often quite differently. Some companies have rigid processes that inhibit productivity. Others have a marked lack of process that creates a ‘wild west’ scenario. While each company has different cultures and circumstances, I wanted to document some of the best practices I’ve observed that almost anyone can leverage .
Who Needs to be Involved?
I’ve seen this go badly in two different ways. First, some groups fail to include the right people up front. They get to the end of the evaluation and must backtrack to bring groups ‘into the loop’ (groups that should have been involved the entire time). Second, some groups involve way too many people from different groups and decisions can’t be made effectively. A good rule of thumb – involve the people who will be responsible for providing human and financial resources related to the project.
Know Where You Want to Go—and What You Need to Get There
With the right people involved, next comes the task of determining your requirements. Now, no one said this would be easy, but it is worth it! Document your must-haves, your should-haves, and your nice-to-haves. Understand the business case for any requirement marked as a must-have. Ensure everyone is aligned on what success looks like, and what functionality is needed to achieve it.
What Are the Show Stoppers?
If there are contractual ‘show stoppers,’ communicate these to all vendors up front. Don’t waste a moment of time with a vendor who can’t give you a straight answer to the questions mattering most (for example – Are you a cloud or on-premise offering? Will you allow me to audit your hosting environment?). If there are pieces of functionality that are ‘must haves’ and a vendor doesn’t have them or can’t prove them out, it’s best for both parties to end the conversation as early as possible.
Engage Project Management
If you have the luxury of having a Project Management (PM) organization, engage them early. A good project manager will help your team stay organized, keep the evaluation focused on the requirements, and ensure a seamless transition from evaluation, to selection to implementation. Vendors you are considering will also appreciate having a PM to communicate requirements and timelines.
Lock in Budget Early
With the purchase of anything you’ve never bought before, it’s a chicken and egg conversation between “what is your budget?” and “what’s this going to cost?” However, you can perform rudimentary ROI calculations to understand the cost of the process in its current state. As you identify solutions to evaluate, request some basic costing information up front to ensure you don’t waste your team’s time looking at solutions that will never be approved.
It goes without saying that I only speak from my perspective as a vendor partner. I would love to see those on the client / purchasing side submit their thoughts, tips and tricks. Happy evaluating, everyone!