Step 1 – List your needs and wants.
Take a hard look at what your company really needs from a software package, or integrated system. What kinds of data do your managers need? What do your data entry personnel think of your existing system? make a list of your “must haves” and your “would like to haves.”
Step 2 – Identify the contenders.
Focus on your more important “must-have” list. Compile a list of potential vendors through web sites, trade publications, word of mouth, trade shows, and trade associations. What options do you have. No need to be picky at this stage; we’ll do that later.
Step 3 – Review reputations.
Find information on your potential vendors. Look up things like: longevity in business, size of sales, support staff, knowledge of the industry, track record of products, rating in software reviews, awards won, and industry rankings. Let other people tell you about the mistakes that they have made and learn from them. If you find a blog filled with posts on how a certain software has worked for companies which sound similar to yours, read the praises and complaints. You may even try to contact some of the previous users to get a first hand account of how exactly it might work for you.
Step 4 – Narrow your list and make first contact.
At this point you should have your list narrowed down to only those software options that suit your needs most directly. Now it is time to get in contact with these companies. Ask them for information on services and support. Ask them about specific software features, references, lists of training programs and available consultants. Ask them about different versions of their software. Software can be a very big investment of both your money and your time as you will most likely need training at first; see next step. Take note of how each company handled your requests as this will be most telling about the customer service you might receive if you were to purchase.
Step 5 – Review service, support, and training.
Drill into the specifics of technical support and available assistance for training and implementation. What user groups are available? Is there an online knowledge base for self-service answers to FAQ’s. How responsive is the vendor to software issues? What levels of service are available? Is there a local or regional contact?
Step 6 – Take a test run.
For your finalists, ask for a demonstration or an evaluation copy of the software. Is it intuitive, easy to navigate, with an easily understandable user interface? How involved is data conversion or integration with other programs? What types of reports can you run? This is the step where you should see if the software does what you want it to do. You should be looking specifically at areas which you demand and expect that the software might be lacking. Put the software to the test so that you don’t find yourself three months later with a large bill and a software that isn’t doing what you wanted.
Step 7 – Ask about implementation.
How long will it take to set up and get running? Who will be responsible for this set up? Will implementation affect your clients? What changes will be required for any internal processes?
Step 8 – Talk to references.
Ask what they like and dislike about the application. Did they find the training and support to be beneficial or was it just a waste of money. What issues have come up for them and how have they handled those? Who performed their installation? How much of the software do they actually use? Don’t waste your money; see step 9!
Step 9 – Consider all costs and follow through.
Total your potential costs including potential new hardware, core software cost, additional or required third-party software costs, costs of service, consulting, data conversion, staff training, etc. Don’t forget to count the costs of your downtime as the software is implemented, and any downtime that will be caused during training. What’s that old saying? “It has to get worse before it can get better.” Factor these costs into your decision between what should be your first and second choice (you may have a third choice at this step if there are very similar products that you are finding fitting) and then stop waiting!
If you have found a software that you know is perfect for you but you find yourself with cold feet as you consider buying, know you are not alone. Buying software can be daunting. It’s expensive, a bit abstract, and can be challenging in learning to use it. We’re not telling you that it’s easy to purchase a large software, but we are saying that the longer you wait, the longer you will be working without something that could have given you a massive advantage over your competition. Advice to listen to when experiencing cold feet is that, “Nothing changes, if nothing changes.“