As the world around us deals with various forms of lockdowns and the definition of “business” as we know it changes day to day, the fact remains that we still need to do the meaningful work that keeps our businesses operating and bills paid. Part of that work is making sure your business is operating at its best and in today’s business environment that means making the most out of business software. In fact, given rise or remote work and need to access business-critical systems and information from locations outside the office, business software selection and utilization has become crucial.
So if you, like many businesses lately, find that your current accounting and operations software lack the functionality to allow you to operate your business to its fullest, then it may be time to evaluate a new solution. We have helped clients evaluate, select, implement, and support the industry’s best software solutions for over 20 years. We’ve written about this topic before and Here is our high-level guide to picking the best ERP product today.
Step 1 – Clearly identify needs.
You know your business better than any software provider. Once you identify that you need to make a system change, start identifying the specific reasons why. Is the performance of your current system slow? Are you or your team manually entering data or handling processes that a software solution should be doing for you? Are you missing key deadlines because of the time it takes to accomplish routine activities? Get specific here and document what things you need to resolve in a new solution. Few things are more frustrating than going through the cost and time of a new system implementation and not resolving your key issues.
Step 2 – Start the evaluation process.
You have 3 main options for the evaluation process in which you will start identifying potential solutions and moving into discovery processes. These impact the time you and your team invest in this process as well as the overall cost of the project in totality. Here are the options:
- Use your existing partner. Chances are you may already have a software partner. The company that implemented or published your current system or is providing the ongoing support. It costs you nothing to reach out to them and ask for their recommendations. Any good partner should be able to give you an unbiased opinion for what is best for your business.
- Pay a professional selection firm. If you don’t have confidence that your current software partner can provide this insight, you can consider paying a 3rd party to evaluate and select a software for you. They will use their expertise to survey the market, schedule discovery calls and facilitate product demonstrations. They will work with you to review proposals and implementation plans to make the best choice for your business. The upside is you ultimately save time and gain insight through their expertise in selection process and contract evaluation. The downside is the additional cost but for larger projects this is often the best route.
- Run Your Own Evaluation. This is the lowest cost option but will require the most time from your team. Expect to run a multi-hour discovery and demonstration process for each potential solution. Add on the time to evaluate each contract and the other options may sounds more appealing. At the end of the day, however, you know your business better than any partner and you need to feel in control of this process, no matter your decision.
Step 3 – Demand a process (preferably yours).
Every software company, big and small, will have a sales process to help guide potential clients through their solution offerings and demonstrations. This will almost always involve some version of the following steps:
- Initial Qualification: This is among their first conversations in which they will vet your project and needs to make sure they have a solution that can help. This is your opportunity to ask tough questions of the solution provider as much as they are qualifying you.
- Discovery: This is a much more detailed conversation or series of conversations with key members of your team to understand the specific operations of your business more fully and what will be required for the demonstration and implementation. This is typically the longest part of any software evaluation project.
- Demonstration: Now we get to see the solution in action! Have your key stakeholders present and make sure the solution you’re seeing works for your business. Ask to see processes specifically if possible and end the meeting asking about next steps during the implementation process to get a complete picture of the project.
- Proposal Presentation/Close: Here you will see the costs for the project, implementation, scope documents, and any special offers. Review this document carefully (as always) and be wary of any price that seems too low. Though cost isn’t everything, some firms may provide a low initial cost and bill by the hour or add on costs through the implementation process.
These are all essential steps so you should not plan on skipping any one of them but you can set the expectation early on of what you want to see and when. It is important to get every one of your questions answered throughout the process so feel comfortable pushing beck when necessary.
Be Wary of “Special Promotions” – Large companies are known to offer amazing year 1 deals but make up those costs in year 2 and on. If they offer any kind of promotion, get them to tell you what your annual costs would be without any promotion. This number will likely be what you end up paying for the bulk of your time on their product.
Ongoing Partnership and Support – Business software is more powerful and complex than ever. Because of this you want a partner or software publisher you can work with easily. Confirm how their support works. If it’s a very large company you may get triage-type call center support which can be frustrating and leave your team more likely to try and fix an issue on their own rather than through recommended support.
Future Projects – Invest in a software that can last for the next 10 years of your business. You may use it longer or shorter but either way you don’t want to do this process more than you need to. Consider what you want to accomplish in a large span of time when making this decision to ensure your investment is meaningful.