Copying is the most sincere form of flattery, so the old adage goes, and never has this been truer than in the current world of computer software.
The days of a small number of software companies monopolising the market are long gone, and with the dawn of multiple hardware ecosystems, more and more start-ups are eagerly chasing a piece of the app pie. And in most instances, the pieces simply get smaller and smaller, with more and more options
But with a plethora of choices for every conceivable application, whether it be task management, team collaboration, or customer communications, comes a new string of complications. The straightforward selection process of yesteryear has been replaced with the need for an elaborate research project, every time a new business need arises.
So how best to approach this ever-developing conundrum? Picking the right system for your business is a time-consuming process when it reaches a successful conclusion, but a poor choice can result in a complete loss of buy-in from co-workers and management. At best, you end up with egg on your face, at worst, well, that will depend on your company’s patience and the severity of your mistake.
To give some context, I recently moved from a standalone CRM platform to a complete customer engagement platform combining helpdesk, webchat, and marketing automation. While mostly successful, I then discovered another system which I had previously thought uncompetitive from a pricing perspective, actually provided better bang for buck. While not terrible from a business perspective, it does mean a great deal of annoyance for my colleagues who had just gotten used to a new system and will now have to learn a new way of working yet again.
Whilst difficult, and occasionally overwhelming, I have discovered some key principles which give far greater confidence when explaining the rationale behind the decisions made with regards to choosing software ecosystems.
The market leader is usually there for a reason
This may seem like a straightforward statement, but as someone who grew up in the days when Microsoft were the be-all and end-all, and Apple were a plucky upstart, it can be easy to develop a mentality that is suspicious of the status quo. If a company is at the top of its game, the likelihood is that it won’t stay there for long, and so the safe bet might seem to go for #2 or #3. But in a constantly changing, increasingly competitive market, if a team has managed to get to the top, the likelihood is that they’ve worked the hardest to do so. You don’t get to the top of the pile nowadays without a serious amount of hard work on top of a dollop of inspiration. Make market share and market growth a big factor in your decision-making process.
Test and trial
When it comes to trialling, it can be easy to get carried away with a system’s bells and whistles. If you’re currently operating on an antiquated piece of software, the temptation to try out all the new features you don’t currently have can be hard to resist. However, the likelihood is that everyone else in your business will be less interested in how you can automate aspects of the job they’re being paid to do, so to increase buy-in from both management and co-workers, first, make sure that the fundamental processes of the old system can be achieved in the new. This will reduce transitional headaches in the long run as you are able to work on utilising new possibilities to show benefits, rather than constantly reverse engineering processes after you’ve launched.
Count the cost, discuss a discount
It’s amazing how even with all the benefit listing and testing you can do, there’s nothing like a spreadsheet for whittling down a list of possible solutions. It’s surprising, given the ease of access to pricing plans and comparable products, that many software companies still offer competing products at vastly different and confusing price points. But before you rule them out entirely, it is worth dropping a line to a sales rep, who will sometimes knock a lot off the asking price, or draw your attention to their product’s USP.
Don’t waste time on sales calls
Despite my previous point, in my experience, it’s rarely worth the pain of sitting through a fairly torturous demonstration of a limited set of features that a sales rep has been trained to wax lyrical about. Far better, and more entertaining, to use the trial and marketing bumph to ask difficult questions of the product team.
Test the support
If at all possible during your trial, fire off a support ticket or bring up a webchat. Use the method of communication that will be open to you when you are actually using the product. This is a great way to check how capable the support team are with the product, and whether or not they will actually be able to help! The helpdesk of one particular product I recently used seemed more intent on telling me that my company’s requirements were wrong than finding a way to make their software work for me!
It can be very easy to look at a shiny new product with rose-tinted glasses, so it’s really helpful to find any reviews or comparisons of competing software packages. These will normally alert you to the deficiencies that could be otherwise well hidden, and the benefits that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Don’t be afraid to be wrong
So you end up in my shoes, and six months to a year down the line you find out that you should have chosen a different piece of software. Well, you can try and stick with it, but really, there’s little reason! Most software packages only tie you in to a year’s subscription, or you can pay month to month, so the only financial loss is the time it takes to switch, and if the benefits are significant enough, then just do a quick bit of math on lost employee time, and you’ll soon have a financial argument!
Those are my top tips, why not share yours in the comments below!