How To Properly Evaluate And Select Mission Critical Software

by | Mar 1, 2020 | General Business

Vendor Analysis

Selecting the right software can have a huge impact on your company—either positive or negative. This is why it’s so important to take your time and make the right choice. 

Whether you need some project management software, productivity software, industry-specific software, or some other kind of software, this process will help you. With this said, no process (including mine) is perfect.

Even if you take everything I suggest into consideration, you can still have something go wrong. Yet, it’s still worth following the process because it can drastically improve the likelihood of you selecting the right software.

#1: The Product Vendor Is The Most Important Part Of Your Decision

It doesn’t matter how great the software functionality is, if the product vendor is a dud, you’re going to have problems. I’ve experienced this many times over the years, with both small and large software vendors.

Just because a vendor is large, doesn’t mean they will provide you with great service. To determine if a vendor will meet your needs, you’re going to complete a thorough analysis of them.

Use a spreadsheet to create a vendor matrix. Put the name of the vendors you’ll be evaluating across the top horizontally. Put the questions and categories you’ll use to grade each vendor vertically on the far left column. See the example below:

Vendor Matrix Example

You’ll want to come up with questions and categories that make sense to your business. I like to break things up by company details (i.e. Date founded, Size of company, etc.), software details (i.e. Feature A, Feature B, etc.), and support details (i.e. Support hours, Support channel, etc.).

#2: Request An Introduction Call And Product Demo With The Vendor

Before you invest in a product, you need to meet with the vendor. This doesn’t need to be in-person, it can be a video call or a phone call. But, it’s important that you do this to learn more about their culture and how they operate.

You’ll also use this as an opportunity to get a personalized demo of their product—including asking any questions specific to your company.

If you simply look for canned demos out on YouTube, you’ll miss out on some important details.

#3: Take The Product For A Test Drive

Most software packages have a trial period where you can test out the software. And if they don’t have this option available, you should request it. During the trial period, you’re going to do a couple different things.

1) Make sure the product meets your needs from a functionality standpoint.

2) Take their support for a test drive. Testing out their support is important here. You want to see how they respond and what type of support they provide. Make sure you use their normal support channel when you do this (i.e. Phone call, email, or filling out a support request on their website). Don’t email questions to your sales contact (if you have one).

You need to use their support like you would if you were a customer.

#4: If Possible, Complete A Proof-Of-Concept

This step is an extension of step #3. Rather than just kicking the tires on the product and “looking around,” you’ll want to create a more formal evaluation process. This process is called a proof-of-concept (POC).

It’s also sometimes referred to as a proof of technology, but we’ll refer to it as a POC here. Vendors will often give you an extended trial period if you have a well defined and planned out POC.

This is important because it can be hard to get through an entire POC in less than 30 days (which is the most common trial length)—especially if you don’t have a dedicated department evaluating software for you.

Your team and you have plenty of other things going on with day-to-day business, so you’ll want as much time as possible to complete the POC.

#5: Start With Month-to-Month Licensing, Or Ensure A Warranty Is In Place

With Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products, you’ll likely have an option to pay monthly or annually. If you pay annually, you’ll usually get a certain percentage off of the monthly price.

It can be enticing to do this right away, but I’d caution you against it. Instead, start with month-to-month licensing for the first few months.

You don’t want to lock into an annual contract until you know the product and vendor are a great match.

Now, for more traditional software that offer up 1-year, 2-year, or even 3-year contracts, you need to request a warranty period in your contract. Basically, you want the ability to cancel the contract within a set amount of time if the software doesn’t meet your needs or if the vendor turns out to be a bad partner.

I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t consult you on the wording to use here, but keep this in mind before you get yourself into a bad contract.

#6: Keep Your Negotiations Cordial

This step won’t always be relevant to you because most SaaS products don’t involve negotiations. The price you see on the vendor’s site is the price you’re going to pay. However, if you’re evaluating any software that uses more traditional contracts, then you’ll be able to negotiate.

The most important thing that businesses often forget is that you are negotiating with a future partner (not an enemy).

Your vendor is your partner.

You want them to be successful, and they want your business to be successful.

This doesn’t mean you can’t work on getting the best terms possible, it simply means you need to treat the vendor with respect in the process. I’ve watched many relationships go south over the years because the vendor wasn’t treated with respect during negotiations.

Conclusion

These six steps take some time. It’s not a process that you’ll complete in a single day. It may even take multiple months for you to go through all steps in detail and select a vendor and product.

So, be patient, and be confident that the process will lead you to the right software. 

Ryan has been heavily involved in the world of Information Technology and entrepreneurship since the early 2000s. From small business consulting to Fortune 500 IT leadership, Ryan has a wide array of industry knowledge. He earned his BBA from the University of Iowa in 2004 majoring in Management Information Systems and later earned his MBA from the University of Iowa in 2009 with a focus on Management and Marketing.

Ryan is a published author, having published "Internship Mastery: The Technology Student's Guide To Crushing Your Internship And Launching Your Career" in December 2019.

When he's not spending time with his wife and three young children, you'll find Ryan pounding away at his keyboard, spinning on his Peloton, or listening to a good audiobook or podcast.

Connect with Ryan on Instagram.

Ryan Glick

Ryan has been heavily involved in the world of Information Technology and entrepreneurship since the early 2000s. From small business consulting to Fortune 500 IT leadership, Ryan has a wide array of industry knowledge. He earned his BBA from the University of Iowa in 2004 majoring in Management Information Systems and later earned his MBA from the University of Iowa in 2009 with a focus on Management and Marketing.

Ryan is a published author, having published "Internship Mastery: The Technology Student's Guide To Crushing Your Internship And Launching Your Career" in December 2019.

When he's not spending time with his wife and three young children, you'll find Ryan pounding away at his keyboard, spinning on his Peloton, or listening to a good audiobook or podcast.

Connect with Ryan on Instagram.

Ryan Glick