Technology, computers, IT, programs, applications. The word “software” conjures thoughts of many things technical. Purchasing new software, especially for an enterprise-level business, certainly requires technical investigation and diligence.
But what about the human element of this process? Signing a contract amounts effectively to the start of a new partnership, especially as software companies move toward software-as-a-service (SaaS) models, in which the customer pays monthly or annually to license software, rather than making a one-time purchase.
Selecting a good vendor may seem secondary to selecting a good product, but the right people can often make or break the implementation and continued success of new software. Installing and configuring the software, training new employees to use it, quickly resolving technical and non-technical problems–all of these require support and communication.
Value Communication Above All Else
A new software agreement is a partnership, and the ability to communicate is the best indicator of how successful a partnership will be. Communication is the thread that weaves through all facets of a software agreement, from contract installation to product installation and customer support.
Having a single, primary point of contact will go a long way toward good communication. It consolidates accountability and streamlines conversation. Having a primary contact person also facilitates a stronger individual relationship, which ultimately benefits both business’s interests. After all, all business relationships filter through relationships at the individual level.
A vendor’s response time is also indicative of the value it places on communication. Do they respond to emails and phone calls within 24 hours? Do they respond with sufficient information and next steps?
For many companies, direct access to IT or development staff will also be important. Most software acquisitions require manipulating and integrating data, which is rarely straightforward. The ability to communicate directly with IT staff removes unnecessary roadblocks to getting this work done. It allows the people most knowledgeable about data and technology to listen to and work with the customer and to address their technological needs and concerns.
Look for Interested and Excited Customers
There’s something to be said for being wooed as a business. A company that wants more than just a check is a company that will do what it takes to help its customers achieve success. In this instance, success is not limited to success with software. The best partners go the extra mile to help their customers with issues that do not fit squarely within the boundaries of the business relationship.
Identifying this quality in a business requires a great deal of gut and intuition. It’s often easy to tell instinctively whether somebody values a relationship. However, there are indicators that may help set apart an interested software company from the rest.
Are senior employees involved in conversations? Is the company flexible and accommodating with regard to contract negotiation, timetables, features, support etc.? Do employees provide helpful, complete information?
As so much back-and-forth, analysis and decision-making is concentrated in the time leading up to signing a contract, it’s easy to lose sight what may happen further down the road, or even immediately after the purchase.
Foresight certainly requires technical consideration. For example, will the software update over time? Will it scale easily as the customer’s business grows? What happens when the software experiences a bug? Each of these scenarios raises its own set of questions regarding the human element of selecting new software.
Employees need to be trained in the new software, and new employees need to be instructed on how it works as they’re added to the team. Changes and growth in the customer’s business may require reconfiguring software. Technical bugs may disrupt the customer’s workflow. All of these require continued support and communication with the software provider.
Look to Referrals
Positive statistics and metrics are comforting and provide a snapshot of what to expect from new software, but not everything can be measured. A human testimonial can be invaluable. Referrals will often get at the qualitative, and more subtle, benefits that a vendor has to offer. Perhaps most importantly, they’ll paint a more complete picture of what it’s like to work with the company.
Selecting new software is an art. Some companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year locking into multi-year contracts. Choosing the “wrong” software has very real consequences. While the software itself must be up to par, it’s the people behind the software that will ultimately determine a customer’s success.