Choosing Software for Business: A Roadmap and Common Misconceptions
August 13, 2014
Choosing software for your business is a pretty big responsibility. The software you choose greatly influences business efficiencies, daily operations and managerial decision making. Whether that software is for class registration, bookkeeping, CRM, or communications- choosing the right software is a critical and a lengthy process.
That’s why cataloging businesses like Capterra have become popular. They help you find a list of eligible industry software based on a common set of features and compare it with user ratings. Capterra specializes in providing a registry for software solutions geared toward business management. (We’re listed here!) But they also have some great advice about the process of evaluating and purchasing business solutions.
In fact, they recently published an excellent infographic that outlines the practical steps in the buying decision for new software. (Take the time to review it below!)
As you can see from this roadmap, the buying process should start long before you consider the solutions or vendors (STEP 4/7). It should start with defining the problem you need to solve and justifying the expense for your business. For most class based businesses, having online registration versus hours spent with lines of frustrated customers and piles of paperwork is the primary justification for investing in class management software.
Now that you've identified your reason for needing a software and visualized what the search for a solution entails, let’s take the time to point out four common misconceptions about the hunt.
1. I’m going to find a solution on the market to fit my current business practices perfectly.
It's highly unlikely that you will find a 100% perfect solution that meshes perfectly with your current business practices. That doesn’t mean that you won’t find something great. But the truth is that most software on the market is created to follow the 80/20 rule. That rule says that most features in the software are designed to fit the needs of about 80% of the software company's target market. And since no business operates entirely the same as another business, you will inevitably find one or two of your business practices that fall into the 20% of businesses that work a little differently.
2. It will be easier and more beneficial to design my own software.
Are you (or a friend) able to produce professional coded software? Or do you have tens of thousands of dollars to sink into a third party programmer? If the answer is yes, then you're probably on to something. Most software companies start out with money or manpower and a need not being met by the market.
But if the answer is no, then try to avoid this frame of mind. Why? Because there's a lot more involved in development than meets the eye. When you look at a piece of software, you’re looking at an iceberg. There’s a lot more going on under the surface. To begin with, software programming relies entirely on numbers, hardware restrictions, pre-defined methods for carrying out tasks (coding language & libraries) and core assumptions or definitions of the elements of the software. Software cannot reason or make human-like assumptions like AI (at least not yet). It can only use coded logic. One change to a line of code can add a number of complexities to consider- depending on how many places and ways that piece of code is used or referenced. And then there’s testing. Every feature added means adding time to test every piece of data in the software that the feature touches. Not just now, but for every other change in the future to make sure it’s functioning properly. That makes adding a feature a heavy investment. Adding new features or changing the way they work will also change the way customers use the software- which can have a good, bad, or mixed impact on usability.
Next up is cost. Programmers, graphic designers, testing staff and other qualified employees required to build a successful software typically make close to $30 per hour to start. And you can easily pay twice that for more experienced or educated employees. That price tag really adds up. By the time you get done programming a software, the best way to recuperate is through licensing or selling it. If you made a software too specific to your needs, you will have a hard time selling it to recuperate costs. Which is why the 80/20 rule exists in the software industry. Every decision can impact hundreds to thousands of paying users so it’s wise for a business to consider and track all feedback, but do the majority of their programming for the 80% that helps the business pay those employees at the end of the day.
And finally, once you have invested all that time and money into developing your own software- if you change your business practices, it may no longer be relevant. So you will have to hire the team back on to write a new version or make the desired changes. Why not let an experienced business do all the heavy lifting and investment? That's what the cloud computing revolution is all about. Whether you're going with iClassPro or another solution, it's financially wise to let the industry provide you with a selection of competing products. It also gives you the flexibility of moving to a better solution when one presents itself.
3. I will pick the solution based on my budget.
Granted, this common misconception definitely starts on a valid note. Budget is definitely a contributing factor in purchasing or subscribing to a new software (it's even mentioned above between STEPS 2 & 3). But it should never be the biggest factor. Remember that old adage “You get what you pay for?” It’s usually true in the software business. Things like customer service, software maintenance, and updates cost money. You run the risk of getting stuck with an antiquated system or having to pay additional fees for support and maintenance when price is the primary factor in your decision. Often times, the cheapest solutions hide the real cost of using their product in added fees or have simply stopped further development to force an inevitable upgrade to a newer, better product with more features.
4. Implementation will be quick, easy, and painless.
This is rarely the case. Each software names and builds relationships off of the data is stores differently, so imports are usually just the bare bone information that can be easily interchanged or imported. Even after your data is loaded and ready to go, often times you will need to make a few adjustments to the way you do business to really utilize the features provided by the software. Unfortunately, that is not a quick, easy or painless process for any business.
The trick is really getting an understanding of the features you plan to use during your free trial or demo- which means knowing what you're looking for before making contact and then asking the right questions. The answers and advice you get will help you with initial account setup. If you can get a good idea of the workflow and how the software can benefit your business, ask about continued support options after you purchase the software. Not only will you run into periodic questions about new features or how data is being interpreted behind the scenes, but your business will eventually evolve and require you to make changes to the way you use the software. That makes having immediate access to a knowledgeable support staff completely invaluable. They are the key to matching the logic of the software with your evolving business needs and practices, when documentation and experimentation just isn't enough.
How to Ask the Right Questions.
Now that we've covered the big misconceptions and detours on finding the right software for your business, let's focus on the positive. How do you get that conversation rolling? How do you ask the right questions to get the answers you need?
Anyone selling software should be selling it based on its merits (such as features, great customer service, simplifying complex tasks, etc.). While sales reps are usually trained to recite a few lines about a product and its benefits or features, it's far more advantageous not to let the employee read or recite a sales script. Those are great for cold calls, but not always good for problem solving.
As a previous sales and support professional, I can tell you first hand that the least productive phone calls start with questions like "What can your software do?" The answer is probably A LOT. More than your 30-60 minute scheduled phone call can explain, anyway- most of which you can find on the website. If you're looking to speak to a disengaged sales representative who can't wait to get off the line, then you've got one after asking this question.
Instead, start by describing a problem you are experiencing or a specific feature or benefit you're looking for in a new software. Then ask the sales rep how the software can improve the situation or solve it altogether. This will steer the conversation into a much more productive atmosphere for both parties. And if it sounds like the rep doesn't have a recommendation or solution that suits your needs, tell him or her exactly that. This kind of feedback is how every (software) company learns and grows to better serve its customers. You may think they're just trying to fill their quotas, but most sales reps actually want to help you find the RIGHT solution to your problems, because the wrong one will not get them the sale.