Advances in technology mean there are now more digital tools available than ever before that can help you streamline your business. From increasing efficiency to driving up productivity and generating stronger leads, the benefits of investing in new software can be huge.
But choosing which new software to invest in is a big decision, and one you want to get right first time. Any software will require a financial investment and solid time commitment to be made, to make sure it is fully integrated and that teams are properly trained. Overall, ensuring it is being used to its full potential.
For companies that don’t have the expertise of an inhouse IT department to call on, making the final decision on what to buy may feel a little daunting. So before you start making your enquiries – and face polished sales pitches and glossy promises – make sure you have armed yourself with the key questions you want answering.
To help you, we have pulled together a list of the core things to think about for your own business. These questions are designed to be broader, to help you make sure everything is covered off from the start. Rather than focusing in on each individual software and its benefits, they can help you try and avoid finding out too late that it just isn’t going to work for you. (Plus no-one wants to get burned by being hit with hidden charges, or worst case to find they need to switch to a whole new system.)
Top tip – try and ask the same questions of each supplier you speak to and record their answers, so you can easily compare them at a later date. This will help you prepare a shortlist and also flag up other issues you may not have thought about initially.
How long has the supplier and the software been around?
The length of time the software has been available and running may be one thing to consider as part of your decision making process. Don’t be afraid to ask when it was launched and how many/what type/and what size of companies have used it to date. You should also check that you can easily find references and ideally speak to current users of the software.
Does the software provide all the key features you need it to?
Prepare in advance a checklist of the key features you will be looking for in your new software, so you can tick them off during your conversations. Note down any extras that may be mentioned. That way you know your core needs will be met and what extras you may be able to get on top.
What type of service model is it?
For example, is it a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, whereby instead of installing and maintaining software, you simply access it via the Internet? Or is it a desktop app run on a device at your offices? Or a cloud based app that falls somewhere in between the two? What are the implications going to be for your business from using the service model they are offering?
When your company grows, can the software grow with it?
Check how scalable the software is going to be, to ensure it can grow easily with your business grows. Factors to consider here may be things like the option for customisations, the structure of any databases, reporting functions and how it will connect to your current CRM and other systems. See if you can get an idea, or examples, of costings for scaling up in this way. You don’t want any nasty and costly surprises down the line.
Are user numbers fixed or unlimited, and what does that mean for licensing?
There are many ways that software can be delivered and charged for. For example, you may need to pay for a license per seat, or per concurrent user, or even per processor based on the number of machines using the software. Some suppliers may offer the option of ‘light’ and ‘full’ use, recognising those who may need it full time and those more casual users. The best solution for you will always depend on your individual business set up.
Where and how is data stored, and who owns it?
Check what the suppliers’ policies are when it comes to data storage and its protection. What safety measures are in place? What is the safety record of the company? And when it comes to who owns the data, ask if it will be wholly owned by you. If so, check that a clause will be written into the agreement that clearly states that is the case. Also find out what steps are in place should the supplier go bust. What would that mean for you and your data?
What training is provided in the beginning?
Sometimes referred to as ‘onboarding’ it’s always good to know what support will be given to get the software set up, and to get team members familiar and happy using it. What will the process be and within what timeframe will it be delivered? Do they recommend it is done slowly, a few team members at a time and expanding out? What are the most common issues and obstacles that can be hit in the beginning with team training?
What ongoing support is available, and are there different tiers?
The last thing you want after shelling out for new software, is to then face hidden charges for things such as training and support. Be clear on exactly what is included as part of your contract and how much support/training will cost outside of that. For the support provided, check how it is accessed, delivered and the days/times it will be available. Do they offer any guarantees on the timeframe they will get back to you, or how quickly they will resolve any bugs in the system? Downtime can be very costly for any business.
How much maintenance is necessary and how are updates handled?
It’s important that software is being kept up to date and in line with advances in technology. That will help with its longevity and allow it to better grow with your business. Ask how often the system is generally updated and if customers are automatically told about planned updates, or whether you can opt in to find out about them. Some companies won’t inform you and instead leave it up to you to inform them if you then have a problem.
Can data be accessed remotely, and how safe is it?
Check whether your team will be able to access the software remotely, such as from a company phone, tablets or laptop, if that’s something you’ll need them to be able to. Ask what this may mean regarding safety of use and the data. How will it be monitored and kept secure?
What happens if you’re not happy, or it doesn’t deliver as promised?
Finally, check what the notice period is and the process that would be followed were you to decide to leave them, or switch supplier. A company that doesn’t have a clear exit path, or who makes it incredibly difficult to leave, should ring some alarm bells. Ask what would happen were the software to fail to deliver on its promises once installed. The answer may be more complicated for a custom-made, rather than an off-the-shelf offering, but should give you an idea of the type of company you’re potentially dealing with. What would be written into your contract about this?
The main thing is to go into each call and set the agenda yourself, so you get the information you really want. Each sales pitch you are given will be designed and delivered to wow you, and each sales rep primed to make you an offer you can’t refuse. By being armed with these core questions and following the strategy that you will be comparing suppliers based on them, you can help ensure you get the answers you want – and also don’t forget anything!
Ps. If you’re specifically thinking of investing in a new CRM for your business, then we’ve put together a handy checklist that can help you.