5 Questions to Ask Yourself before Speaking with Software Vendors

Mark Canes

So you've decided it’s time to upgrade your business back-end accounting and inventory management systems to something more modern and sophisticated.  This can be a great opportunity for your business, and having all key stakeholders on board with the change is the first step in getting the system you need.  Other steps in the process include setting priorities, evaluating requirements, and searching for and speaking with vendors.  Before you even start the process though, there are a couple questions that should be evaluated internally to help you hit the ground running. We have outlined these further below:

1. What do you perceive as your businesses greatest strength? Weakness?

Taking an internal look at the strengths and weaknesses of your business will help you identify areas where software can make improvements. Do you provide excellent customer service but frequently make shipping errors? Do you have a great eCommerce site, but it’s not integrated with your inventory system? Taking stock of these different strengths and weaknesses can also provide you with a benchmark for comparing processes once a new system is in place.  Make sure you question existing processes, and be open to making changes if there are benefits to be gained.  For those processes that are unique and beneficial to your business, find a software vendor who is able to accommodate them.

2. What are your buying criteria and success criteria?

This question ties in with the above, in that it gets you to start thinking about how the success of implementing new software can be measured.  Will you evaluate the software against number of man-hours a task previously took? Will you be looking at costs saved with better inventory management? Will you be analyzing employee morale? Starting with a list of goals you want to see accomplished with new software as part of your buying criteria will enable you to make comparisons down the road.  This type of information can also be analyzed during the sales process.  A good software vendor will spend the time reviewing these specific processes and identifying ways that they can be improved with a new system, focusing on tangible values.

3. Where would you put the emphasis regarding price, quality, and service?

Although price should always be a factor when it comes to making a large capital investment, such as purchasing software, it should never be the only factor if you want to make the right decision.  If you can find a solution that meets your needs and provides the level of service you want, will you be willing to adjust your budget? Are you looking for a system that can provide excellent service over advanced functionality? Prioritize your requirements in order to more easily evaluate vendors.   It can become overwhelming when speaking with multiple software companies, but knowing what aspects of software are most important to your business will help you narrow down the list.

4. What do you like best about your present vendor? What don't you like? 

It is important to evaluate software vendors in addition to software functionality.  This is especially true when you move from an introductory system to a Tier 2 system as many true ERP systems will provide similar features.  With this in mind, outline what you look for in the companies you do business with.  Do you want a vendor who has worked in a similar industry? Do you want a vendor that provides personalized support? Do you want a vendor that represents a large brand name?

5. What is your time frame for making a decision? What is your time frame for implementation? 

Having a realistic time frame in mind is key in order to make the right decision when it comes to software – with realistic being the operative word.  When implementing a Tier 2 ERP system, most implementations will take anywhere from 3-5 months so it is important that you account for this when beginning the search. The actual time necessary will correlate with the sophistication of each tier of system and the complexity of your business processes. A proper implementation will include time for data migration, software set-up and configuration, and employee training. Lastly, the software vendor’s schedule will also play a significant role in the implementation time-frame.  Most software companies operate on a first come first served basis, meaning that there may already be implementations on the schedule for the time-frame you want.

Taking the time to answer the above questions will start you on the right path for finding a new software solution.  For more information on best practice's for finding a system, download our Software Buying Guide!