You know that you need to replace your business software, and implement an integrated ERP software system to eliminate manual workarounds and duplicate data entry. You have a short-list of potential vendors, and you're about to engage them to narrow down the list to 2 or 3 "finalists". This is usually a very daunting task, as it's not something you do every day (or year - at least hopefully not).
It's possible that all the prospective vendors will tell you that their solution will work for you. After all, they want to close a sale, so how likely are they to tell you that they're not a good fit for you? Exactly! So how can you trust them?
The first thing to realize is that you face this same dilemma every time you embark on a major purchase, whether business or personal. How do you know you can trust the realtor? The car salesperson? The truth is you usually don't really know, at least not until after you've done business with them, and by then it may be too late.
There are a few general steps you can take to establish the trustworthiness of a prospective supplier in any area, including talking with existing customers (and more than just the one or two they'll initially volunteer), or search the Web for the vendor's name together with "complaints" or "trust" - some results you get from these are real eye-openers.
But with a complex technical interaction, like that for an ERP system, there are additional steps you can take to establish their trustworthiness. Here are three really good ones:
Do they show or ask?
A vendor who wants to sell you at all costs will typically lead with their product, their solution and their bells and whistles. A vendor who's truly trying to understand whether their software and your business are a good fit is more likely to take the time to understand your business requirements in some detail, so that he/she can compare your needs with the software. With the popularity of YouTube, it's easy to see a software vendors product without doing a full demo. While it's definitely a good idea to take a look at any available videos to get an idea as to the look and feel of the system, be wary of vendors who jump right in to showing you the product before trying to understand your needs.
Have they walked away?
Any vendor who's been around for a while will have encountered prospective customers for whom they were not a good fit. Ask if they can give you some examples, and perhaps even some references, for situations where after investing time to understand the prospect's business, the vendor walked away from the opportunity because they realized they were not a good fit. Learn more about the industry focus of the software vendor, and where they maybe aren't a good fit.
Look for an honest "no".
Do your homework, explore the vendor's website, and formulate a question about their capabilities where you know the answer should be "no". See whether the vendor is forthright about this, or tries to dance around the truth. While robust ERP software will be able to meet most of your needs out-of-the-box, you also likely have some unique requirements that may require a specific solution or customization.
Of course there are honest, trustworthy ERP vendors out there - in fact, most that have been around for a considerable time probably fall into that category. But there are also many who will tell you what they think you want to hear. Hopefully, these tips will help you to weed those out.