Note from Kara: Michael Ortner is the President and Founder of Capterra, a free Web site that helps small businesses find the right software to meet their business needs. Capterra maintains the largest database of business software products (from over 10,000 software companies) and categorizes them, making it easier for people to identify their ideal software options and do product comparisons. What Amazon does for books and iTunes does for music, Capterra does for business software.
Many business purchases can – and should – be made very quickly. The extra man hours required to find the absolute cheapest office furniture or best phone service are usually not justified because the difference is often marginal. However, there are decisions that do warrant the extra time and effort such as hiring the right people and finding the right software.
The process for buying software for your business is a lot like buying a house for your family. You would never limit your house search to the first few you that you come across, but instead you would make sure that you are aware of every possibility. You would also be sure to solicit input from your spouse and possibly other family members since they will be living there as well.
The same concepts apply to software. Whether you are looking for software to handle accounting, HR, your sales force or your website, there are dozens or even hundreds of options that vary by feature set, method of delivery, usability and cost. And, unless you are a one-man operation, there are usually multiple stakeholders and end users you should consider.
Here are five practical suggestions for making sure you find the right software for your business:
1) Clearly articulate your software needs and requirements, prioritize them, and ensure they are aligned with your business goals. Include all stakeholders in this effort.
2) Address, and if needed, fix, your business processes before implementing new software. You may even find that software vendors have applied industry best practices to their software which you can adopt.
3) Perform an exhaustive search of all your options. This will help you to better understand the market and what is available and possible.
4) Based on your needs and priorities, narrow your long list down to a short list of 4-6 solutions and have end users view a full demonstration of each product.
5) Speak with references that are similar to your company in size and industry. In addition to references provided by the vendor, try to find others on your own.
These steps will help you make the right decision, but the most important aspect of the process is to be patient. If you take your time and find the right solution, you will probably use it for years and reap benefits far greater than the costs. If you hurry the decision, you may waste a lot of resources and be starting over within a few months.