When it comes to choosing software, you need to consider more than just the code itself.
As more and more companies incorporate software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools into their marketing technology stacks, we felt it was important to address seven vital points to consider when it comes to choosing a SaaS solution that have nothing to do with the software itself.
1. Vendor Support (and General Helpfulness)
Putting the software aside for a moment, perhaps the most important deciding factor should be your general relationship with the vendor — inclusive and exclusive of the support the company offers.
Shane Edmonds, CTO at Norwalk Conn.-based Aventri, said “outstanding customer support” is an “essential” quality for users of a product. “Overall, you want your relationship with your software company to be a long and successful one, and by ensuring [that the need for quality customer support is] being met during the sales process, you’ll be guaranteed a true partnership,” he said.
Van Kwan, product strategist at Orlando Fla.-based Lunar, said brands should exercise caution when dealing with vendors that claim to deliver excellent support. “Every vendor brags about their world-class support, so put that to the test when evaluating them,” she said. “A vendor should provide timely and helpful assistance when you need it. Customers should trust that they will never have to go an extended amount of time without an answer.”
Kwan added that vendors should, “provide at least weekly check-ins to keep a client in touch with what’s going on .... Communication does not need to involve a time-consuming meeting. A simple email works.”
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2. Consulting Services
On top of general support and care, you should make sure that SaaS vendors have the expertise and capabilities necessary to consult with you on your design, deployment and growth strategy.
Edmonds said that, even if you have selected “the best software for your organization,” having access to consulting services during the initial phases of software use, including implementation, is a must. “There is no substitute for making sure you [have access] to expert help to rely on as you start to get acquainted with your new product,” he said.
Kwan pointed out that many new technology deployments fall short due to “lack of strategy” or because user adoption of the new tool fails to reach critical mass. That is why having a vendor that can provide advice and guidance is absolutely paramount. “By using consulting services [offered by the SaaS provider], you gain a partner that addresses these issues,” she said, noting that consultants can lay out the implementation strategy and timeline and then help you educate your end users to increase adoption.
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3. Industry-Specific Expertise and Experience
It’s vital to find a vendor whose employees have a good deal of experience and expertise — especially if you plan on integrating third-party applications.
“If your software needs to be integrated with your current platforms, it’s important to choose a company that knows exactly what that will entail. This is especially true if you use more than one platform — for instance, both Oracle and SAP — because multisystem integration can be a challenge for even the best IT teams,” said Faith Kubicki, content marketing manager at Tampa, Fla.-based IntelliChief.
In addition to ensuring that your prospective SaaS vendors have solid IT infrastructure skills, you should also look for vendors that have experience in your industry, says Carl Millward, sales manager at London-based Elevate2, a NetSuite partner. You should verify that your chosen vendor “has the right credentials to work [within your industry],” said Millward. “Do they have experience of working with similar companies? Do they understand the challenges a company like yours faces?”
For example, if you’re planning to expand into ecommerce, it’s a good idea to determine whether your SaaS vendor has people with the skills and experience to help you make that move. Millward said brands should ask vendors to provide testimonials from previous clients. And, he added, “Don’t forget to look at their website and social media accounts to see if they are a good fit for your company.”
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4. The Vendor’s Thought Leadership
If you’re looking for a way to gauge the expertise and experience of prospective software vendors, check out their blog posts, videos and any other type of content they publish. Jason Morjaria, founder and CEO of London-based Commusoft, suggested looking through the software vendor’s blog content specifically. When you do that, he says, check to see whether the vendor is just posting “old-school release notes” or whether it is creating fresh content that’s thoughtful and relevant.
Morjaria also notes that an active vendor blog can be helpful when it comes to getting your staff to adopt new software. If a SaaS vendor’s blog is engaging, he said, “we’re more likely to be able to get our staff to read about [the new software], understand the features and use the software.”
5. The State of the Software’s Community
Does your SaaS vendor have a forum or community portal — or at least an active GitHub presence? According to Kwan, a strong community is a good indication of the vendor’s credibility. “A software community offers a series of benefits, including the ability of community members to engage with others facing similar problems who can provide reassurance that you are not alone and help in finding a solution,” she explained.
Kwan also argued that strong software communities can benefit the software vendors themselves by providing them with valuable customer feedback and ideas for “future product features and releases.”
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6. Data Migration
Before signing up with a new vendor, you need to consider the challenges that will be involved in migrating your data to the new platform, Millward said. “One of the biggest unknowns [when adopting new software] is the quantity, quality and accessibility of data to be migrated from the old systems to the new solution. Importing five years of historical data into your new system will take many hours [to] cleanse, map, transfer and test.”
So make sure your vendor is aware of the scale of your data, and ask your vendor rep if the company would be prepared to help smooth out the process.
Related Article: 5 Things SMBs Should Consider Before Migrating to the Cloud
7. Consider Internal Resources
Finally, Millward recommended taking the time to review your current resources before entering into a relationship with a software vendor. “A common error companies make when embarking on a large software implementation is to focus on the resourcing provided by the software partner, without considering the internal resources required in their own organization,” he said.
He suggested that brands ask prospective vendors “to provide an estimate of the of the internal resources required at the various stages of the project.”
Can you think of any more non-software-related factors that should be considered when adopting new software? Let us know in the comments section below.