Remember that time you bought a house by writing down a thorough list of requirements, visiting each house, scoring it with your family, and finally, letting the scores make the decision for you?
Yeah, me neither.
Conversely, organizations that are looking to scale, or become more effective, still often rely on traditional evaluation and selection of new technologies and the service providers who help make it happen.
Evaluating software selection criteria has become so commonplace that most are accustomed to the prescribed steps, give or take, of the selection process:
- Discovery and requirements gathering – Define the product or service need, outline business and technical requirements, and create a requirements document
- Request for Proposal (RFP) process – Draft an RFP, working with procurement or supply chain department through protocols, issue and receive responses for your RFP
- Initial vendor analysis – Identify potential vendors, and conduct initial vendor research
- Evaluation and selection – Grade RFP responses, conduct vendor demos, scorecard against evaluation criteria, make a final selection
Organizations hope that a thorough discovery and requirements gathering phase, combined with an impartial score-carding process, will allow it to find the best option in the most objective way.
That being said, a scorecard and comments on paper don’t always tell the whole story. Just like buying a house, there are other factors at play, especially as it pertains to software selection criteria.
Here’s a few other things I often consider when conducting a selection:
Build a Total Ownership Model
A lot of times, organizations will build a Total Cost of Ownership model to get a better understanding of what capital and operating expenditure will look like across 3 or 5 years. Usually, the only components factored in are licensing and infrastructure costs.
Often overlooked are other costs such as internal and external support resources, potential business growth, and changes or upgrades among many more. Also not calculated into the equation are benefits received per choice: increase in productivity and business, dollars saved, and efficiency. Sometimes, it can be easy to get caught up in the cost of a product and not consider both short- and long-term benefits.
Combining costs with benefits in a Total Ownership Model allows an organization to understand the complete effect of a new technology platform. It can help justify a business case and drive to an easier decision.
Analyze Competition and Behavior
How do your vendors talk about their competition? Do they recognize where a competitor might be stronger than them and admit to it? Or do they trash them at every turn?
One of the most profound things I ever heard from a vendor was in a conversation where they were talking about their main competition. A client asked this vendor about how their billing functionality compared to their competitors and his response was, “Well, [competitor]’s billing functionality is the envy of our business and it’s remarkable how well they’ve got it right. While that part of our functionality might not be at their level, we’re working to make it better with every release. That being said, I think you’ll find that all of our other modules outperform all of our competitors.” The response was both humble yet self-serving and has stuck with me to this day.
How a vendor speaks about a competitor says a lot about their culture. Speaking of which…
Ensure Cultural Alignment
Every representative of the vendor is a peek into the culture of said vendor. From the salesperson, to the technician, to the client support representatives, the way they interact with their clients is a representation of the company’s leadership and values.
So, when the lead salesperson is pushy, ignores the protocols set forth, and tries to circumvent the selection process that’s been put forward, how should that reflect on the vendor’s entire organization? Do you dismiss that by saying “that’s just the salesperson, we don’t have to deal with that kind of stuff after we have made the selection”?
More often than not, I’ve found that what you deal with in the sales process is what you end up dealing with once you are engaged. It often manifests itself in different forms. From shady sales tactics leading to bloated implementation and maintenance costs, and a shoddier level of customer service than promised, the values that are portrayed during a selection process tend to be very much aligned with how a vendor operates.
Sticking to the hard and fast formula could get your organization to where it needs to be. Ensure your next vendor or platform selection is about more than the scorecard, consider the benefits as well as the costs, ask your vendors about their competition, and pay attention to the signs of vendor culture.
Numbers will get you far, but think outside-the-box, giving thought to alignment with your partner going forward.
If you want to learn more or start a conversation with Jay, check out his bio page.