Questions to Ask When Evaluating New Software for Your Organization
The right software has the potential to simplify and streamline almost every area of your business. The right tools can decrease manual work, freeing up teams to spend more time on value-add activities, reduce risk within operations by providing controls and visibility into processes, and create a foundation for analyzing your business at different levels of detail.
Whether you are choosing a new CRM, marketing software, or other technology, it is important that the selection process follow a series of steps that establishes clear goals for the new tool, creates buy-in with key stakeholders and leadership, and ultimately sets your business up for increased efficiency.
Consider these questions as you work toward selecting the software that will best suit your needs.
What is the problem we are trying to solve with new software?
Sometimes businesses do not realize they need new software until it has been evaluated by a third party. Other times, awareness comes organically as organizations realize that competitors are steps ahead of them in their ability to capitalize on rapid changes in their industry or create stronger customer partnerships by using software to their advantage.
However you have come to the conclusion that it is time to seek out improved software, begin by identifying your “must-haves” and the weak spots in your current software. Are processes becoming increasingly manual, rather than increasingly automated? What questions about my customers am I unable to answer now? Is my team spending too much time on entering transactions vs. analyzing results?
Document and prioritize the problems you are trying to solve based on magnitude: cost, business impact, and internal time and effort required. From there, you can begin to prioritize the solutions that can help overcome them.
Are we using our current software for its intended purpose?
If the problems identified in the previous question are numerous, this question will help you determine if your sights are set on the correct type software solution or if additional or alternate ones would be better suited to your business.
In small- to medium-sized businesses, the purpose of a single software application can often morph into being used for more than it was originally intended to. For example, a project management solution meant to track progress from the start to the end of individual projects may, over time, be used for tracking job costing or sales commission – both jobs for a financial system, not a project management one.
This creates risk for putting bandaids on the core issue or creating too many workarounds, leading to increased inefficiency. You begin to align software to processes when the focus should instead be on letting the process dictate the software solutions. This continuous “shoe-horning” can add up over time, decreasing your visibility into important areas of your business.
Ensure that you are evaluating your existing software against its intended purposes to identify the gaps new software needs to help fill, kind of a like a stress test. Rather than attempting to find an “all-in-one” solution, focus on those that best fits your specific needs. With the integrations available today, there should be no problem incorporating a specialized system into your operations.
What must our new software be capable of?
Next, work with your team to develop a list of “Must Haves” and “Nice-to-Haves” for your new solution. What are the non-negotiables in order for a software to even be considered? What would be helpful in increasing efficiencies, but not necessarily a deal-breaker if not included? This list will serve as your measuring stick for providers as you move into demo and selection phases.
How does this software need to interact with other systems in our business?
Now it’s time to map out your future end-to-end processes.
Software is embedded into the operations of your business, so it is critical to understand each of the areas it influences. Evaluate the existing workflow of data flowing into and out of the software. Trace that data all the way upstream to its source and all the way downstream through other systems and processes. If, for example, you are evaluating your CRM, look at additional systems such as production, marketing, and reporting or forecasting tools.
This exercise will allow you to map out what this software is going to influence, ensuring you consider each area and the data and processes required to maintain (or improve!) their functionality.
Are we aligned across the organization?
Buy-in across your senior management team is critical to ensuring all business needs are considered as a new solution is selected. Consider establishing an internal champion that is the overall owner of the process. This champion should be responsible for understanding and representing the needs of departmental leaders in the process, as well as serving as the subject matter expert that leadership can rely on and turn to.
It is also important to remember that no one likes change, especially when it comes to the way they work. If your current software has been in use for many years, teams are likely very comfortable with the processes currently in place (no matter how manual or inefficient they may be). Often the reason a software fails is not because the tool was bad, but simply because people went back to doing what they had always done, rather than adapting to the new way of operating. This creates new manual workarounds and inefficiencies, often the same problems that prompted you to make the change to begin with.
The best way to mitigate these challenges is to be intentional about change management, beginning with top-level leadership. By developing and communicating a strong transition plan that comes from leadership and flows down to individual employees, you can help address objections, ease fears, and ultimately set the tone for meaningful and lasting change.
What software meets these criteria?
Now, it is time to begin evaluating providers. Remember to begin with the end in mind – what are the ultimate goals of this new tool? Gather your list of “Must Haves” and “Nice-to-Haves” to use as your checklist when evaluating solution providers.
We recommend engaging 3-5 providers that meet your “Must Have” criteria. Request demos from each one, including key stakeholders and user groups in those meetings to ensure all perspectives are considered.
When developing contracts with your new provider, clarity is critical. Include your “Must Have” criteria in the agreement and any changes, modifications, or add-ons they have promised. The contract should serve as a source of accountability for both parties, ultimately increasing the chances of it becoming a true partnership in which your provider deeply understands your business goals and customizes the solution to help you meet them.
Selecting new software is a big decision. However, with a clear understanding of the problems you are trying to solve, the goals of the new solution, and the buy-in of your team, it can be one that transforms your business into a more efficient, more profitable, and more effective organization.