Pick and Choose – how to Choose a System

The subject of Procurement (for that is what this is) could fill many blogs – but I will attempt to give a potted guide here!  There are many procurement consultants out there and if you are inexperienced in purchasing systems (including consultancy) then you may want to engage one. They will assist in the entire process from requirements gathering to final purchase decision.

There are so many factors to be taken into consideration, but I will focus on just three aspects for now:

  • The Needs of the business
  • Cost / value of the system to be chosen and your budget
  • Services – including implementation, training and ongoing support

Taking these in turn, starting with Needs, you will now have an appreciation (from previous blogs) of how to evaluate the requirements of all the interested parties in your organisation.  You will maybe need some assistance in combining these into a Requirements Document – you need to be able to communicate to vendors what you are looking for, to give them an opportunity to demonstrate how their offering will match with those requirements.  If you’re a small business owner, this does not have to be too onerous, but it also helps to focus your mind on what you need – and avoid being dazzled by a ton of features (with an associated price tag) that you just don’t need.

system procurement choosing a system
Do you really need the Next Big Thing

In my years in business I have seen such documents range from a single page of A4 to a full Invitation to Tender.  I have also spoken to many business owners who have no such document – just a need to “get me some CRM” – I’d not really recommend this latter approach!  However, you should be able to consolidate your discussions with other members of the team into a short list of features that you need your new CRM to have (sample here).

Budget.  Many business owners have no real appreciation of the cost of systems – and that includes everything that might be required to implement a system.  Not everyone wants a cloud-based system for example, so you might need to upgrade your server or other parts of your infrastructure.  Even a cloud-based system might require you to review and upgrade your broadband connection or internal network.

You need to take into account the cost of licences or subscriptions and any other annual maintenance costs that may apply.  So-called “Perpetual” licences – where you purchase a licence and use it until you decide to upgrade or replace the software – are less common now, most software is sold as a per user / per month (or year) subscription.  The benefit of the latter is that support and/or maintenance is usually included.  However, you need to ensure that you know what you are paying for, and what fees you will have to pay, and when.  If there is an alternative option to purchase perpetual licences (perhaps on a local server) then compare the costs, including hardware costs, over 3 or 4 years to understand the value of each.

Services.  This includes the “human” element of the deal.  Do you need assistance to implement your system (see previous blogs that discussed the difference between installation and implementation).  Do you (and your team) need user training?  I would argue that the answer to both of those questions should be Yes!  It’s generally true that organisations that invest in implementation services and training get the best Return on Investment from their software systems.

You also need to know what you should do and who you should call if something goes wrong?  You may want to check out reviews of cloud-based software to see what other users have thought about the support and service provided when they have queries or problems.  Make sure as well that support won’t follow US business hours if you are in the UK so that you are left hanging all morning until someone comes into work at (your) 2pm!   Is there a knowledge base you can search, is there a chat facility or forums where you can post queries?

If you are engaging consultants to assist with implementation and training then ask for references, and also make sure that you (and your staff) will like and trust them – they will spend a lot of time together and it’s helpful for everyone to get along!  If it doesn’t feel right then move along and select someone else – you want this to be a lasting relationship for everyone to get the best results.  Don’t just expect them to walk away once everyone is trained and leave you to get on with it – the best consultants will work with you to ensure that software and systems adoption is an ongoing process – and can always be improved, especially as business processes change.   It is worth including a sum in the annual budget for this – to help maximise ROI.

A good consultant won’t provide a system demo until they have taken the time to understand your requirements – there is no point showing you features you have no interest in using – although sometimes they will suggest features that you may not have considered – but only once they have a good grasp of how your business operates and therefore how the software can help you.

You may find it beneficial to look at a number of systems – I don’t recommend you look at more than three in any detail – and consultants.  You will learn a lot from that process and will be able to evaluate them all on a level playing field – especially if you have a robust requirements doc to refer back to.

system selection process

This has been a very swift look at selecting a new system (and can be applied to any number of software purchases – not just CRM) but barely scratches the surface.  However, hopefully it has highlighted the importance of preparing for this process, and given an indication of the kind of things to consider.


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