Three Decades Little Change

When selecting business software, don't fall for the feature/function comparison.

I have been in the software industry for over thirty years. During this time, I have seen and experienced an amazing evolution in technology from mainframe computers to PC’s, smartphones and tablets. Despite this transformation, there is one aspect of this industry that has hardly changed at all in three decades – and that is, the process people use to evaluate and select business software.

Years ago, companies assigned a committee to interview internal department heads and learn about the features they required. They documented everything they learned and created a functional checklist, and used this checklist to evaluate the functionality offered by each solution provider. The feature list was often sent to vendors as a “request for information” or RFI. Once they received the responses, they added up all check marks or “yes” answers. Typically, the one with them most checks at the lowest cost became the winner or best solution for their business. This may seem like a logical process for business software selection, but it was a flawed process then and it remains a flawed process today. What is wrong with the checklist? For one, it focuses too much attention on features, functions, and price.

Implementing business software requires change management. Policies, procedures, even a person’s role may change with the implementation of a new system. That is why it is so important to also evaluate the solution provider’s track record for ensuring the successful implementation and utilization of their product. Ask, how long have they been in business and how many customers do they have in your specific industry? What about training, customization, and customer support after the implementation?

Despite how critically important this is, many businesses continue to get trapped in this feature/function comparison and make their decision based solely on it.

Nowhere, have I seen this to be more present than in the CRM software sector. This is because industry analysts, software experts, and social media reports continue to evaluate these solutions based on features and functions. There are so many reports of CRM comparisons that it impossible to keep up. There is a “Top 5 CRM Vendors”, “Top 10”, “Top 20”, “Top 40”, “Best CRM systems”, even “20 CRM systems you never heard of.” What is most disturbing is that other than providing a list of features, functions, and price there is nothing of substance that would help you to differentiate one vendor from the other. This is exactly how it was thirty years ago and exactly how it is today.

I recommend you turn the process upside down. How do you do this? Document what it is you are trying to achieve. Say your core requirements are that you want to (1) automate the internal sales process, (2) know where every new opportunity is in the sales cycle, and (3) produce timely and accurate sales forecasts. Instead of asking a vendor what features they offer, ask instead how specifically do they do this? How do they implement a sales process that matches your sales workflow? Who from their company can help provide this level of expertise? Can they refer to other customers who have successfully done this?

Do not lose focus here or allow the CRM solution provider to address this by throwing their feature list at you. This level of engagement with the CRM vendor is perhaps more important than the features and functions they offer in their product. In addition, this process will help you to differentiate those trying to sell you a piece of software from those that can help you significantly improve sales execution. Make sure to follow this process with other business challenges you may be trying to address with a CRM solution.

About the author:

Larry Caretsky is the CEO of Commence Corporation, a leading provider of CRM software and best practices for small to mid-size businesses. He has authored numerous articles and white papers and is considered an expert in the CRM sector. Follow Commence on LinkedIn or the Commence CRM blog at commence.com/blog.

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