Choosing the best software for your business

When you spend $1 for a new mobile game, you don’t care about the price and you want the game right now. There is no need to check competitive products, so, the immediate decision looks reasonable. The situation is different when you choose a software product for your business. In this case you cannot rely on your first impression. You probably have certain expectations regarding the product and you want to make sure that these expectations are met.

  1. The tool you choose should be reliable. You should be confident that it will never stop working suddenly on a changed data input or in other new conditions.
  2. Should meet your business goals now and (at least) in the near future. Note that it is not always possible to fully estimate this in a reasonable time using a demo version or a manual.
  3. You probably plan to use the product for some time, so you expect it to be regularly updated to follow the changing requirements of your business.
  4. It should be easy to use and easy to get familiar with. Probably your company will hire new people from time to time. They should be able to start using the product as quickly as possible.
  5. The vendor should provide good technical support for the product.

In my opinion the last requirement is definitely the most important. Moreover, you can forget about all the rest and concentrate on checking the vendor support service. If it is really good, the remaining doubts will be resolved during the process. If it is bad, don’t even estimate other possible benefits: companies that do not care about their customers cannot create good products.

In fact, I would not recommend purchasing any business tools without contacting the vendor first. I do not mean asking questions like “how to buy?” or “which version of your software do you recommend?”. Such questions can be answered by sales persons who have limited technical background. What you really need to check is if the vendor can resolve your technical problems quickly and efficiently.

Why is this so important? You may think that if the product is well documented and of a good quality, you will never need to contact the support service. However, let’s be realistic: bugs can be found in any product, even in a very expensive one from a respected brand. When you stumble on such problem, you may have to wait until the vendor provides a fix before you can move on with your project.

Bugs are not the only reason to contact technical support. Until you become very familiar with the product, you need to spend your time for learning. Product guides, help files, video presentations and online trainings may be very helpful in this process. However it will be much more efficient, if you ask vendor questions on problems you experience in your specific environment with your specific business goals.

Again, let’s be realistic: you can hardly expect that the vendor will do all the work for you free of charge and will tell you step by step how to implement your specific task with the product. However if for any question related to your specific project you get an answer like “we provide technical support only for registered users” or “this is a paid service”, you should probably consider a different vendor. If they are not interested in providing support in advance to make a sale to you, they will hardly be more interested after receiving your money.

So, the main idea regarding the support service is that you should be able to reach technical people easily and receive valuable feedback fast enough. It is also a benefit if the vendor can provide additional consulting service. If you are interested in completing a one-time project, you may consider outsourcing the whole work to them. At least you can ask for a quote and use the answer to estimate the vendor.

Let me give you one more advice on communication with tech support. Don’t try to call them by phone and expect that they will tell you which buttons you should click right now to make the whole thing work. They may be high professionals, but they are not wizards. So, if you are asking about something not trivial, it will be much better if you ask your questions in an email and attach to it files that can illustrate the problem: screen shots, data files you work with, etc.

If you do not receive an answer within 24 hours, or get anything telling about paid support, just choose another vendor. There are different companies. Some of them are interested in attracting new customers; some are interested in regularly collecting money from existing ones, charging them for every single move. In other words, there are growing companies, rich and prosperous ones, declining ones, and… dying ones. It is very important to estimate where on this scale is the place for your potential vendor. The only reliable way to do this is to contact them.

Looks like I forgot to mention something. All the above recommendations are useful only if you can get a demo version of the product and try using it before you actually make the purchase. That demo version should be fully functional except for some quantitative limitations like fixed trial period or maximum data file size. Otherwise you will not be able to ask technical questions, which will break the whole concept.

So, my recommendation is: never deal with vendors that do not provide functional demo versions of their products. They do not want you to get to the technical things until you make a purchase. This means that on that stage your will be able to communicate only with sales people on their end. They will paint a bright picture for you in any case.

Each company is like a nut. Its marketing and sales departments are like a shell. A purchase is a process of cracking that shell. When you do this, you get to the core and see if it is tasty or rotten. The trick is to feel a bit of taste without cracking the shell.

It may sound strange, but the best way to check how a company treats its clients is to find a bug in the product and report it to the support team. It is interesting what happens after that. Most people do not believe that it is possible to make the vendor provide a fixed version of the product for you in a reasonable time. This is true in most cases. Probably you will get an answer saying “we are working on the problem, blah, blah, blah…”. However if the company really cares about its customers, they will inform you about the real progress and will provide a fix or at least a workaround in a day or two. If you find such a vendor, this will be a very positive sign.

Let’s get back to our initial list of expectations. In fact, each item in the list means money that you save or earn using the product, because we are talking about a business solution, not an entertainment or a leisure product. So, when you estimate how a specific product meets each expectation, you can compare its price with its real value for you.

Pricing policies in today’s world is something that deserves a special discussion. It looks like everyone is trying to sell impressions, brands, innovations, arrogance or anything else that has nothing to do with real value. Shortly speaking in many cases the prices are ridiculous. For software products they always start from zero. I mean that you can find a free solution in almost any case. At the same time don’t be surprised if you immediately find a very expensive tool doing essentially the same things. Moreover, there are people buying those tools. You can think that it is strange to pay money for something you can get for free, but… You know, some companies adopt very interesting business practices: they simply forbid to use free tools inside the company. This approach looks a bit obsolete these days, but possibly its followers just do not believe that a free product can meet their expectations.

I would say that free products have made an impressive progress in recent years: many of them have grown from ugly little monsters to really convenient tools with friendly user interface and rich functionality. In many cases they outperform their paid competitors. There is only one problem: they are not supported by vendors. If you face a problem, you can only get help from so called “community”, which looks like asking for charity.

On the other hand, if you find a tool that costs 10 times more than you were going to spend, don’t give up. This does not mean that they all cost that much. Try to search more and you will find a reasonably priced solution from a vendor that has smaller marketing budgets and less known brand. The best choice cannot be the most expensive one, but it is rarely a completely free solution.

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