Buying new business software? 5 questions to ask yourself before purchase

Ask yourself…

1. What are your needs? Make a list of the challenges you’d like the software to address and separate it into two categories; needs and wants:

- Your needs list should be brief and consist only of the features absolutely necessary for the software to work for your company.- Your wants list can be much broader and features should be listed in order of importance, encompassing all the capabilities that will make life easier.

2. What is your budget? Calculate how much you can afford to spend, including any new hardware needed, as well as first-year implementation and any additional support fees. The cost of software is important, but it is equally crucial to know your hardware and recurring costs. You will have far reduced hardware costs if you choose a cloud-based system where the software is hosted for you meaning you don’t need your own costly server or technical support.

3. What is the benefit? What will this software give you in real terms? For instance, will it save you 20% of your consultant’s time in one year, or can it reduce your time to close assignments by 25%? Put a fiscal value on this to assess whether it is worth the investment.

4. What works best for others in my industry? Ask colleagues what systems they have used in the past and whether they would recommend them. What system do the top search firms use? What do firms similar in size to yourself use? Are many firms switching to another supplier, if so ask why?

5. Do you need to import your data to the system and how is this done? What experience do the suppliers have in data import from your existing system and what are the costs? Do they have pre-defined templates that allow for a rapid implementation?

Other tips:

  • Narrow the playing field to 3-4 suppliers
  • Get input from your consultants and researchers
  •  Select your finalists
  •  Establish your timeline

Ask the provider…

1. What determines the software price? Is it Per Seat or Per User or Per Processor? The three most popular ways to determine the cost of software are Per Seat, Per Concurrent User & Per Processor. Per Seat is determined by how many seats in your business will be using the software at any given time. Per Concurrent User is based on a set amount of users that can access the software at one time. Per Processor is calculated on how many machines (PC’s or servers) the software will be running on.

2. What types of on-site services are included in the purchase? Now that you have the software and have spent significant time purchasing hardware and dedicating resources, they know you are already past the point of no return; they also know that you will have trouble refusing to pay extra money to get what you want. These services can include anything from training classes, customizations, or help with installation issues. In the case of local software companies, keep in mind, they should automatically provide some sort of on-site services (at a minimum) before purchasing.

3. Is there a guarantee of satisfaction with their software? This is most widely overlooked when purchasing software. Sometimes unsatisfied users will expect a refund after deciding that it is not what they want. My experience has been that once the developer receives payment for software, it can take next to a miracle to get a refund of any kind. Prior to purchasing your next piece of software, be sure to find out their return policy and the number of days that you can have the software in your hands and still be able to send it back to get a full or partial refund. With custom developed software it can be even trickier for the buyer; you will need to build this into the contract before work begins.

4. What is the turnaround time for getting “bugs” fixed? Some companies will say that they will fix software issues as soon as you find one. There are others that will compile the list of “bug” fixes and release it on a scheduled basis convenient for them. This can happen monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly or yearly.

5. How often do program updates go out and do they notify customers? There are two lines of thought that companies can use for updating customers. The company might decide not to notify its customers at all when updates roll out. They may think that if the customer has a problem they will contact them. At that time would they inform the user of an available update? Beware of this method of service or lack there-of. Steer clear of companies that do not provide this as an option to their clients. The second line of thought would be for the company to notify its customers regularly about updates. They may also offer an option of including the customer on a mailing list. In this case, be sure that they have multiple contacts that are on the email distribution list so that everyone who should know will not be left out of the communications loop. If the software company does not offer either one of these options, you might want to reconsider your decision.

6. What are the hours of support and how does their support department operate? Before getting married to a software company by purchasing their product, find out where the company is located and if the company has what I define as a “passive” or “active” customer support system. Follow-up with pointed questions like, ”Will you only return my call at certain hours of the day?” “Will I have to leave messages and wait at the phone for your callback?” “Will I have a direct call back from a representative or will I be reassigned to someone different every time I call?”