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My company is both of a user of several software packages and a vendor of software packages. Whilst I have worked in the marketing and market research sectors for many years, I think this 7 Step Software Evaluation Approach works in any market. Carrying out effective software evaluations is important so that good business decisions are made.
Buying new software or changing software is a business decision. It should be approached just like any other business decision.
Most software suppliers allow a trial of their software – either for a limited period or with some limitations that make the product non-commercial. However, testing, evaluation and implementation take time, so it’s important to ensure you have planned enough time before starting. A half-hearted software trial is likely to be a waste of time or an expensive mistake if a bad choice is made.
Before testing, prepare a list of must haves and a longer (but not necessarily exhaustive) list of features you would expect. Ask the software supplier to respond to these lists. Don't make the lists too long. At this stage, you are trying to get a feel for whether a fuller test is worthwhile. If there are any deal breakers, both you and the software vendor can avoid wasting time if your needs do not match what the software vendor is offering. If not, did the software supplier sound confident? If every answer was "yes, no problem", it may be a cause to be suspicious that the software supplier does not only seek good fits for customers. I'm a great believer in the need for clients and suppliers to be "good fits" and have turned business away if a potential client is not a good fit for us. Not all software suppliers and sales people will be the same - some just want to sell. This pre-testing list can give you some insight into whether you are dealing with a company that really understands your needs or a company that is just desperate to sell to you.
Ask the software vendor how easy they see the implementation and what challenges there are. Explain your situation - the work you do, the staff you have. A good software vendor should have experience of your situation, otherwise they are probably not a good fit. They should be able explain how a good installation will work and you can see if it aligns with your vision or whether you need to consider more things. This can be re-checked later after your trial.
Watch any orientation videos or get some online (or face to face) help to get started. Not being able to find how to achieve the basic functions is frustrating.
Test the software with something simple. Too many software trialists worry about the most complex project that they want to handle. If a simple project seems cumbersome or difficult, its obvious that the product isn't a good fit.
Test the project with a more standard task. Don't worry about the most complex project yet unless that is your sole reason for changing software. Tell the software vendor about your test project to see if there are things that might require some further training/information to carry out the test.
If this test has worked, draw up a list of things that you still need to be assured about. Produce a list of things that you found difficult or cumbersome and address these to the software vendor. There might be an easier way that you haven't found.
Discuss how much training/help will be needed for full implementation. Check this against the original assessment. It should be close to what was originally discussed.
If it still looks like a good business decision, you are probably ready to buy the right software package for your company.
I'm always willing to help you make the right business decisions when buying software. I work mainly in the marketing and market research businesses but have worked for a number of SMEs helping to choose the right software. My contact details are below.