Business software selection: How to choose, negotiate, and implement the best solution

The business software selection process can be overwhelming. You have hundreds of options to choose from, with countless features to consider. Where do you start? How do you evaluate them? There is a lot riding on your decision. Afterall, the business software will be a significant investment and affect your entire company. Any oversights in the selection process could have effects on your organization years down the line. But if you choose wisely, there is a payoff. 

Successful software selection and implementation streamlines your work and enhances your team’s effectiveness. Business software applications can free up the time of all users. It can make your employees and company more organized, improve collaboration, and keep your business competitive. 

While there is much to consider when choosing business software, the process doesn’t have to be complicated. There is a proven method you can follow to select, negotiate, and implement a business software solution. If you’re still uncertain about why you should move forward, here is some motivation.

Why business software is worth your time

When you purchase business software, you’re essentially buying a business system. And like any system you implement, the goal is to streamline processes, improve productivity, and automate tasks as much as possible. While you can adapt business software applications to your company’s unique needs, you’re not reinventing the wheel—you are buying a proven process/system that has worked for thousands of companies. And that saves you time and money. 

Oftentimes, businesses will purchase industry specific software. Examples of this include Sage for the manufacturing industry, iMIS for associations, and QuickBooks for accounting. This article can help you determine which industry specific software is best for your business. 

Below are a few reasons why business software is worth investing in:

  • Improve the customer experience – business software applications can automate processes and keep each customer’s history in one place, which enables you to provide faster and higher quality service.
  • Increase profits – software can help you make more accurate, data-based decisions, which can lead to business growth. It can also help with managing and optimizing your inventory levels, lowering your costs.
  • Collect and leverage accurate data – some software can keep track of customer buying trends to determine popular products and those that are underperforming. Employee data can also be recorded, which could reveal turnover trends and identify top performers.
  • Streamline tasks – lastly, business software applications can create workflows for all staff members to follow, which can eliminate confusion and unnecessary steps. Some business software can automate data entry and decrease the amount of paper your company uses, saving your business money.

Step 1. Software selection: 27 questions to help you choose the best vendor

The first, and what probably seems like the most daunting step, is to choose the business software. Below are five stages of the software selection process and questions you should ask in each phase. The questions will provide you some software selection criteria to make a smart decision.

Define the business requirements

For your new business software to positively impact your business, you must know what result you want from it. How will it help you achieve your business objectives and grow your business? If you’re unsure how to answer this question, ask leaders in other departments to help identify needs. Focus on pain points the business software will resolve. Your requirements don’t have to be super detailed, but should rather provide a baseline to evaluate your options. Here are some questions to ask yourself and your team. 

  1. Which of our current processes can be replaced or improved with business software? 
  2. Which of those processes should be prioritized?  
  3. How much data do we need to collect and analyze?
  4. What is our budget? At what price would the software provide a return on investment?
  5. What privacy and security concerns do we have? 
  6. Could business software applications fill in any service gaps, like reporting or manual tracking?

Assess the current legacy system and its flaws

As you define the business requirements and work through the software selection process, also examine the state of your current legacy system. How comprehensive does the business software need to be? Perhaps it doesn’t need to replace your legacy system, but rather integrate with it. The below questions will help determine your legacy system’s role in the future. 

  1. Can the current system meet our needs?
  2. What enhancements are required?
  3. How likely will the existing code base be obsolete in the coming years?
  4. Are any aspects of our legacy system still valuable?
  5. Can those valuable aspects integrate with the new business software?

Get buy-in from all stakeholders

User adoption is critical for successful software implementation, which is why considering your team’s reaction to the software is important. You want to ensure it will make your employees’ jobs easier. Also, while your customers don’t need to be directly involved in the software selection process, they do have an important stake in the outcome. So consider how the new software will impact them.

  1. How willingly would our tech team adopt the proposed new software?
  2. What about other departments, like legal and finance?
  3. What about our customers?

Narrow down your options

You know your requirements, you’ve talked with stakeholders, you have an idea of the features you’ll need. Now it’s time to whittle down your options. Your goal in this stage of the software selection process is to clearly define the type of software you need, so you don’t waste time demoing unqualified products. Ask yourself the below questions to give you some software evaluation criteria.

  1. Which type of software is ideal for our business: on-premises software, web-based software, cloud solution, hybrid cloud solution, etc.?
  2. Will integration with our existing environment be difficult?
  3. Which department (finance, HR, customer service, etc.) will the new software predominantly support?
  4. Do the features and functionalities need to be simple or sophisticated?
  5. What requirements (scalability, usability, reporting, analytics, security, etc.) are most important?

Evaluate software vendors

The final stage in the business software selection process may seem the most difficult. You need to select vendors for consideration. If you’ve reviewed these five phases of the software selection process, a few candidates should stand out. Ask the below questions to help finalize your options, and consider asking department leaders and potential users to demo your choices.

  1. What are the software vendors’ industry credentials?
  2. What do customers think? Have I checked reviews at ‍www.capterra.com, www.g2crowd.com, www.selecthub.com, and similar sites?
  3. Does their pricing fit within our budget?
  4. Are there any additional or hidden fees?
  5. Do they offer a trial period or demo I can test out?
  6. How reliable, knowledgeable, and helpful is their support staff?
  7. Do they offer training and user group conferences? How effective are these programs?
  8. Do they have clearly defined SLAs and KPIs?

Step 2. Negotiation: How to get a great deal on your business software

With the business software selection process complete, now you need to prepare for the negotiation. Here are three things to plan for.

Your negotiation team

Negotiations work best if you have a team supporting you. This team can help you through various stages of the process, from getting quotes to keeping track of hidden and additional expenses. At this point, you should have a few final candidates to choose from. To evaluate them effectively, create a system to score specific aspects of each vendor’s service—like the price, how well they fulfill your business requirements, your trial period experience with the software, etc.—and assign an overall score to each vendor. 

A member of your negotiation team should be responsible for the vendor-related agreements. He or she should keep track of important stipulations a vendor may have, like data ownership, fee-based upgrades, and cancellation policies. 

Finally, your team should strategize the right time to negotiate. You want to ensure your negotiation isn’t rushed and doesn’t happen during an abnormally busy period. Either scenario could lead to making a bad decision. So choose a time when you’ll feel comfortable and can give your complete attention to the process.

Negotiation items to consider

Your ability to negotiate will likely depend on your selected vendors. For example, cheaper cloud based software may not have much wiggle room on price, but vendors who use a reseller network could have significant flexibility. While price is important, you do have other bargaining chips at your disposal. If you can’t get the price you’d like, maybe the vendor can compromise on one of the items below: 

  • Implementation time
  • Support levels
  • Payment terms
  • Service availability

For example, you could ask the vendor to shorten the implementation time or offer a payment plan if the price is non-negotiable. Think outside of the box. What else would you like in return if you have to pay higher than you’d like? 

Also, look at the broader picture and the total costs of the business software solution. You may have additional license, implementation, and support costs. If your ideal vendor can’t compromise in one pricing area, maybe they can in another.

Your conversation with the vendor

Once you’ve found a time to negotiate and have considered negotiable items, the next step is to talk to your prospective vendor. Remember, don’t rush the process. You want to keep the mood positive and avoid the conversation from turning adversarial. You may end up working with this vendor and you want to start your relationship off on the right foot. That doesn’t mean you make concessions and overpay, but instead just be friendly and firm. If you can’t get your ideal price, don’t be modest about naming quotes you’ve received from more affordable vendors. You may be able to get a price match or a better deal. 

Last, don’t feel like you need to make a decision during the conversation. You have a negotiation team for a reason. If you need to think it over, tell the vendor. Then get feedback from your team and see if they have ideas on how to get a better deal. Rely on your team to evaluate your options and ultimately help you choose a vendor to partner with. 

Step 3. Implementation: A simple process to apply your new business software

With your new business software selected, now it’s time to utilize it. Ask how the vendor will ensure a successful implementation—this is especially important if you’re migrating from or integrating with a legacy system. While you may be nervous, chances are the implementation process will be smooth. These days you have much less hardware to deal with and technology has advanced considerably. Regardless, don’t forget about these three key stages below.

Talk with your vendor about implementation

While many vendors offer implementation assistance, not all do. Ask your vendor about this. If they don’t offer help, they may recommend an implementation partner. While software implementation has gotten easier, there are still several steps involved, including software installation, population of active business data, workflow and task processes setup, and end user training. Talk with your vendor about timelines for each of these steps and how much involvement is required from you and your team. 

Establish a game plan

Collaborate with your vendor to devise a step-by-step implementation plan. Ensure your software provider knows your goals for the process, in terms of timeline, user adoption, and what you hope to accomplish with the software. Disruptions are a possibility during implementation. To minimize the downtime, keep all your departments aware of the implementation schedule and, if possible, devise a backup plan to keep staff productive if a disruption occurs.

Train your staff

If you followed our advice and got buy-in from various stakeholders and users, the training process will likely be smoother. You’ll face less resistance from staff, especially since they won’t be caught off guard by the new software. The goal of training is to ensure employees can use the software to its full potential. Many software companies offer extensive training programs with this purpose in mind. 

Realize that the software implementation process doesn’t stop with training. Weeks and months after implementation, check in with your employees to see how the software is functioning and if it’s helping them. You want to ensure that all staff who are supposed to use the software are doing so correctly.

Software selection can be easier

You may have started the software selection process feeling overwhelmed and worried. Hopefully by now, you see it isn’t complicated. Yes, there are many steps and it will take time. But if you follow the process outlined above and focus on the step in front of you, you’ll be at the finish line sooner than you know.

What’s more, imagine how much smoother your business will run with new business software. Tasks will be streamlined, employees will be more efficient, and you may even see an improvement in your bottom line.

If you need help with your software selection, consider Leverage IT’s Navigate – Digital Transformation solution. The service enables your business to adopt new technologies as we help you navigate the selection, negotiation, and implementation of business software and applications.