Large businesses usually have access to a trained technology team that can offer insight when deciding to upgrade old software or buy a new piece of software. Smaller companies don't have the luxury of an in-house advisory committee and usually have to work things out on their own.
The demands of a smaller business might be less complicated than those of a large one, but maintaining a budget when buying software is still a significant concern. Smaller companies usually have far fewer resources to invest in software upgrades, and so they need to find vendors that meet their needs, as well as their wallets.
Here, 13 members of Forbes Technology Council offer seasoned advice to smaller businesses on choosing a tech vendor to fit their needs.
1. Vendor Transparency
Smaller organizations or those without access to in-house IT staff need to remember that while some solutions boast excellent feature sets, the success or failure of technology projects often comes down to the users. Is deployment easy? Is the UX simple enough for our staff to use day-to-day? Is the vendor transparent with the long-term costs? Are you able to talk to a current customer? — Michael Roytman, Kenna Security
2. The True Cost
Make sure you understand all of the costs. Many software providers offer a smaller subscription or purchase price but make up for it by charging excessively for implementation, training, configuration and other “add-on” services that are necessary for a successful implementation. Always keep an eye out for hidden expenses, especially “premium” support services. — Tarek Alaruri, Fairmarkit
3. Trial Periods And Waived Integration Fees
The sales process often involves integration fees that are meant to seem unreasonably high. When the SaaS sales team offers to waive these fees, there is an impression of value gained that can feel like a win for the business, but it's usually a simple psychological tactic. If you decide to proceed and an agreement is required, negotiate a trial period where you can bail if your needs aren't met. — Dustin Henderlong, Threadless
4. Security Of Your Chosen Solution
If you don't have tech experts to evaluate and run software, your choice will most likely be a SaaS solution or a managed service provider. Once you're sure the solution meets your business needs, the next critical step is to verify it is secure. Ask your provider for any trusted third-party validation of their processes. Certifications such as SOC type 1 and 2 or ISO 27001 can be a good indicator. — Ilia Sotnikov, Netwrix
5. Fit With Your Business Needs
Make sure you are choosing software that best suits your business requirements. Sometimes solutions are robust with features end-users don’t need. Develop a list of requirements that can fulfill your business strategy, link them with objectives. Outlining critical processes for your organization will help to eliminate systems that lack the functionality, as well as the ones with unnecessary tools. — Katherine Kostereva, Bpm'online
6. Commitment To Customer Success
Software projects, especially those touching fast-moving or newer technologies, will encounter unanticipated problems. A good vendor will get in the trenches with customers through the unexpected challenges and help establish a maintainable system to deliver value. — Brien Colwell, HeadSpin
7. Track Record And Customer Feedback
Having the ability to tap into the vendor's current customer base could exponentially assist with making the right decision. Non-technical folks can learn about how the company's products solve problems, customer service, and how they are treated overall as a customer. Nothing will solve 100% of your needs but if you can find 90% and willingness for the vendor to adapt, it's a great way to choose. — Anthony Caiafa, SS&C Technologies, INC
8. Adoption Rate
They need to be honest with themselves and carefully analyze the likelihood of this software being adapted. If, as a manager, you feel the software will genuinely make a positive difference within your operations, then you need to try to check if your team feels the same way. If not, convince them before a long-term contract is purchased. — Artem Petrov, Reinvently
9. Integration Capabilities
Software that solves all of your business needs is way too expensive for a majority of SMBs. You will instead need to select a variety of solutions that each accomplish a specific task but can be combined to support the entire organization. Therefore, it is imperative that the software you choose is easily integrated with other software through the use of specific applications or open APIs. — Andy Dalton, IVM, Inc.
10. Meticulous Planning
IT vendor selection is a challenge regardless of the size of the business. A small business can benefit by first setting specific criteria. Then, gather a list of vendors, ensure the process is well-defined, evaluate quotes and choose the most appropriate for the organization's goals and monitor vendor performance. It is also helpful to gain referrals from peers or existing customers. — Maria Mast, Management and Network Services, LLC
11. Access To Top Talent
The most effective software companies guarantee that they have access to the industry's top talent. These partners will help you expand your candidate pool by allowing you to access their exclusive list of developers, enabling you to find top talent without investing in a high-cost recruiting team with no guarantee of immediate success. Look out for highly-skilled and experienced software engineers. — Nacho De Marco, BairesDev
12. Data Processing Agreements
If a SaaS vendor will have access to personal data of your customers, make sure to sign and read a data processing agreement (DPA), which is a necessary step when dealing with compliance standards like GDPR. You’ll want documentation of which security measures the vendor is taking to protect your data, as well as details about backups and system redundancies. — Aaron White, Blissfully
13. Cultural Match
A software vendor should not only be qualified to perform the work but must also be a great cultural match. To verify this, you have to get a clear view into their process. Look at their previous examples of work. Get transparency on your budget ahead of time. Study how their team communicates and what processes they employ to ensure projects stay on budget, on time and have a positive outcome. — Marc Fischer, Dogtown Media LLC