by Jay Baer
When I was in my very first real job, as an intern at a communications firm in Phoenix, marketing software was not on my radar. It wasn’t really on anyone’s radar, given that all we had was primitive Windows computers.
Even in the design department, things were decidedly old school back then. We mocked up direct mail pieces using a typesetting printer, wax rollers, and an X-acto knife. Ahhh, the simpler times!
Things have certainly changed.
According to the oft-cited work of my friend Scott Brinker over at ChiefMartec, there are now more than 4,000 marketing technology companies, which means the total number of marketing software tools and packages must be over 10,000!
I’ve bought a lot of them (not 10,000, but way more than 100). I’ve recommended even more. And I know or have demo’d even more than that. In short, I’ve spent a colossal amount of time and money since that first, software-free job working with marketing technology.
I’ve made good software decisions, and bad decisions. I want you to experience the former, and avoid the latter, which is why I’ve put together this advice on the six things you must do before buying marketing software.
1. Document Specific Needs
I can’t emphasize this one enough. You must write down EXACTLY what you need the software to do (and why). Be as specific as possible, using real-world examples from your business, or your clients.
Do not mention (or even think about) any particular software packages here, but rather worry only about the problems software will solve, or the benefits that will accrue by using software.
For example, don’t say: “We need to get some collaboration software. Maybe ProofHQ, from Workfront would be a good option?”
A better approach is: “We must save staff time currently spent sending draft work via email for comments by internal team and clients.”
Software sales representatives will try to convince you that you need their tool. But success is never about the tool, per se. It’s about the people operating the software, and how they use it to improve the business.
Always remember: software success is more about the wizard than it is about the wand.
2. Create Success Metrics
Let’s assume you buy some new marketing software. In a year, when it’s time to renew your license, how will you know if it’s been a good investment?
Don’t put yourself through that drama. Understand BEFORE you buy the software how you will measure its internal impact. Document and commit to these success metrics up-front. Not only will it make it much easier for you to know whether to renew, but having your metrics established beforehand will also make you a much more thoughtful shopper when you’re kicking the tires of competing software tools.
For example, you might determine that a good success metric for your collaboration project is “reduction in monthly hours spent sending draft work internally, and to clients.” You might also look at: “reduction in average business days from project start to project final approval.”
3. Do the Demo Dance
It requires a lot of time, but to shop for software right, you need to sit through the online demos of each competing package.
To maximize the value of these demos, provide your needs and success metrics to the software company sales rep ahead of time. Your demo will be much more tailored to your circumstances.
Also, make sure that the same people from your company sit in on every demo. If that’s not possible, ask to have each demo recorded and sent to you so you can compare features and ease-of-use before making a decision.
And, if you can make it work with your schedules, I find it is best to do the competing demos as close together as possible. Best case scenario is you do them all back-to-back-to-back and then have a team meeting to discuss, while it’s all still fresh in your mind.
4. Consult Real Customers
The demo is, of course, going to make the software look like the greatest thing since the hula hoop. And maybe it is. But what’s it really like to work with this company? What happens when it doesn’t work? How do they handle feature requests? How knowledgeable is customer support? These are questions that matter, and the only way to get them answered authentically is to consult real customers.
Ask your software sales reps for three referrals from customers in your industry.
And, spend time on the major software review portals: G2Crowd and TrustRadius. Both have mountains of ratings and reviews for most marketing software packages. They are like TripAdvisor for software, and it’s a dereliction of your duty to buy something without first looking at the current customer feedback you can find on these sites.
5.Understand True Costs
Once you’ve narrowed down your selection based on features and suitability to your needs, no doubt price will come into the decision.
But the problem with software is that pricing schemes vary considerably. Do they charge by usage or by users? Do they charge for extra add-ons and modules? Is there a charge for accessing customer support? Do they ask you to pay for a services package to get the ball rolling and the tool adopted? Does pricing vary if you pay monthly instead of annually?
Pay very close attention to all of these factors. I find it’s handy to create a simple spreadsheet to track these various costs and line them up side-by-side.
Also realize that the software cost isn’t your only expenditure. Time spent operating the software is a major expense.
Imaging this scenario: software tool number one has more features but is also less expensive. Sounds great! But, many of those extra features are not components that you’ll ever use. Thus, the tool itself is more complicated and cumbersome and you project it will take you 60 minutes per week to use the tool.
Conversely, software tool number two has fewer features and is more expensive. So, why would you consider it? Because you project that it will take you 30 minutes per week to accomplish the same tasks and yield the same benefits.
That 30 minutes per week becomes 26 hours per year. If the person that operates the tool is paid $60,000 per year, that extra 26 hours creates an annual savings of $750. If tool number two is less than $62.50 per month more expensive, it may make sense to buy it anyway, as the time savings will make up for the cost difference.
6. Create a Sound Rollout Plan
Even if you document your needs, create your metrics, do the demos, talk to real customers, and understand your true costs, you can still utterly botch the purchase of new marketing software.
How? But not having a strong rollout plan. I wrote about successful implementation and rollout in 6 Ways NOT to Screw Up the Rollout of That New Software You Just Bought, and the very best scenario is that you create your rollout plan BEFORE you buy the software.
This almost never happens, unfortunately. You get all excited and eager to buy the software and get it ramped up, and then only after you’ve been working with it for a while do you start to think about how to optimally integrate it into your team.
This is the software equivalent of pin-striping a moving car. Don’t do that!
A little pre-planning can save you a lot of time, money, and heartache when you’re investigating, buying, and rolling out new software. I hope you’ll consider these six tips when you embark on your next software shopping trip.
There's more to running a highly productive operation than buying the right software. Learn from PM expert Barry Hodge how to get projects started off right with his post, "5 Pre-Kickoff Steps To Start Your Project Right."
About the Author
Jay Baer is a renowned business strategist, inspirational keynote speaker, and the New York Times bestselling author of five books who travels the world helping businesspeople gain and keep more customers. Jay has advised with more than 700 companies since 1994, including Caterpillar, Nike, Allstate, and 32 of the FORTUNE 500.Follow on Twitter More Content by Jay Baer