Software Evaluation: It's Not All About Features

Monica Orrigo
February 9, 2015

In the software evaluation process, whether you're considering mobile sales order management software or any other kind of enterprise software, the first thing that companies often look to is the total number of features offered. The bells and whistles that, on the surface, seem to confirm one software vendor’s supremacy over another. What these companies (especially those who haven’t yet built an IT team) don’t always give thought to is the backend--the foundation upon which the software is built. A house is only as good as its foundation, and the same idea applies here. One way to think about this issue is to consider the end user and the environment in which that software is going to be used. Let's look at the problem through the lens of sales order management software (though these points can apply to other SaaS vendors as well). Think about your sales reps. They’re always on the go, traveling from store to store. In some of those store visits, wifi and/or data coverage might be spotty or nonexistent. How resilient is the software tool going to be in this constantly shifting selling environment? Here are some of the things you should consider in your software evaluation process.

Software Evaluation Considerations

1. Are they committed to providing a stable experience?

If your reps are in the field and their most important tool is the iPad in their hands containing product information, customer history, etc., it better function consistently. How stable is the application’s overall performance? Does the software vendor deal with bugs in a timely manner? Is their site always available? Are crashes common? Have they had any data loss incidents? Can you add large amounts of data and more users without the app losing functionality? You should always trial a product and be sure to test it in real use cases. Pay attention for any issues with the user experience, support team response times, and any glaring problems. Also think about the potential growth of your business. Does the vendor have enterprise-level customers? Ask their sales department questions about how the application will work as your business grows.

2. What safeguards do they have in place to protect your data?

Make sure to find a SaaS vendor that’s committed to keeping your data safe. This has to do with data redundancy, i.e. the ability to have multiple failures at the data level without losing any information. All of your customer order history, product descriptions, and pricing information have to be kept available at all times. Look for SaaS vendors that invest in proper data infrastructure and backups. Another thing to consider is whether they can ensure the security of your data, so it’s not compromised when being uploaded or downloaded. Be sure to ask about these issues in your conversations with potential vendors.

3. How easy is it to integrate this software with your existing tools?

Does the vendor offer an open, transparent API? In simple terms, an API (Application Programming Interface) is the means by which a piece of software allows other programs to interact with it. You want your platforms (i.e. your ERP, sales order management software, etc.) to be able to talk to each other, and a really good API is vital to that. When talking with a software vendor, find out how much experience they already have with integrating their software with other tools. Have they done past integrations with the software you’re currently using? For larger companies especially, this is a crucial point.

4. Is the app accessible offline?

Offline access is a big deal. You want a system that’s going to work even when you don’t have access to the Internet, because that’s the reality. Your field sales reps aren’t always going to have wifi available to them, but they still need to do their jobs. An app that doesn’t allow your reps to continue working due to a poor internet connection is just not going to cut it. You want an app that you can trust so absolutely that your team will never have to carry paper order forms again. If your app doesn’t work seamlessly offline, and your team has to resort to writing orders on paper, then you’re left with the same problems you started with. Look for a software vendor that stores all important data on the device itself. That way, your reps will be able to make sales in any environment, and they can sync the information later. Without a dependence on an internet connection, they’ll have a seamless user experience without any delays, even in the worst of conditions.

5. How extensible are the features?

This point has to do with the software vendor’s ability to build upon their existing features. If you want your reps to do more than just write orders, your sales order management software vendor should also equip them with the tools they need to sell more strategically and build better relationships with customers. A good software vendor is constantly building upon their existing foundation and features to create more value for you. For instance, are they taking all the data stored about your customers and sales and putting it to use? Does the app take your reps’ sales data and organize it into performance reports so that you can see which reps are doing well and which ones need improvement? Can a rep gain insight into each customer’s order history and see their most frequently ordered items in order to suggest new products and upsell? You want an vendor that understands your business and builds upon features to help you increase sales.

Concluding Thoughts

All of this ultimately boils down to how dependable the software is, and whether it provides a great experience to users that won’t be compromised by outside circumstances. You want a software platform that’s deep and extensible in key areas, rather than a wide breadth of smaller features that work intermittently or not at all. If you only look at features, you may end up with a long list of promises and nothing to back them up. Features that aren’t well-supported aren’t features at all, but potential headaches. When choosing a SaaS vendor, consider the technology just as thoroughly as the features on offer. For more on software evaluation, check out our posts on app simplicity, the importance of mobile optimization, and the right questions to ask when talking to vendors. Other questions? Let us know in the comments below.