SaaS Shopping Guide

Help Picking out a web service/application

This guide from Joe Vandervest, may help you to pick a SaaS (Software as a Service)   

 

He offers a few principles to apply to your selection process. 

The Short Version

 

Regardless of your need: Contact Management, Email, CRM, Project Management, Collaboration — There are considerations to include and use as guard rails to help guide you through what can be a harrowing process.  Here are things we consider and work hard to keep in mind – despite the enticing marketing of some services.

Escape Hatch

Online services are notorious for not having easy EXIT strategies. They’ll make migration into their service easy. They might even offer data import and data migration tools to move your data from one service to another.  When you start looking — ask about exits from the service. If you have a chance, TEST any data export, migration tools.  In the past I’ve often asked vendors about exit tools and have gotten responses that basically say – Oh, don’t worry, you’ll never want to leave us once you start using our tools. What?

When I look at a service, even if they have an flexible, web oriented API, if they also offer tools and data export processes, and if they have discussed it or even have a white paper – their profile goes up from my perspective.  That’s probably a vendor who really cares about the customer. They are more likely to be focused on developing and enhancing their product rather than one that is interested only in acquiring more customers.

 

The willingness to talk about exits from a relationship before it starts are a good sign that the provider understands the issues you as a business owner or IT manager face.

RESTFul API / Web Service

An API that is web addressable using GET/POST and other methods is going to offer you the most flexibility to integrate your data between different services. If two services support RESTful API,  you do have the chance to either create your own integration or use other broker services to integrate the data between your systems. Suddenly your CRM  can talk to your ORDER fulfillment service.

The thing to remember is that not all service interfaces are created equal. Some are superficial, allowing limited read only access to your data, while others are more mature – providing the ability to read and write data into and out of your chosen services.   Program interfaces are complicated creatures – you likely won’t be able to judge it from a technical basis. BUT – you can judge it some other ways:

  • When did they first publish their API?

  • Is full documentation for the API available? (check it)

  • Do they have a number of built-in integrations already that you can use without programming?

  • Do they have integrations for services like Zapier already in place?

  • How many people in their organization maintain and manage the program interface?

  • When was the last release/update of their interface?

Pricing Availability

When shopping for services, one of the things I consistently look for is availability of pricing on vendor websites.  Are they upfront with pricing structures? Does the provider make these available? When pricing for a software as a service isn’t readily available on a website – I get suspicious. You should be too.  Can you afford it as a startup — if you need to call or email to get pricing information? When there is no pricing information I start jumping to conclusions – do they have two tiers of pricing – small business and enterprise?  Can I afford this service?

When a service provides pricing – I’m assured that I know what the likely cost for the service will be were I to adapt it.  So knowing the potential cost – I can spend some time checking it out. The the price doesn’t necessarily scare me away.  If the listed price is too dear compared to the problem I’m trying to fix – I can not waste time on the service. 

Drawing on the new car analogy, if you have only so many hours in the day to find a car, and you are on a limited budget, does it make sense to test drive a car you can’t possibly afford or want to pay for? No. Getting an idea of pricing is a key step to take on the road to selecting and checking out software services.

Discovery

This is an area that experts will tell you about again and again.  Know your requirements. I totally agree, EXCEPT…  Too many times I’ve seen organizations think they know what they need. They don’t. They are a shopping based on what they think they want disguised as what they need.  That “want” is usually driven not by experience but by some wish for a feature, search for a silver bullet, or aspiration to do things a certain way without taking into consideration the way things are now. 

Discovery is a process. It’s not a study or one time analysis. It’s an ongoing process. Needs are most often uncovered and validated through experience.  While you think you can predict what features you will need most from your service, you’ll likely find that these aren’t necessarily that vital once you start using the service.  As you use a tool you’ll continue to find new uses for it, better understand your needs, or find that the service is not what you really needed at all.

Don’t be hard on yourself. It happens all the time. It happens to all of us over and over again.

Once you’ve selected a service, don’t be surprised if what looked like a great fit, turns out not to be one in the end.  Using services is a learning process – that’s why “escape hatches” are vital.

Look at it this way – each time you use the service you learn more about what you need vs. what you don’t. That’s golden.

Core Requirements and Strategic Value

Understand the main reason you are looking for a service.  What problem are you trying to address? Pick a problem and figure out how to solve it. Don’t look for the “silver bullet” to address all your needs. It’ll cost you a fortune, be difficult to implement, and disappoint you in the end. Keep your vision in mind, but select services one at time and chase services that add strategic value to the direction of the business.  

The first system most people will look to is some form of CRM.  Tracking, recording, and providing history for customers and prospects. But CRM is a very broad topic. You should spent some time thinking about what and why do you need a CRM? What is your primary customer contact mechanism? Can you find a CRM that integrates well with whatever system you are going to use for contacting customers – email, phone, in person, walk in?

Focus on your core CRM need and do that well – the rest will fall into place!

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