I could give you all the advice I have to help you pick just the right software vendor and it still wouldn’t be enough to get you the right choice right away. In the age of consultative selling, software sales people are very good at telling you and showing you exactly what they want you to see which always happens to be what they’re great at. They’re also good at covering up their weaknesses.
So how can you tell what they are not telling you?
Watch a demo.
And by demo, I am referring to an actual, live, open view of their software. Ironically, a free trial is not as good a read of the software as the demo. Why? Free trials are well-scripted, controlled and speak to a larger issue. If they can give you a free trial of their software, it’s probably an automatically upgraded tool (that’s a way bigger problem than you think that we’ll address in a later series). Demos are also usually scripted, but you have the unique opportunity to test the vendor with a question they hadn’t planned for.
Ask a question.
During the demo or a conversation with the vendor, take them off-script. Ask something particular to your business practice and use the answer not for the data that you get from asking, but for the very sake of seeing how they handle the question and how they deliver a tailored answer to your individual challenge. (Try the question from the last blog about updating a safety practice for an ideal interrupter question.) See how the vendor handles the question – are they able to answer you and, further, can they show it to you?
Ask a question twice.
The software sales cycle is long. Use this to your advantage. Ask a question of the vendor early in the process. Make sure you note who you ask it of. Later in the process, ask the same question of someone else on the team. What differences are there in the two answers? What about the approaches? Go back to the first person (or the second if it’s easier, right at the time they share) and address the two answers. Whether they are the same or different, ask the vendor to share with you why they are. What to they have built into their processes that give them the ability to answer it the way they did.
Ask what they think of something.
Software vendors want to sell you what they have. If they’ve done their homework, they know why you would consider buying from them. Test their ability to work creatively (this is critical in the software industry) by asking them a tough question that helps you determine how they handle their work, how competent they are and how they will treat you. Ask them for something they don’t offer. If their business model is to sell you named user licenses (one name, one license) like us, tell them you prefer concurrent licenses and see what they say. Ask them if they can make a one-time exception for you. Their ability to handle something like this will illustrate in spades how they will treat you long past the first sale.
Share a story.
Tell them something that makes you unique. (If they ask you to share this, even better.) See how much detail they want to know and how inquisitive they are. This signals a group that will help you get to the bottom of any further issues or questions that you have. Ask them to share a similar issue that they’ve run into or dealt with for another customer. Ask them what makes your situation unique or significantly different than that customer’s. This signals the ability of the vendor to process what you’re saying and use the information to help you individually.
These five areas are critical to a vendor’s ability to get you what you need, when you need it. If they come through with flying colors, you know that you have a company that you are likely to be able to work with long into the future. Good luck!
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