Do you ever go looking for a quick, economical cloud-based software solution (also known as SaaS software) for some small task, and realize that it’s not that easy to find? You’re not alone. The other day I went looking for a cash flow forecasting tool for one of our business consulting clients that would connect with QuickBooks Online and found 6 or 7 of them. Many of them cost more per month than Quickbooks Online.
It’s a cloud in more ways than one
Scott Brinkler at https://chiefmartec.com/ has become famous in marketing technology circles. His organization catalogs the major software options out there for small and medium size businesses. Here’s his 2011 chart:
(As a Magento agency alumnus, I’m proud to see them there in the upper middle.)
If that’s not enough choices, here’s the one they just released this year (2019):
(In case that’s a little too small to read, click here for the original graphic on the chiefmartec.com website. It will still be too small to read, but at that scale you might make out some of the logos.)
Obviously, there won’t be that many choices when you look for something specific to solve a business problem with cloud-based software. But these days when you do an initial search it’s more likely that you’ll be looking at too many choices, not coming up empty. Here are some things I do to narrow the field:
Time needed: 5 hours.
How to cut through the fog of cloud-based software options
- Check in with the community
find forums, social media pages, and other places where people who do what you do are hanging out. Look for messages about the different platforms. You may even find that there are others who are doing the same search you’re doing, and have narrowed it down already. Take note of which names are coming up repeatedly. Jump in with a message yourself – you’ll usually find there are others who will share their opinions. Don’t forget to ask locally. Yesterday I had a conversation with someone who turned out to be a user on a platform I was looking at, and that referral was like gold.
- Read review sites (but be careful)
In a search for cloud-based software for a business application, you’ll often find sites that claim to have reviews and ratings. Sometimes you can pick up some information. However, be aware that many of these sites are largely there to provide affiliate links to the services they are listing. Nothing wrong with this, necessarily, but don’t confuse this style of “review” with Consumer Reports.
- Search on their reputation
I recently talked to a prospect who wanted help with a well-known Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) suite. He said he had been trying to make it work for nearly two years and had always found their tech support lacking. The features and price for the tool may be great, but especially for something mission critical, you’re also buying support. So search for “[name of platform] reputation” and even word strings like [name of platform] sucks” to find out what others are saying. Note: every platform has its detractors and unsatisfied users. How prominent are the bad reviews? Is the company answering them?Are the complaints reasonable?
Start With the End in Mind
I’m kind of an iterative thinker, and because of the low monthly costs of many of these services, I am tempted sometimes to just “fire one up” and see if it works. But I’ve learned to curb this approach in favor of a true project management approach when adding services (and monthly fees) to my business. Here are some thoughts on that:
Check existing software to see if the function is already there
With over 7,000 offerings in marketing software alone, there are usually overlaps in functions between platforms. For example, I use Copper CRM. It can send out bulk emails to my prospects and customers. But it doesn’t let me schedule emails, and it doesn’t provide a true unsubscribe option, so I’m using Mailchimp for my mailing list (possibly moving to Constant Contact soon). I’ve opted to use two different services because I need what both of them provide, but before going that route I looked through the features in Copper to make sure it didn’t do what I needed.
Look for integrations with software you’re already using
if you use Quickbooks Online, that’s a pretty big commitment, and one not easily changed. The same would apply to your website platform, especially if it is eCommerce enabled. So when looking for a time keeping solution, you’d want one that can integrate with Quickbooks Online and send data to it without doing manual data entry. Not every system has to talk to every other system, but the more things you’ve got connected, the easier your life will be.
Read the documentation before starting a trial
Look for documentation, help forums, and other resources.
Note: Some platforms seem to force you to sign up for a trial before giving you a chance to look at anything about their software. I’ve grown leery (and weary) of those. When I must take that approach I dive into the support options first. I do this before spending much time loading in data or trying to integrate it with my existing systems. I’ve had too many experiences where I hit a brick wall once I learned more about the software or worse, had data problems as a result of plugging in the new arrival to my existing set of services.
Just because it’s a “free trial” doesn’t mean it won’t be a significant cost in time and resources to evaluate the software, so take the decision to even evaluate software seriously. Start free trials when you’ll have time to evaluate carefully.
And yes, in many cases a sales representative will be in touch. I’ve had them contact me before the online environment was even set up (I’m looking at you, BambooHR).
Periodically Audit Existing Software
Like other forms of easy monthly payments, cloud-based software tends to hang around indefinitely. If you’re not careful, you can end up with a mixed bag of software functions. This can hold your business back and costing you too much money. Periodically review what you’ve got running. Pro tip: check your card statements and bank accounts to see what you’re paying for. Make a plan to cancel software subscriptions you’re not using. As software suites mature, they tend to add functions, so make sure you’re not paying twice for the same capabilities.
I’d be glad to talk to you about cloud-based software and what may be going on in your business. I’ve set up a number of systems, like QuickBooks Online, BambooHR, Copper CRM, Loomly Social Media, HootSuite, Hubspot, and many others.
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