How to Buy Software for your Front Office

Over the last six months I have seen a shift in the way people are buying software in this market. As the markets continue to drive growth in staffing and recruiting firms of all sizes the stakeholders that benefit the most from an integrated front office ( leadership in sales, recruiting, account management, operations) have less time to define requirements and evaluate software. This has resulted in these teams shifting to “in-sourcing” the process to the IT department, or out-sourcing it to a consultant. IT Departments and Consultants play an incredibly valuable role in this process.

Validating requirements and workflows, keeping the process moving, ensuring that the internal customer resources are defined and available for a successful implementation and ongoing use of a system. In theory it works like this: the front office stakeholders keep selling and driving revenue while IT and Consultants drive the buying process. Seems to make sense. However putting distance between yourself and the selection of a vendor that is going to provide the platform that will drive your business – where sales, customers, and recruiting intersect – could be fatal and have a huge impact on your business. This shift has also resulted in, what I see as, some major mistakes made on the part of the buyer. I thought I would take the opportunity to provide a few tips to software buyers.

This isn’t by any means, a complete list, but just a few tips focused on what your role is in the buying process. These tips are relevant to any size shop….

Don’t Take Yourself Out of the Process. Leverage your resources to drive deliverables and coordinate logistics and details, but meet every vendor – live or over the phone. The best partnerships are built on a solid relationship, you need to evaluate whether you want to do business with a partner – not just based on features and functions in their product, but on other issues core to their ability to support your business on an ongoing basis (vision, strategy, growth plans, infrastructure, stability, etc.). THIS IS THE SYSTEM THAT WILL DRIVE YOUR REVENUE.

As an executive that has implemented several CRM systems over the last 12 years, I can tell you from experience that when you take yourself out of the early stage of the evaluations you may be wishing you were there if the vendor you select can’t keep up later on. Having made that mistake once in my career years ago, I learned that for all of the relief I had that someone else was driving the buying process and saving me time early on – I wished I had it all back when I found out the system couldn’t support some strategic initiatives I had in mind with a rapidly growing sales force during implementation. Those resources just didn’t see the requirements during the “definition phase” for those initiatives in the way they really needed to be implemented.

Name an Executive Sponsor from Each Stakeholder Department and then ensure that these stakeholders are investing their time in defining what they need to drive their piece of the business. Then ensure they are spending their time with the vendor(s) to make sure the capabilities exist. Don’t rely on someone that isn’t selling, recruiting, or supporting customers in today’s market to tell you that the system will work for you.

Look at the Total Cost of Ownership AND the ROI that each vendor can provide your firm. This can be as simple as understanding the key capabilities that a vendor brings to the table that allow you to drive more business than other systems – or it can be a thorough analysis of the investment made and the return expected based on implementing a system, built in tandem with the vendor. One key piece of advice here: understand what you are buying, what the vendors offer, and make sure the TOTAL cost of a system is factored in (will you have to upgrade it in 3 to 5 years?; will you have to buy licenses for other systems in order to provide the front office capabilities your team needs? Will you have to pay for integration and support of those disparate systems required?) BE SURE THAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT AN APPLES TO APPLES COMPARISON in order to see the total cost/value picture.

Be Open With Your Vendors. There is an old buyer’s myth that if you withhold information from the vendors you can use it as leverage – or get a more clear picture of the vendor. I can tell you that every software sales person I’ve ever managed, and every company I’ve been a part of, works harder to earn your business when they understand what it will take and what they are up against. For example, at Bullhorn, we walk away from opportunities when we feel that the customer doesn’t fit – because we are partnering and providing service on an ongoing monthly basis – we make a business decision that mirrors every prospect’s decision – does the customer fit in our model?

Business partnerships and relationships are built on trust, just like personal relationships. You’ll get more out of your vendor relationships by being open than holding back information.

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