BEFORE YOU DECIDE – ASK ERP VENDORS YOU’RE CONSIDERING THESE 6 QUESTIONS
So you are getting ready to interview prospects and select a vendor for your ERP system. First, let me say congratulations on getting the project moving forward. However, now comes the arduous task of making sure you pick the right vendor. Just like interviewing a new hire, you want to make sure you ask the right questions so that you know you are picking the right person—the same goes for choosing your ERP Vendor.
In my 22 years working in the ERP industry for several ERP software companies, I’ve heard thousands of questions asked by customers trying to make sure they pick the right solution. It’s easy to ask lots of questions, but what questions should you make sure to add to your interview shortlist?
Here are some questions I’ve heard time and time again that I think can reveal a lot about a vendor and help you make the right decision:
1. Have you worked with other companies in my industry, how many, and how are your solutions designed to fit our needs?
Your business is unique. The type of work you do and who you do it for dictates the processes and tools that you need to use. Every industry has its nuances—whether you are doing business with the Federal Government or designing an advertising campaign to reach millions of people. You understand that better than anyone. And so should the vendor you work with.
You don’t want to spend valuable time, especially time you may be paying them for, teaching them about your type of business or industry. So, are they experts in your industry? How many customers do they have in your industry that do business the same way you do? And perhaps most importantly, are the people that are actually doing the work those experts?
2. How do you consistently deliver ongoing innovation and value?
Look, you are making a multi-year investment in the system and you want to know that it’s going to deliver new innovation and capabilities throughout its life. Can the vendor assure you that they are keeping up with your business and industry, getting feedback from customers like you and continuously adding new capabilities and value that will positively impact your business and make you successful? Look it’s great if an ERP company is releasing their next version and it has a new shipping label capability. Great! But what difference does it make to you if you don’t ship products and are instead delivering IT Consulting Services? You want to be sure you’re choosing a vendor that is making ongoing investments that align with your business and help you adapt quickly to changing business requirements in your industry.
3. What resources do you have to help our users quickly come up to speed and get value from the system?
Ever used a product and said to someone, “I wish this thing could do X” and someone responds, “It does, let me show you!” It happened the other day to me with my smart phone. I always wished the company had included a capability I felt was missing. One day at lunch I was complaining to a friend about this missing feature and learned it had been there for years. I just didn’t know about it or know where it was. ERP systems are no different. One of the top reasons ERP implementations fail is due to lack of adoption—users fail to get all the value out of it because they don’t always know what is possible.
It may come as no surprise to you to learn that training is one of the first things to get cut from an ERP implementation to keep costs down. So, if you want your team to get the most out of a tool you’re spending a lot of money on, but faced with a decision where you need to save money— how do you ensure your users will know how to use it? I realize it’s not as simple as that, but that is a choice many businesses may be faced with if their implementation runs over budget. To prevent yourself from ever being in a bind if you’re up against that decision, you need to find out before you purchase what self-service training tools the vendor has to help with this. If cost becomes a factor, do they have online or on-demand training accessible to your users? And is it easily consumable by your teams or will they have to lock themselves away for weeks just to sit through hours of boring videos?
4. What best practices do you support?
Think about it—your customers hire you because you are an expert in your field. You have probably helped many customers just like them before, and in the process of helping those customers, you have learned a lot. You have probably developed best practices to help your customers because, after all, they hired you because you are the expert and you have done this before. Well, your ERP vendor should be no different. If they are truly experts in your industry, your type of business, and have many customers in the same industry and your type of business, then they should be able to show you many best practices and how to apply them. They should be able to show you best practices for handling project variation and customized invoicing, how you can automate your workflows and reporting—and how you can easily track KPIs specific to your industry. Working with a vendor that understands the best practices for your industry and how to apply them is critical for increasing your company’s performance and competitiveness.
5. Are you growing or not?
Hey, you may think like many other companies, that it’s none of your business how the vendor is doing or if they are growing. You are focused on your business and if it is successful, why should you care how well the vendor is doing? It’s simple. If they are not successful and growing, do you think they will they continue to invest in their products and the company? Companies that are not growing don’t hire more people and invest in resources to be there for you when you need them. Companies that are not growing are not investing people and money into developing new and innovative capabilities into their products. You are making a long-term investment in an ERP system, you want to make sure your vendor is as well.
6. What Is Your Relationship With the Developer?
In the software industry, there are many types of business models. With some software vendors you purchase the software directly from them, you get implementation services directly from them and you even get support from them. So, the relationship between the team that is helping you implement the ERP solution and the team that does the development work is within the same company. Some ERP companies, on the other hand, work with Partners or Resellers that may sell, implement or support the product. This creates a little separation between the company that makes the product and the vendors you work with on the implementation and support. It’s not necessarily a bad thing—but it’s important to understand the relationship they have. Are they an authorized Partner? If you need to work with the software maker, do they have a relationship? Most of us purchase cars from a dealer, but we look to make sure they are an authorized dealer so that we know they have a direct line to the manufacturer for warranty, parts and anything we may need. We know that their staff has been certified and trained by the manufacturer, so they know exactly how to work on our cars. Software is no different. That is why it is important to ask what the relationship is and to evaluate whether it’s the type of relationship you are comfortable with.
I wish you luck on your journey in selecting the right solution for you and hopefully these key questions and insights will help you select the right vendor so that your ERP choice and implementation are successful.