I'll never forget how nervous I was when buying a car for the first time on my own.
I had done mountains of research. You name it, I read about it.
And yet I still found myself tossing and turning the night before the big decision, wondering if I was making the right choice. Maybe I should just forget the whole thing and try to squeeze a few more years out of my old Volkswagen (who really needs air conditioning anyway?).
Making a multi-thousand dollar purchase is intimidating!
It's even more intimidating for nonprofits, especially when it's your name on the dotted line making the call to spend money. How can you be sure you're making a good decision?
The best thing you can do is ask the right questions of the right people.
Here are the questions you need to ask to avoid buyer's remorse.
Most vendors out there want what's best for you. After all, if you do well with their product, you'll keep coming back for more.
But you still need to ask questions to make sure you have a clear understanding of things like pricing, features, and implementation.
Whether the software has a one-time upfront cost or a recurring subscription cost, it's not unusual for vendors to charge other types of fees for service.
A prominent example of this would be donation processing. While you might pay a subscription to use the tool, there will also likely be a fee to process the credit card, or a transaction fee charged by the vendor. These fees aren't meant to be nefarious, and are often negotiable.
Depending on the complexity of the software in question, it's often necessary to provide your staff with some type of training. Many companies include this in your subscription cost, but others will have an additional training fee. This could be a one-time fee, or even just an "add-on" to help you get started.
While you're on the subject, make sure you have a clear understanding of the vendor's support framework. Is there a limit to the amount of help you get? How is that defined? What about technical problems? Iron all these out before you sign up.
You'll also want to ask about the track record of the company or product. This isn't always possible (if the company is brand new), but most of the time it should have some evidence to show that you're in good hands.
Ask about other organizations that have used the company's platform, and see if you're able to speak with references before you sign the dotted line. Keep in mind that many companies will save this step to the end of the buying process so they don't hound their current customers to serve as references for deals that don't materialize. Try to be understanding about this; they're just trying to be respectful of their customers' time.
How many times have you heard about decisions being made by upper management without consulting the people they will actually affect?
Don't leave your team members out of this decision! After all, it's very likely that they'll be the ones using the product the most.
The key word there is properly. Sure, you can learn to do something halfway pretty easily, but chances are you're spending a good bit of money on this. To spend that money and only use half of its capabilities wouldn't be good stewardship of your organization's funds.
No, I don't mean own it in the sense of legally possessing it, but rather being the leader in learning, teaching, and being the liaison for this particular platform.
Every office has that person who knows a piece of software better than anyone else. Decide who that person will be for your new purchase. They'll lead the way on learning, answer questions, and be your main point of contact with your account representative from the vendor.
Many times, a piece of software might be purchased for one department, but have applications for another. Make sure you find multiple use cases, because this will help you justify the final cost and get more value from your subscription.
Finally, the key stakeholder in this transaction is you. As the final decision maker, you have a different set of criteria you need to consider.
Just like new employees need time to get up to speed before they can demonstrate value for the organization, software has a learning curve too. Many times, we expect a new platform to begin delivering huge value to our team right away, then get frustrated when that doesn't happen.
These things take time. Six months may even be on the short side, but the point is: budget accordingly. Communicate to your leadership that you'll need at least [X] amount of time using this product before an informed decision can be made to cancel the subscription.
When it comes down to it, you've got to trust your intuition.
Colin Powell has a great leadership lesson on decision making he calls the 40-70 rule. Once you have 40 to 70 percent of the information, it's time to make a decision. If you wait until you have 100 percent of the information you need, you've likely waited too long and the window of opportunity has passed. In other words, waiting around for every possible string of data you might need will leave you in analysis paralysis.
Ask questions, do research, but then rely on your experience to make the final decision.
Image: Africa Studio / Shutterstock
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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