A Guide to Doing Your Due Diligence Before You Go All In

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Is it just me, or have you also noticed an increase in feelings of disappointment with software or online systems: companies selling “solutions” that just aren’t living up to expectations? Call me hard to please, but I have an expectation of a product delivering on what was promised, especially when those promises were demonstrated in a trial, and articulated in a contract. What’s going on?

In my 10 years in the internet space, I’ve developed a strong faith in tech solutions and tools (software, cloud, etc.) and have invested heavily in them to gain efficiency and effectiveness for our team. And it’s worked. We’re experiencing exceptional growth, and I believe this investment has been a key success factor to that end. When it works, I’m here to say it drives results. Here’s how you can navigate this landscape as it pertains to seeking out the right solutions that will work for your business:

Staying Away From Solutions With Non-Viable Products

Launching a minimal viable product (MVP) can often be a great strategy. I’ve written in the past about how striving for perfection can impede progress, and sometimes you do have to get something out the door before it’s necessarily final in your eyes. If you can look at what you’ve developed and know it will deliver on the value you’ve promised, and commited to finalizing the bells and whistles, then it’s probably a good time to launch. To me, that’s the criteria for the “minimum” part of that description. Anything less, and it’s just not viable.

Turns out, not everyone shares this line of thinking. In the last year or so, I’ve been disappointed more times than I’ve been pleased with tech system solutions’ deliveries. Payment is often required up front, or there are other binding complications in creating the appropriate sense of urgency to deliver on customer service issues. The good news for these companies is that their sales teams are selling the dream. Their developers just need to catch up so that the product or service they’ve successfully sold meets the expectations of customers. Considering the long-term and negative impact to their brands in this regard, it should be part of any company’s process in order to avoid disappointing customers. Any other method won’t result in repeat business.

Dealing With The Bad Apples

You won’t have to find yourself in these situations too many times before you can learn how to avoid them in the future. There are four easy things you can do to both help with prevention, and build in some decent recourse for yourself if you need it.

  1. Insist on a fully functional trial. Do not settle for either just a demo or a limited trial. Make sure you can get into an account that will function exactly like yours will, with exactly the same features you’ll have. There is just no other way to tease out bugs or even to have a benchmark against which you can compare. This really came to our rescue on a number of occasions. When we got our actual account and things weren’t performing, we not only knew exactly what wasn’t performing, but we could get extremely granular in our requirements for what needed to be fixed.
  2. State the obvious. Think about what you’ve been promised and write down that list in an email to your representative. When I say that, most people think about the nuances and little details about various features. While you should also note those, you should be writing down the obvious features. They’re often the ones that aren’t included because you feel like they go without saying, when they often don’t. We recently purchased a solution where a feature was the ability to download lists. That was one of our top three needs, and something a salesperson promised. We purchased it, and guess what: they didn’t follow through. Often, contracts will allow for you to get out if the solution doesn’t perform as promised, but they don’t articulate what those promises are, especially because salespeople can sometimes find themselves being generous when trying to make the sale. Write those out, and get an agreement from the vendor.
  3. Agree on definitions. On a related note of alignment, I’ve found that some terms that I had thought were universally defined are decidedly not. For example, when we purchase new systems, we require that the product must integrate with our CRM, a solution that is the heart of our entire operation. I can cite one case where we explored some business intelligence and analytics software and were told that it integrated natively to the platform. Nine months later, we’re still no further ahead. How can you avoid this? Early on, get extremely specific on what is included to ensure you’re on the same page, and that you’ll receive precisely what you expect.
  4. Build in an escape hatch. Require that the solution needs to be fully functional before you will make the first payment. Set that expectation before signing anything. This is a great “weed out” method. If the solution will really perform as promised, this should be an easy “yes” from the salesperson. If there’s hesitation, it’s a big warning sign.

There are enough unforeseeable challenges you’ll have to figure out with a new system; deception shouldn’t be one of them. In the meantime, be sure to ask the right questions from the start so that you can enter into agreements with eyes wide open.