I am regularly asked by customers and potential customers to help them decide between competing software platforms.

I think there are three main factors to consider when making a selection. The factors I recommend people evaluate are:

  • Features and functionality
  • Price and pricing structure
  • Compatibility with the vendor

Features and Functionality

Naturally, one of the top factors is the features and functionality of all platforms under consideration. I suggest customers create a list of the features they need, in order of importance. There is usually a list of “must haves” and often a list of “nice to haves.”

Thinking about the needs of the business and the software features that meet these needs is an easy way to narrow the field.

Price and Pricing Structure

Another factor to consider is price and pricing structure. Is there a small difference in price? Or a large difference in price? Is the difference enough to influence your decision? Often, if vendors know they are competing, they will lower their price to match or beat the competition. When this happens, I recommend considering two things:

  1. If the software is subscription-based, is the vendor likely to raise the price significantly at renewal time? While the vendor may lower the price to “win” you as a customer, they may raise the price precipitously at renewal time so that it is more in line with their list.
  2. If the software is based on user licenses, will the cost of adding additional users at a later date be the same as the entry price? Or will those licenses cost the non-discounted, much higher price?

In addition to the cost of the software, consider the pricing model. For example, is the cost based on named user licenses? Concurrent licenses? Is there a model for casual licenses?

Is the cost based on usage? If so, be sure you understand exactly how usage is calculated, so that you aren’t surprised later. Also make sure that you can monitor the usage, again to avoid any surprises.

Vendor Relationship

The relationship between the software vendor and your company can be more like a marriage than a date. This is particularly true for large software platforms that you will rely on for many years.

Make sure that you feel comfortable with the vendor. Do they treat you well through the sales cycle? Is their upper management approachable? I have found that the demeanor of the people at the top of a company is usually reflected by employees throughout the company.

Certainly, you will speak with reference customers. Remember, reference customers are selected because they are satisfied (or even delighted) with the software and the vendor. See if you can find out how the vendor is seen in the marketplace. Do they have a reputation for being easy to work with? Do they return phone calls promptly?

If you define your criteria for the relationship in advance, it will be easier to evaluate how closely the vendor meets your requirements.

Additional Factors

While I have not seen two pieces of software that are identical in every way, it is very common for competing platforms to have many of the same features. In fact, it is common for multiple software vendors to address most of the “must haves” on the list.

It helps to weight your selection criteria. Weighting helps you clarify priorities. Weighted scoring can be the tiebreaker when multiple vendors appear to meet all the requirements on your list.

Don’t be shy about asking the vendors the hard questions. Ask them to show you features in action, not just tell you that the features exist. Most vendors will gladly provide demos. You’ll get the most out of the demo if you share your concerns and your requirements ahead of time, so the vendor can prepare.

These are the factors that I usually suggest considering when I’m put on the spot to give my opinion about a product. I’m sure you have factors that are important to you. Let me know what they are in the comments.

P.S. Finding the right tools for your business needs can be a big project. Sometimes, the most efficient way to handle it is to hire an expert guide to facilitate the process. We can help you define business requirements, map your requirements to features and functionality, assign weights, set up demos, and interview vendors. I’d be happy to talk with you about how Content Rules can help. Use the Contact Form to let me know a little bit about your project and we’ll set up a time to talk.

Val Swisher
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