I was reminded recently of the importance of making sure that you qualify the vendor references prior to making reference calls or on-site visits. Our office manager was selecting a replacement copier for our office and learned about the importance of this firsthand. She realized when she had completed her reference check visit that the vendor had not taken the time to match the reference to her needs and situation. She was provided a reference that was not similar to our company and was not using the copier in the same way.
Although our office manager was able to gather some information about the vendor’s service from her visit, next time she will qualify her reference beforehand to ensure she can get a better assessment for how we can utilize the copier.
The lessons learned are also applicable to software selection:
- Is the reference using the same product and version of software? Make sure the business you plan to visit is using the same product you plan to buy (many software vendors have acquired solutions and offer multiple software products) and is on the same version that you intend to implement.
- Are they similar to you? Make sure the reference is similar to your business. It is difficult to compare apples to apples when the place of business you are visiting uses the software differently. You can also take advantage of this opportunity to find out what was successful and not so successful in the implementation process and get best practices ideas.
- Is the point of contact the right person? The vendor who arranged the reference check may have a relationship with a person at the place of business who doesn’t have the best knowledge of the product or the information that you need to evaluate the fit of the software. You need to know up front that you will be able to talk to the users who will truly be able to give you the answers you need.
- Can they answer your critical questions? If you have questions that you definitely want answers, you may want to send them ahead of time in order to expedite your visit.