As manufacturers start moving to cloud-based software solutions, Software-as-a-Service providers are making big claims to gain a foothold in the market, promising newer, better, more robust software products at a fraction of the cost of traditional desktop applications. This makes it all the more difficult to determine which one is right for your business.
Weighing the different options can be a long, confusing process fraught with non-stop sales pitches, misleading demos, and inflexible contracts. Most of the advice for OEMs on how to choose a SaaS boils down to security questions, service-level agreements and contingency planning. (For a great article on that subject, read this piece by Iron Mountain, our escrow services partner.) But – while important – these factors won’t necessarily lead you to the top solution for your manufacturing needs.
So how can you sniff out the vendors who over-promise and under-deliver? To avoid a software subscription nightmare, take the time to ask these three questions during your next demo or sales call. It could help you get a more realistic look at the software before you invest.
1. Can You Tell Me About Your Slowest Deployment?
When you’re trying to manage deployment risk, it’s useful to know about and plan for potential setbacks. Most tech companies can quickly rattle off a few of their fastest and most successful deployments, but knowing about their slowest one will give you a clearer view of the company and its software.
As Fayez Mohamood reported in Entrepreneur, “Slow deployments aren’t necessarily bad – everyone has hiccups – but a team that’s willing to talk about it is likely one you can trust on other aspects of the sale.”
While this question may throw the salesperson for a loop, honest reps will be upfront with you about where they’ve faced issues in the past. After all, the best software-as-a-service is usually supported by a team that strives to continually improve the product and mitigate previous problems.
2. Can I Talk to One of Your Engineers?
Most SaaS providers give product demos in which a sales rep guides you through all the features of the software and talks about the countless advantages of their solution. These demos are great for giving a basic understanding of the product and showing how it works in action, but as you would expect, they often paint a highly glorified view of the software.
To get a better understanding of whether or not the solution will work for you long-term, ask to speak with an engineer on the next call. Software engineers know the product inside and out, they know what changes and enhancements will be coming down the line, and they know exactly what the software can – and can’t – do for your specific manufacturing needs.
Talking to an engineer is a surefire way to get a true and accurate representation of how the product performs in a typical environment. And any company that’s not willing to connect you with an engineer… well, you may want to continue your search elsewhere.
3. Can You Refer Me to a Few of Your Current Subscribers?
It’s best to get at least three references who are each at a different stage of implementation. Ask the SaaS provider for one contact who just recently adopted the software, one who has used it for at least six months, and a third who has been a long-time user. Ideally, one of these references will also be in your same industry, so if you manufacture powersports equipment, for example, make sure you talk to another powersports OEM who uses the SaaS.
Variety is key here, since executives may significantly change their view of the software over time. Those who have been using the SaaS for years will be able to report on metrics like the frequency of updates, the quality of improvements, and the responsiveness of technical support. On the other hand, a brand new user can better discuss the pains of integration while it’s still fresh on their minds and tell you whether or not the customer service team proved helpful during the implementation process.
Once you have the references, don’t forget the most important step: actually checking them. A 15-minute phone call with a current customer can be extremely revealing. And if the software solution you’re considering spans multiple departments, be sure to talk to several users within each department for the full picture.
Bonus: Ask your sales rep if they can get a current customer to lead you through a demo. You’ll get to see exactly what they like and don’t like about the software, and you’ll get some honest advice on how to use the SaaS most effectively.
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