Software vs. Solution
If you have ever approached a software vendor about their product, it probably went something like this: “Do you have budget for a purchase?” “When do you plan to buy?” “Are you the decision maker?” “Who is our competition?” “Have you seen a demo?” Often, there is only a mild interest in reason why you inquired or what your ideal Point B looks like. Unfortunately, it’s assumed that their product will work for you until proven otherwise. In many cases, any fit questions will be limited to only areas where they know they can potentially solve problems and ignore everything else.
The more enlightened vendors that serve nonprofits either employ a services organization or a reseller channel that can take a more holistic view of the inquiring organization’s circumstances, but most do not. Many software publishers remain focused on moving as many units of their core solution as possible with as little friction as possible. Understanding what the ideal Point B entails in its entirety often creates friction and that’s why many don’t ask.
Given this reality, there are specific advantages to working with an independent reseller versus the software publisher directly.
- Solution versus Software – most independent resellers view clients and their business requirements much more broadly than just features and functionality. The tools and features don’t solve the problem. It’s how they are implemented in the context of an organization’s unique systems and processes. The right solution will include services, related products, integration and user-specific workflow. Unless the software being sold by the publisher happens to solve 100% of the business problem, the customer will be left to solve the remainder on their own and somehow fit it together.
- Objectivity – while this varies by degrees from reseller to reseller, many represent multiple products from multiple vendors, each with its strengths and weaknesses based on context. This allows the consultant to recommend the best fit solution based on the unique requirements presented by the client. In the eye of the software publisher, and in the absence of a “show stopper” requirement, their software is always the ‘best fit”.
- Not Box Movers – Software publishers, by their nature, are in the business of moving as many licenses as they can for the greatest profit margin. It’s just the nature of the beast. While not always intentional, publisher sales teams may be faced with pressure to meet unit goals and other targets that cause them to look for shortcuts or lowball services to get the deal done. The box gets sold, but the customer is left with an inadequate, hurried implementation. Good resellers, who make most of their living from value-added services, consider the software and its features to be one tool in the process of solving client problems. While it matters if you use the right tool, how you use it makes all the difference.
- Expertise – Value-added Resellers are often subject matter experts on industry best practices, regulatory issues, technology and other areas that enable them to deliver significant value in the form of their services and recommendations. Without this subject-matter expertise, they would serve little purpose except as an unnecessary middle-man in the process and would quickly become extinct. On the other hand, software publishers are usually subject matter experts on their own software, but rarely beyond that. While they may offer implementation professional services, they are usually not equipped to make significant and well-considered recommendations beyond how to best use their software.
Two key bad assumptions may tempt you to go straight to the vendor in your evaluation:
- “The vendor knows more than anyone about their product.” – While this may be true on the technology, they may not have more experience than an independent consultant who specializes in actually implementing that product in organizations like yours.
- “I will get the best price from the vendor.” It is important to understand the difference between price and value. As noted above, the vendor may give you the lowest quote, but you may end up paying more long term with something far less valuable in the end.
Most organizations don’t have a lot of experience identifying, evaluating and selecting business applications like accounting and donor management software for their organization. Working with an independent consultant that has this experience will increase the likelihood that your project will be successful.