Edition 59
6 Things You Need to Know When Purchasing Service Lifecycle Management Software
by Michael Blumberg, President, Blumberg Advisory Group, Inc.

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As part of a yearlong market research study sponsored by CSDP Corporation (www.csdpcorp.com), we spoke to hundreds of companies to find out about their experiences when purchasing enterprise software for service (also known as Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) software). We’ve distilled the knowledge we gained into 6 tips to help you when you are in the market for enterprise service software.

1. What to expect in the sales process?
You are likely doing research before you ever even engage a vendor, but when it’s time to start talking to software providers, what should you expect? First of all, most vendors will give some sort of brief, high level demonstration of the software during your initial call. This typically is just meant to give you an idea of how the software works. More detailed, customized demos will follow and at this time more thorough vendors will ask you to fill out a demo prep form so they can tailor the demonstration to your needs. You may also be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement so the vendor can freely share confidential information. Don’t expect more than a ballpark figure of the cost of the software on the first call; you’ll need to fully discuss your needs and expectations before getting more detailed pricing. This process also provides the opportunity for you and the software vendor to determine if you are the right fit for each other. Figure 1 shows the expectations of the software buyers we surveyed recently.

As you get further along in the sales process, most buyers (71% according to our survey) expect there to be a requirement of a current state assessment (also known as a discovery or needs analysis) prior to implementation. This assessment will ensure that your processes are well defined and documented (broken processes are one of the biggest reasons for failed software implementations), uncover all necessary data connections, and will ensure a smooth implementation.

2. What to look for in a vendor?
There are a number of vendors offering Service Lifecycle Management software. Wading through the options can be overwhelming. Figure 2 indicates what your peers look for in a vendor. The top three factors are software feature and functionality, technical competency of vendor, and vendor flexibility. All the respondents rated these factors as either the most important or second most important factor when purchasing service software.

While you want to ensure that the vendor has all the features and functions you need right now to solve your immediate pain points, you don’t want to ignore your future growth and needs. Just because you don’t need upsell/cross-sell or knowledge management now doesn’t mean you won’t need it in a year or two. Think about what kind of functionality you might need in the next 3 to 5 years and make sure your selected vendor has that capability.

Once you have vetted all vendors on these top 3 characteristics, you will likely have a short list of vendors that you want to explore further. At that point, you’ll need to evaluate the Total Cost of Ownership, implementation schedule, and vendors’ knowledge of your business. These factors can make or break the success of your SLM implementation.

3. How important is price?
As you can see from figure 2 above, price is far from the dominant factor when purchasing service software. Only 25% of our respondents indicated that price was the most important factor. Figure 3 indicates that more than half of the survey respondents selected a vendor whose price was somewhere in the middle of the estimates received. As it often happens, the lowest priced vendors are ruled out because they lack the functionality and/or are perceived as lacking the resources to support the implementation while the highest price vendors are often perceived as offering solutions that are too complex to implement. So while price is a consideration, making sure the solution has true enterprise class functionality with high touch service personnel that make you feel at ease is far more important than price.

4. How important is the role of discounts in the buying decision?
Discounts are common when pricing software so there is often some room for negotiation. 83% of those who purchased an enterprise software solution in the past 24 months received a discount and 89% of those planning to purchase in the next 24 months expect a discount. Truth be told, the discount doesn’t make or break the sale. Of the discount received or expected to receive, the most common discount is 10 to 20 percent. Highly competitive situations may result in larger discounts. As we mentioned before, be wary of a vendor who drops the price too much without asking for a concession. The lower price may come back to haunt you during the implementation or when you require post implementation support.

5. CRM/ERP or best of breed service software?
For SLM software, there are often three choices: buy service software from your CRM vendor, buy from your ERP vendor, or select a best of breed service software provider. We saw each of these approaches reflected in our survey. While you may think it’s easier to just use the company that you are already using for CRM or ERP, you need to consider the downsides. Best of breed vendors place their sole focus on the services side (e.g., field service, service parts, depot repair, etc.) of the business. CRM is focused on the pre-sales process and ERP is focused on the billing and manufacturing processes. Best of breed software solutions specialize in service and are built to contain all the functional requirements to support the full service lifecycle management process in an organization. While you may not need all of the functionality now, as noted previously, you should be evaluating solutions with an eye toward the future. And because service relies to some extent on the information contained in your CRM and ERP systems, many best of breed vendors have probably integrated with your existing systems before, therefore doing so in your company will be straightforward.

6. What happens after the sale?
There’s an old joke about a man who dies and is confronted by the Devil. The Devil shows him an image of a banquet hall filled with beautiful and nicely dressed people; they are dancing to a 5 piece band, fine food is served, and champagne is flowing. The Devil asks the man if he would like to spend eternity here at which point the man promptly says “yes.” With a of flash light, everything goes dark and the man wakes up to find his arms and legs chained to a mountain in the middle of a desert. The man calls for the Devil, who appears, and the man asks why things are not as they appeared previously. The Devil responds “yesterday you were my prospect, today you are my customer.”

Many of the individuals we surveyed for this research project had a similar experience when asked about the level of satisfaction with their vendor of choice. While they did not go so far as to say that they felt that they sold their soul to the Devil, several did express dissatisfaction with the implementation experience and level of support post implementation. To avoid this situation, it is important to understand exactly what the vendor’s expectation are of you during the implementation as well as understand the level of resources the vendor will commit to you during the implementation and also for post implementation support. Reference checks of companies similar to yours in terms of technology supported, size, and financial structure are a must. You’ll also need to get a clear idea of the skill sets, experience, and capabilities of the individuals supporting the implementation. How much experience have they had in implementing the version of software that you are about to purchase? A well-defined Service Level Agreement with penalties for non-compliance will also help to keep the vendor accountable during the support phase.

Purchasing any kind of software can be daunting, but when you are purchasing a mission critical solution, like Service Lifecycle Management, the stakes are especially high. This white paper provides an overview of several steps in the sales process to provide you with some best practices in the industry. There are other considerations beyond those described here. Many companies benefit from utilizing third party experts to help evaluate SLM software. This can include requirements definition, vendor identification and assessments, process documentation and optimization, state of the art benchmark evaluation, and much more. In short, third party experts can ensure that you complete the necessary due diligence involved in vetting and selecting vendors. As they say, knowledge is king so the more you know about what to expect before, during, and after the sale, the more likely you are to succeed.
Michael R. Blumberg is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and President & CEO of Blumberg Advisory Group, Inc. His firm focuses on providing strategic and tactical assistance for improving the overall profitability and quality of aftermarket service operations. Mr. Blumberg has established himself as an expert and industry authority on Reverse Logistics and Closed Loop Supply Chain Management.

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