That title just triggered a level 1 Defcon alert at all of the software companies I’ve ever worked with. I hate to answer a question with… a bunch of questions but, “what are your needs?” Is user experience, industry expertise, control or price your primary concern? How comprehensive does the software need to be? Do you want something that covers all of the bases or do you want to piece different solutions together? How about international: what providers even know what localizations to consider in the countries you want to go into, and how much experience do they have in those countries? Do you have database options? Can they support a single database and/or a hub and spoke; or how do they handle multiple markets?
This isn’t even a start to a list of items on a decision matrix concerning this subject. Without spending hours describing the pros and cons of each software vendor (I feel it would be unfair to name names in contexts of who does what), it seems to me with MLM commission and tool providers in general (as it relates to how they position themselves in the market), there are a few categories:
· Best value at a low price.
· Control to the user by providing a database and package that can be written too. Giving the client the ability to write or plug in other programs or, “control” by providing source code to the client.
· Comprehensive solutions that give the client the ability to focus resources on sales and marketing without worrying about their technology.
I am going to throw in a 4th because of how important I think it is: industry experience. Some providers just don’t have the experience to be in this game. It is tough and this industry is not always the easiest one to understand. You need to hire experience!
Back to the question, “who is the best software provider?” Determine your culture and you will be closer to knowing who is a good fit. Ask some of these questions:
1. Who is your distributor base?
a. Do they do home meetings or primarily work online?
b. What tech tools will they need?
c. How will they sell, recruit, organize, schedule, present and train?
d. How much will they use online reports about their business?
e. Are you more of a niche or boutique MLM or do you plan on growing the field to beat all records?
f. What level of support are they going to require?
2. Who are you as a company?
a. What and how much do you want to provide for all of the above?
b. Do you have an I.T. team or do you need more support from your provider?
c. What about Customer Service? What tools do you want to provide them to do their job?
d. How “virtual” is your culture? Will you be doing online meetings, promotions, events and training? Will your printed materials be online for the distributors to print off? Will you build a culture of empowerment through online business tools or are you going “old school?”
3. What are your international intentions? Once you purchase software (and with each new active distributor), the ability to move to a new vendor becomes increasingly challenging, although doable. It is just much better to make the right “first choice.” There are only a handful of providers that are capable of international support, and (to be honest) only a couple that are really good at it. This needs to be a major piece of the decision. You don’t want to have to move providers just so you can go international.
4. How much do you want to spend? I will tell you, cost does not always equate to value in this case. There are some high priced deals out there that just have good sales people and high value deals that could really charge more. You need to really define what you want. The perfect vendor is out there. If you can find them, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you go through this process here are a few things you should know:
1. A company that does $100 million/year vs a company that does $10 million per year — its not just 10 times much work — it’s a completely different animal. Now you have departments and approval processes; and multiple projects and project managers working on the same piece of code. Unless your software has handled a client of $100 million dollars you can’t expect them to handle you at that size.
2. Programmers and users speak different languages — heck they might even be a completely separate species 🙂 – some software companies expect you to translate your “user speak” into “programmer speak.” Other companies have project managers that do this translation for you. If you have a good tech. team, you might save a buck or two without the project managers involved but I will tell you I have yet to experience the deal that came out ahead just because we could talk to the programmers directly. At least not in overall value. There is too much that gets lost in translation and I can kinda-sorta speak programese…
3. All modern software has to hook up with other software — typically these are called 3rd party interfaces. Some software vendors will do 3rd party interfaces; others require you to do it and they provide the tools to do this — which is fine if you have an expert on hand to do it.
4. SAAS is the prevalent model: does your software provider include database licenses, sales tax licenses, credit card integration, integration with 3rd party shippers as part of the base fee, or do you pay extra for those features?
The industry spends roughly 4% of revenue on technology. We can do better than that. The best way, to my knowledge, is to use best practice software providers that do what you need them to do at a fair price—and most importantly have the knowledge and experience to get it right the first time. There is nothing more expensive than a do-over! Whatever direction you go make sure you have asked yourself the right questions before you start looking. I promise it will save you a lot of time, money and discomfort in the end.