How to pick new software


Welcome to the latest article.  In this one I’m going to try and help SME’s pick new software systems and vendors using THIS TOOL!  You might be frustrated with your current website or are fed up of spreadsheets getting lost or worse still you are still paper based!  The world of technology moves fast and even when you have implemented new solutions, companies are trying to improve themselves as such a rate they can quickly get out of date.

Warning, this is not an easy process and as much as I’m trying with the documents and the pictures in it, I could talk for days about it!  If any of this rings is helpful to you, but you need more, contact me or use my calendly account (here) to book in a chat.

Who is this for?

This article is aimed at SME’s or micro-business.  You might have found that you implemented software previously that didn’t go to plan, or is not delivering the benefits you wanted.  You might have implemented a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system and use few of the features but pay a big licence.  You might be frustrated by your website.  Maybe you’ve got so many different systems in place you’re trying to cut the cost and simplify things with fewer systems.

This article is aiming to give you a hand, but be wary.  The way my business operates is always to give clarity and to try and do the best by all the businesses I interact with.  Other businesses are massively sales driven so if you want to by a CRM system and someone sells a CRM system, they’ll tell you they can do everything you ask.  You need to be mindful of:

The sliding scale of knowledge

Oh – the sliding scale of what now?  I think I’ve invented a theory  but I’m sure it’s not all that new.  I’ve been a big fan of the four stages of competency (here if you’re unfamiliar).  This is even simpler than that though.  Imagine a sliding scale, 1-10.  Think of the system you want, then place yourself on a line of 1-10, 1 being no knowledge at all, 10 being our buddy Yoda.

First thing is, no-one gets to 10.  Humans tend to get toward the 7 and then diversify.

Anyway, back to the point in hand,  On the sliding scale, you might need a CRM (or someone like me has said what a great idea that is).  You look blankly and think “what is CRM”.  That places you at a 1.  Pop open a google window and away you go.  CRM as a search alone brings 2.58bn results.  Now you start to think maybe 1 isn’t right and wonder if there’s a minus scale.

It’s then easy to get caught in a situation where you trust someone else with your software choice.  I’m a huge fan of outsourcing/delegating where appropriate, but it needs to be in a way you can control.  If you’re down at the low end of the scale, there are lots of people and businesses who only need to be one step beyond you to come across as an expert.  The idea is if you can follow the tool and concept here, you can spot those businesses and avoid them!

Who isn’t this for?

This isn’t aimed at the larger SME’s or corporate businesses.  If that’s you, and any of this is helping I’d suggest you look at your recruitment process (or have a read of this article I’ve written).  There are entire industries with specialists who can help in this area.  I used to work as a Business Analyst and it was my job to make sure I understood technology, but also understand how businesses were going to use it.  20 years ago Business Analysis was just two words that co-existed.  Eventually it became seen as a vital component to businesses implementing change.

The warning to the larger SME or corporate though is to again be wary of the sliding scale of knowledge.  If the Finance Director is being assigned to bring a new Enterprise Resource Planning system in (ERP), there’s no way they’re going to know how that is used by the factory operatives or the HR team.  You could then outsource it, badly, and end up with a NFFU (not fit for use) system (yes, I just invented an acronym, at least I explained it).

What can also happen is that you are consciously aware of what you don’t know so make the terrible mistake of hiring in an expert.  Thing is, that expert might really know stuff, but the wrong stuff and then 12 months pass, you still don’t have an ERP system but do have increased staff costs.  Then you hire another expert.  Don’t laugh, I have seen this happen and then you end up with a leadership team full of intelligent experts but very little forward progress.

What is it?

With all of that explained, lets get on to the tool.  The picture at the beginning of this article is the first page.  The rest of the tool is here.  When I say tool I’m trying to give knowledge.  I’m trying to get 20 years worth of knowledge onto a single page!

The document has 4 pages:

  • A visual of “what to think of” when picking software
  • A visual of a “virtual example” trying to give the first picture a bit of context
  • Page 3 is a spreadsheet, it’s the same kind of thing as the first visual, just way more boring to look at.  Unless you’re a bit like me and get excited by a spreadsheet
  • Page 4 is then the spreadsheet with my “virtual example”

I’m a massive fan of putting these kind of things into a spreadsheet as it’s easy to record the information, it’s easy to share and easy to decide if your new system works or not.  But spreadsheets look boring.

What’s the point of this?

As an overview the whole point of this process is to:

  1. Increase your knowledge and move you up the scale by one or two places
  2. Give your vendors information so that they are FORCED to give you a response rather than a sales pitch
  3. You then have better information to make your decision and even if you still don’t understand the technology, you’ll be able to gauge more about your vendors by HOW they respond rather than WHAT they respond with

If all of that makes sense, I’ll talk through the structure.  If you’re now more overwhelmed and not sure what to do next, just give me a buzz.  I want every business to be the best it can be.  I have zero interest in making money from your lack of understanding!

The Intro

This one is easy and obvious.  Why do you need to give it to your potential vendors though?  First of all, I would absolutely expect that if someone wants to sell to you, they should have a bit of a clue about what you do.  I’d also like to think that with any response, you should be given examples of where that software has been used to help businesses in your industry.

The specification

This one breaks into four sections.  Each is straight-forward but the idea is the combination is powerful.  Each section is explained below:

Look and feel

Aim here for a few single words or very small phrases.  If you’re picking off the shelf software, make sure it behaves in a way that meets these requirements.  If you hate spreadsheets, don’t get a system that looks like one.  If you’re very visual and you want a clean looking system, that’s good so list it.  You might have less functionality but if it works, it works.

The basics

Obvious again, but the power is the combination.  In this section you need to state the basics.  You need to specify what is going where for who.  For example on a CRM system add the kind of data you’re storing and why you’re holding it.

The specifics

In this section you need to get a bit more detailed.  But it’s still the idea to write this in a language you’ll understand.  Remember this is also a test that the vendor is listening to you and this might prompt them to ask you more questions that you will understand.  You can also state in sentence form the sort of things that your system must do.  To get really geeky about it, you could write them as a story.  Then you’re into a whole world you might want to avoid, although for further reading check out agile business.  The basic idea behind a user story is you should be able to say why you want something, rather than just what the something is.  That’s brilliant for technical people as they want to be able to solve a problem.

An example is saying “I want all of my courses listed in alphabetical order”, when it would be better to say “I want an easy customer experience when it comes to booking a course”.

Beware of another acronym I’ve just invented – the NER’s (Never Ending Requirements).  It is very easy that once you’ve opened this can of worms you just don’t stop and then end up writing so many specifics, so much detail that it becomes a nightmare to manage.  Always start with as little as possible and build it up.  The level you need to write is again where you can call in an expert.  07766 962751 is my number if this is starting to get overwhelming!

The integrations

The last part of this section is what needs to work with what.  Keep this super-simple.  You might have a payment provider.  You might have a CRM you want to work with you new website.  You might want the payments, CRM and website all playing nicely.  That’s literally all you need to cover here.  You DO NOT need to worry about how they are going to work.  There are technical people who worry about batch processes, data movement and API’s.  You don’t need to know HOW, just explain what you have and how you want it to connect.

The Admired

Guess what – this one is nice and simple too.  Be sure to list what other sites, software, systems you like using.  You can even list here a rival or other provider that does something in the same area that you do.  Sometimes people worry about imitating, that’s fine you’re not asking for a copy, but demonstrating that you’ve had a look and know what you like and what you don’t.


As stated right at the top, this isn’t an easy process.  You will save time and money if you follow it through.  There are a million different ways to document what you need.  There are plenty of reasons why you might not need to bother.  If you have any doubt about what you have or how to pick a new vendor please invest time up front.  If you need to talk about your systems, please get in touch on 07766 962751, mail me: or send me a message through the site.