We often get asked for recommendations for software products in a wide range of industries, and usually, this takes the form of “what’s the best product for xxx”.
From a customer perspective, this is a perfectly reasonable question, but it does present some difficulties that are worth exploring.
Firstly, it shows that these people are considering the purchase of software products as they would a car or a domestic appliance. A long-term software commitment is a more significant consideration than that (or at least we think so), but let’s leave that to one side for a moment and make the comparison between choosing a car and choosing software.
My simple Google-informed opinion is that there are around 50 major car brands to choose from. Some of these brands have a hundred or so models and some have just a handful, so let's generously say that there are around 2,500 vehicles in all classes to choose from. If you’re talking four-door saloon (I'm guessing the most popular) it will be an order of magnitude fewer, so let's say around 500. Seems like a lot of choices right there.
But there are, by some assessments, tens of thousands of software products and a much wider range of categories, with more products and even more categories being added all the time. The volume makes a difference, so how on earth are we supposed to make sense of all this?
We’ve been thinking about what value we could offer to our clients, so read on for a few options.
Product recommendation sites
There have been attempts by some in NZ to maintain catalogues of recommended products for different purposes, a kind of Dog and Lemon guide for software, but these have mostly foundered due to the need to constantly research and track such an enormous range.
Of course, the world wide web does provide a number of review sites such as Capterra, which will rank products according to pre-defined features. Most of these are pay-for-play, so product companies are paying to get their products up the ranking. This is effectively a form of marketing rather than objective evaluation.
Occasionally, organisations that want to portray themselves as experts in a particular category will assess a particular product category in detail. For example, Investopedia has published Best Accounting Software for Small Business which gives a list of the top five accounting products for small businesses. NZ’s very own Xero makes the list, but as the best software for micro-businesses, which I guess is what we would call a small business in NZ.
The problem we always have in NZ is that our market is a bit different from much larger international markets, so these reviews often weigh features that would be of no benefit to an NZ small- or medium-sized enterprise. The risk here is that you will select something with lots of features you will never use but will still be paying for.
There are quite a few services out there whose mission is to integrate different products into the cloud. Their business is dependent on making sure they fully understand the technical details and features of all the products they integrate, so they can be a great source of information about what is out there in different categories.
In recent times, Zapier has been running professional and reasonably objective reviews covering a myriad of digital products. It’s well worth subscribing to their blog to get regular and useful updates.
Covering the bases
The worst form of assessment is possibly the most common: “Maybe I’ll ask Bruce at the rugby club what he thinks, he seems to know quite a bit about this tech stuff.”
Bruce may be a great rugby coach and successful businessman, but that doesn’t make him a digital professional. Personal recommendations can be helpful, but they should be used with caution and always validated by some other form of independent advice.
And no matter what you do, make sure that your choice integrates with your overall strategy.
YouTube and LinkedIn are both great places to mine for product reviews. On YouTube, people will actively try out and talk back to certain products. They’ll browse and play around and often give very honest opinions. As a bonus, if you want to implement one of them that you find it easy enough to watch set up and best practice videos.
Over on LinkedIn, you can view a company’s page and see what people are saying on their posts. Do they have an active, engaged audience? I am always drawn to SEMRush posts because the people LOVE them! You can tell the users are passionate about the software from the way they talk to the social team.
What to do after recommendations?
Form them as part of your digital strategy. But a word of caution – we recommend crafting the digital strategy before getting into recommendations. Don’t let a product be a band-aid on a problem you need to fix first. It won’t be a magical solution that will solve the real issues you are facing whether that’s inefficiency or poor communication across a hybrid team working environment.
Once you’ve got all the recommendations and that strategy in place, you can move on. Talk to the dealers and get free product demos. They will love to do it, don’t worry.
You might just be getting a few unwarranted emails and calls from time to time until you tell them a definite "yes" or "no".
It’s a great way to get professional, experienced viewings of the products you’ve heard so much about from other sources. Often, they will set you up with a free trial so you can have a go (and maybe a fancy pen or tech gadget with their name on it if you're lucky!)
What do you need?
We are exploring the idea of developing a database of systems and services appropriate for the NZ SME market. If you’ve got some ideas about what you’d like to see in this kind of service, we’d love to hear from you.
You can drop your thoughts in the comments below or send us a message.
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