Software companies want you to focus on the software, but another important factor is the company. The answers to strategic questions give you deeper insight to the company behind the system and could save thousands of dollars and time.
Have you been involved in lawsuits against a builder or by a builder against you? This is a sensitive question. Most can answer “No,” though not all can. They know you could do formal research, so they won’t lie. It is not just the answer, but how they answer. If they stumble, that’s not a good sign.
Who will I speak with in the support department? Common answers are: “A dedicated support rep,” or “An assigned manager.” Those may sound good, but are wrong. Everyone is out a day or goes on vacation. Then what? You get a stand in? Or you wait? A better answer would be “A team.” Software for this industry shouldn’t be so difficult that only one person is able to help you.
What is your support satisfaction rate? Trick question. Every company, just like your own, wants happy customers, but no one is at 100 percent. Keeping customers is less expensive than getting new ones, so a satisfaction rate of 90 percent is not really that great. Ninety-five percent is reasonable and a minimum level of expectation. Perfection isn’t attainable either. Rates of 97 to 98 percent are excellent. To stump them, ask them to prove it in some way; most cannot.
How many hours per year are you down (if you are buying a cloud-based system)? Don’t buy software thinking it won’t ever be down. An excellent rate is one to two hours per year. If they answer in vague terms such as “Oh, not much,” they are either amateurs, deceptive or they don’t know; regardless, this is a warning sign. If they sound like they are making up the answer, they are likely making up others, too.
What are your primary customer profiles? Companies have and know their target market but many want to sell to a wider scope. Here are some weak examples: A) “Residential construction companies.” You can’t be everything to everyone and be great at it; B) “General contractors.” That could be anyone doing anything; C) “Home builders.” Workflow for custom builders is different than pure production builders.
You are trying to learn if the system was designed with you as a user, or if it is only a broad match. You are buying not just a tool, but a process and that process is not valuable unless you fit the ideal customer profile. Look for specific terms such as production builders, or custom builders or remodelers or real estate agents.
Do you turn down or not accept customers, and if so, why? Trick question. It may seem like nobody wants to turn away customers. But they should, and so should you for the right reasons. They should be clear on who is a fit and who is not. Then you can accurately determine if there is a match for you or not.
What is your ratio of salespeople to support people? Answers might be: “Oh a lot,” or “Plenty,” or “One to one,” or “We have four salespeople and four in support.”
It is not necessarily good to have lots of support people. Why do they need so many? Are they answering numerous questions, are they charging for support, or is the software not intelligently designed? A good ratio is two or three support staff for every one salesperson, generally speaking.
Will you price match your competition? Will you? You shouldn’t. You should be able to validate and defend your pricing. With software systems, there are no exact apples-to-apples comparisons. If the software company is racing to the bottom, is that a company you want to entrust your world to? You as a remodeler have to adequately defend your price. So do software companies. Ask what their best deal is. Companies have affiliation pricing, specials or promotions.
Erik Cofield is vice president of sales at Co-construct in Spring, Texas, a software company that provides an online system of simplified selections, scheduling and client communication for builders of custom projects. He can be reached at email@example.com.