When Should You Break Up With Your Software Provider?

Delivering excellence in office print is complex and challenging. You can have excellent multi-function devices and desktop solutions that print in tiered color at 80 pages per minute, collate and staple, scan to cloud, make coffee and do basic tax prep. Your price is competitive and profitable. That’s great, but (and this is a big but) if you don’t have the software solutions in place that will consistently deliver a high-level customer experience, your value and brand will suffer. It’s like selling a Ferrari without a steering wheel or golf clubs without grips. This one element defines how the user will interact with your technology. If it’s not on point, your company and your reputation aren’t on point.

Print management and fleet management software solutions have evolved from a novelty to a “nice to have,” and finally, to essential. As a result, the choices related to which solutions to use have only gotten more diverse. Do I use a third party or OEM-centric solution? Do I go with an established solution or one new to the market? Let me be clear: What I’m not going to do in this article is to tell you which software solutions to use. What I’ll explore is how to know it’s time to make a change and what to look for in a new software partner based on my experiences in both the dealer channel and multiple software providers.

So first, when do you switch? You’ve been with the same provider for years. There are issues, but you don’t want to make a knee-jerk decision. The grass isn’t always greener, right? Also, there will be time and effort associated with making a change. It could involve any or all of the following: installing new hardware, installing new software/agents, getting your team trained adequately, and training your customers. In short, moving to a new software platform will not be simple or easy.

But, in many cases, it is the right move for your company. Here are two simple criteria to consider as you evaluate a change:

Criteria 1: How bad is the pain?

When it comes to the software solutions your business relies on day in and day out, there are different types of pain, and we have to decide when it hurts badly enough to move to a new provider. How much pain is too much?

The first type of pain is the pain of no new features or a lack of innovation and evolution. How aggressive and innovative is your software provider’s roadmap for new features? Do they even have a formal roadmap, or is their product in a prolonged period with few or no significant updates? If your provider isn’t continually working on adding competitive features and enhancements, it’s time to look at other options as their priorities aren’t aligning with yours, and your offering will likely become less relevant with time.

The second type of pain is the lack of adequate support. Does your provider respond quickly and thoroughly to issues and requests? Do your open problems get addressed and remediated promptly? If the answer is no, that’s a major red flag and a signal that you should be actively looking for and vetting alternatives.

On this topic, support is a critical piece in the chain of value you provide to your customers. Yes, your team offers point-of-contact or base-level support for your customers. But if you don’t have support from your software provider that is responsive, competent and reliable, your team’s reputation with your customers will suffer. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If your software provider’s support is weakening the chain that is your value to the customer, you should replace it before it breaks.

The third type of pain is the lack of value. As a rule, the cost of doing business will gradually increase over time — with an emphasis on gradually. Are you receiving frequent price increases without receiving equal value from the product? If so, this could be a sign that the provider is experiencing financial constraints or is otherwise unwilling to reinvest appropriately in the solution. If this is the case, the competitiveness of your offering, as well as your customer’s experience, can slide quickly from relevance to obsolescence.

In all three instances, there are very tangible ramifications for your business if you try to wait out a painful situation. If any combination of these scenarios is present, you should move to a new provider as soon as possible.

Criteria 2: Is there a superior alternative?

When you experience pain associated with software that isn’t updated regularly, has little or no innovation, is inadequately supported, or the value has fallen relative to the price (or all of the above) you should understand the alternatives and if there’s a superior option in the market. In our industry, the software players are by and large known entities, but new offerings emerge as some legacy providers become complacent or have gaps in their portfolio. Some are viable and some are not. When it comes to software providers, how do you identify a superior alternative?

In college and professional sports, good coaching is paramount. Teams looking to fire their current head coach only do so if they feel strongly they can hire a better one. That seems obvious and makes sense on the surface. But what constitutes “better”? With software solutions, the most common approach is to assign the task to someone with the directive to gather information from possible candidates and compare two factors — features and price. Whoever has the best features at the best price wins. That is a mistake. Don’t do this. While these are meaningful and factor into your decision, they are based in the short term and should not be the most important criteria.

What criteria should you use to choose a new software provider? The two I recommend are team and trajectory. In short, look for a provider/team you enjoy working with that is responsive, knowledgeable, and is invested in your success. They should understand your business and align with helping you deliver value to your customer base. A word of caution: Make sure you vet the entire team from leadership to day-to-day support. Basing compatibility on one individual or relationship within an organization is risky for obvious reasons.

A practical evaluation of the team begins with leadership. The leadership or executive team of a prospective software provider must be accessible, collaborative, and visionary. Do they communicate their goals and direction? Do they value your business, and will they take time to express their vision regularly? Are they leading their company toward a clear vision that will continually address the needs of your market? They must understand your market, your customer base, and have a dedicated focus in their space. If not, there is little chance their software will continually evolve in a meaningful way.

In most cases, your company will not interact directly with the leadership team of your software provider on a day to day basis. What are the communication and resolution structures? Do you have a dedicated contact or merely a support email or phone number? Are they responsive? In some cases, you may not know the answer to these questions. Find industry peers that have worked with the provider you’re considering and solicit detailed feedback on the relationship and what the experience was like working with them. If they’re dysfunctional, unresponsive or hard to work with, you’ll hear it from a trusted peer. You need to be as comfortable with the people as you are with their technology because the people drive technology.

As a part of evaluating the team aspect, gain an understanding of their corporate culture. When you look at prospective software partners, insist on meeting at their corporate headquarters and be introduced to as many team members as possible. Find out how long they’ve been at the company and in their roles. It provides excellent insight into turnover, expertise, experience, and team cohesiveness.

Then consider trajectory. Is the arc of their business trending up or down? Are they growing? Are they successfully winning and onboarding new customers similar to your company? Are they losing customers? If so, why? Have they experienced turnover or acquisition that has caused them to plateau or become less relevant? Is their solution evolving at an attractive pace? Does their progression represent an increasing understanding of the market’s business needs?

As a dealer or reseller evaluating a new software provider, the answers to these questions around team and trajectory will be a better guide than merely reviewing a list of features and price. The decision you make in choosing a new software provider not only needs to make sense for today but also for tomorrow and beyond. It can seem like a secondary concern given everything else you do, but these solutions are the steering wheel of the Ferrari or the grip of the golf club. They define and shape the experiences your customers have with your solutions and your company. Take time to make an informed choice.

David Brown is Manager, KPAX Business Services, at ACDI.