Choosing the right brand advocacy software: Step 2 – Work out what you need

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This week we continue our blog series – How to choose the right advocate marketing software. Last week we discussed Step 1 in the process of selecting the right advocate marketing solution – Form the right team, this week we look at requirements: how to work out what your really need and how you can capture and prioritize these requirements in a way that guides your selection process to a successful conclusion.

Having a defined (and agreed) set of requirements is critical to any software selection process. Advocate marketing programs support more than the marketing department, so you’ll need to consult with sales teams and product owners to map out how a community of engaged customers and employees can help them achieve their objectives. They might not be aware of what advocate marketing is, so work with them to capture their goals and objectives and help them map out where an advocacy program can help them achieve these.

This process will give you a list of “functional requirements” – what you need the software to actually do. Some will be more critical than others, so it’s important to prioritize your list of requirements. Assigning scores of one to ten (ten being the most vital) will help you stay focused on what’s most important to your organization – and rank the different vendor offerings according to which ones provide the best fit with what you need. Populating a spreadsheet with your requirements and priorities will help you compare and contrast vendor offerings more simply and effectively.

Functional requirements – what you need it to do

Functional requirements are what you need the software to do. Every organization’s requirements will be different, depending on your industry and business model. If you’re already doing advocate marketing, look at your existing processes to see where technology will help you get better, more efficient results. Be careful of the level of detail; once you go beyond two or three pages worth of requirements, your list will become too complex and difficult to use as an effective evaluation tool.

An abbreviated example of what your prioritized requirements list might look like.

Non-functional requirements – the “forgotten factors”

Making the right decision is not just about what you want the software to do – there are a number of “non-functional” requirements you’ll need to consider in order to make the right decision. These technical factors are often overlooked when people are blinded by shiny functionality, but they are critical aspects of the software evaluation process. People in your IT department are very familiar with these factors, so it pays to get somebody with a technical view involved.

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Price

Price is often a sticky point during technology evaluation. You’ve probably got a budget in mind, but how big a factor is the price, really? Choosing the cheapest technology to “save money” often leaves a lot of value on the table and can force a shift to another tool a few months later when your advocate marketing program has matured and out-grown the most basic technology. Price needs to be a factor, but the biggest factor should be how well any solution fits your requirements for today and tomorrow. Price and power need to be balanced out, and your requirements matrix will help you do this effectively. After all, a great advocate marketing program can return dollars on every cent you spend on technology. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of any consulting services you need – although implementing an advocate marketing program and the supporting technology is far less complex than most enterprise technology solutions. Implementing your advocate marketing program yourself can reduce costs, but if you
want to get value fast, consulting services can accelerate the process.

Future proof your decision

Think about your immediate needs today and emerging needs tomorrow. Look at your long-term sales, marketing and product strategies to identify where new needs might emerge. Evaluating future requirements and their importance is vital to future-proofing your purchase decision and ensuring you don’t need to re-evaluate and re-invest in two or three years.

Plan for the worst-case scenario

Think about what might happen if it all goes wrong. Does the vendor have a “cooling-off” clause that allows you cancel the contract if the software simply isn’t working for you? Or do they provide proof-of-concept trials at a fixed cost that let you run a full road-test without committing to a longer-term investment?

And what happens if you leave and you want your data back? Some vendors may charge an exit fee – a charge to release your data back to you if you terminate the contract. This is one of the common barriers that cloud software vendors use to lock in customers.

Make sure you’re still thinking objectively

Now check you’re still focused: double-check your requirements list by mapping each requirement back to one or more of the business problems you’re trying to solve. Check that you can answer the question “why?” for each one of your requirements. Will you be able to articulate the answer to this question about all of your requirements?

Throughout the process, software vendors will try to wow you with their latest and greatest features. Without a clear idea of what you really need, it’s easy to stray from the path of relevance and get blinded by “shiny” features that don’t directly solve your most immediate business challenges. Choosing the right technology is about pre-rationalizing what you need, not post-rationalizing a need for a nice feature you’ve seen. It’s important to remain objective – to stay focused on what you really need. Vendors will try to skew your decision by showing you everything that is new and shiny, so your requirements matrix should be your guide throughout the process.

If you want to fast-forward and find out the other steps to choosing the right advocate marketing software, download the full whitepaper below…

Whitepaper: 7 steps to choosing the right advocate marketing software

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