Greater engagement and a deeper relationship with your software providers will pay dividends in better service, better deals and, ultimately, better products, according to tech expert Jim Bourke.
Speaking in a session on “How to Evaluate Software Vendors” at the American Institute of CPAs’ Digital CPA Conference, held here, Bourke shared a number of strategies for getting more from software vendors that were culled from his long experience as technology partner at New Jersey-based Top 100 Firm WithumSmith+Brown.
Among his top suggestions:
- Get to know what’s out there. Bourke singled out conferences, state society shows, and other events as a great way to learn about software and vendors, particularly if you’re interested in learning about offerings beyond those from the major vendors.
- Ask other CPAs. “Many vendors will tell you their tool will do everything you want,” Bourke said. “Talk to a CPA who actually uses it. Ask one of your peers for that – I guarantee they’ll do it for you. And that firm will give you the truth – it’s priceless information for your selection process.” However, he warned that you need to be careful to make sure the CPAs you’re talking to know something about technology.
- Negotiate hard. “Vendors have more flexibility than you might imagine,” he said. “If they want you as a customer, there is wiggle room.” Can you get them to throw in some extra training for your staff, for instance? Bourke mentioned that his firm was able to negotiate quarterly backups of its data from a cloud-based provider, so they’ll always have an on-site copy of their data in the event of a split. You can also manage your delivery schedule, so that your payments are contingent on satisfactory completion of each stage of implementation. (That said, “Don’t skimp on training with a vendor,” Bourke said. “Negotiate hard on licensing costs, but spend the money on the training. That is where so many firms go full-blown into a piece of software, don’t spend on the training, and then the software fails.”)
- Build relationships with your vendors. Regular lunches, dinners, meetings and phone calls will help you get to know your sales reps, account managers and – most important – who you need to go to in order to escalate an issue and get your concerns prioritized. It will also make yours a voice they listen to when it comes to new features and products.
- Leverage your relationship. Bourke recommended being willing to help promote products you’re pleased with – and then to leverage that. “If I’m going to be a salesman for my vendor, I need to make sure they’re aware of it when it comes to contract renewal,” he said.
- Continually evaluate vendors. “Just because you go with a vendor doesn’t mean you’re married to them – and some marriages end in divorce,” Bourke said. He regularly surveys staff to find out their pain points and issues with the firm’s major tools: “If we’re having problems with a vendor’s technology, I’m the first one to push back on fee increases.” It’s critical to have an expected level of performance, and to continually measure the vendor and its tool against that, on everything from ease of integration to how they handle problem resolution.
For small firms that may not feel they have leverage with vendors, Bourke recommended joining user groups for strength in numbers, so you can bring shared concerns to the vendor.
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