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July 21, 2022

Do this before you buy new software for your finance team.

Written by
Lynn Elwood, Head of Product Marketing at Airbase
Lynn Elwood, Head of Product Marketing at Airbase

Lynn is Head of Product Marketing at Airbase. Prior to Airbase, she held Vice-President positions at OpenText, a world leader in information management, and led development teams at technology companies. Lynn has an Honours BA in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Waterloo.

Do this before you buy new software for your finance team.Do this before you buy new software for your finance team.

In an uncertain business environment, technology purchases require even greater due diligence. But, even though budgets might be tight, the software products you purchase can improve your ability to weather adverse conditions. Stats prove that AP and expense management are mired with costly inefficiencies. Choosing the right software can improve productivity, save money, and create system-wide operational efficiencies. 

That may all sound like an easy win, but many purchasers experience selection paralysis when it’s time to make a decision. A Gartner report states that 77% of surveyed software buyers feel their most recent purchasing process was very complex or difficult. And, despite the large investment in time and money, many ultimately end up unsatisfied with their decision.

This article offers up common software purchasing mistakes to avoid and a framework that you can use for evaluating software for your finance team. Whether you’re a veteran buyer that knows all of the solutions on offer, or new to the category and trying to navigate a crowded market, these insights will be useful the next time you go shopping.

Mistake #1: You think in terms of existing processes.

Software tools exist in an ecosystem, so it’s natural to look for solutions that fit into the way you do things currently. However, software evaluation can also be a good time to run an audit of your existing processes. Don’t be afraid to explore new ways of doing things.

Expense reimbursement reports are a good example. Instead of looking for the software with the easiest expense report process, what if you could eliminate the need for expense reports altogether? Think about what you need to accomplish through expense reports, and how else you could arrive at that goal. 

Mistake #2: A narrow focus on your current needs.

A common first step is to make a list of the various pain points you want the software to solve. However, many purchasers take a myopic approach by only looking at the problems they experience now, instead of thinking ahead to the issues they will face in the next phase of growth. An agile, scalable solution adapts to the challenges to come. When you identify impending issues, you know what to look for in order to build a strong foundation for growth. 

Mistake #3: Looking for a perfect solution. It might not exist — yet. 

The end result is often a very long list of desired features. From here, it’s important to prioritize the items on that list. In a perfect world, you’ll find a product that meets every requirement — and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you will — but the reality is that the best product might not meet every need. Knowing which ones are most important helps you hone in on the best solution possible. 

Our Buyer’s Guide to Spend Management includes a vendor assessment template that helps you weigh each feature according to its importance for your business. As someone who loves an organized list, I appreciate the way this spreadsheet is organized by categories, which makes it easy to compare vendors for each element. 

If a solution falls short in an important area, don’t hesitate to ask about their roadmap to see if it’s anticipated. Many SaaS vendors appreciate this kind of feedback, and your input may even shape the timing and direction of the development of new features. 

Mistake #4: You’re only considering point solutions that focus on one function.

Think outside of the digital box. Just a few years ago, managing AP meant buying several SaaS products to tackle each function separately — often well-known solutions like Expensify for expense reimbursements and Bill.com for bills. Today, it’s possible to manage every step of every dollar of non-payroll spend with a single spend management solution like Airbase. So, take a step back and ask yourself what it would look like to take a holistic approach to solving problems. Consider your goals from a high-level perspective — instead of taking an incremental approach to each problem, what if you could achieve the overarching goal with a single solution? 

Mistake #5: You’re buying for the buyer rather than the actual users.

Many buyers prioritize what makes sense for the company rather than what makes sense for the people who use the software every day. If a solution is cumbersome to use, employees find workarounds to avoid using it. When that happens, a product that was supposed to help the finance team can ultimately create more work for them. It can also cost employees time or money, and contribute to morale issues. As an example, users frequently remark on the G2 user review site that before using Airbase, they absorbed work-related expenses simply because of the time it took to complete complicated reimbursement requests.

That’s surprisingly common. One study found that on average, companies waste an average of 37% of their software spend because employees don’t use the purchased software. It’s hard to imagine another area of any company which would accept that level of waste! That’s a big reason why I always form an evaluation team that includes people who will actually use the software and include the people in that group in any product demos or free trials. If your purchase involves an RFP process, make sure to include their input on the RFP sections tied to the areas they will use.  

A three-step system to find the best solution. 

To avoid these common pitfalls, break down your purchasing journey into separate steps. 

Step 1: Start with a lightweight vendor search.

Step 2: Interview stakeholders to transform pain points into requirements. 

Step 3: See the system in action. 

Step 1: A lightweight vendor search‍.

Treat the initial vendor search as a discovery opportunity — this is reconnaissance without any pressure to make a firm decision. Consider the following:

  • If there are new vendors available, what’s different about their approach? Has the thinking about the problem progressed? 
  • How have other companies transitioned to the solution? Read through case studies, focusing on companies similar to yours, to get some indication. 
  • Look beyond the features of each vendor. Are they a thought leader who can truly act as a collaborative partner? Check out the resources they make available and the support they offer. 
  • Is a community available where you can ask questions to peers? Our Off the Ledger Slack channel is full of invaluable interactions, including recommendations regarding software products.
  • Don’t forget user reviews on sites like G2 and Capterra. The reviews on those sites are vetted to ensure they’re submitted by actual users (not marketing folks), so they’re a good way to get unbiased opinions. 

Having a sense of what’s available in the market will help inform your discussions as you talk to stakeholders about their requirements. As you do your research, make a master list of features (or only new features if it applies) as you come across them. 

Step 2: Interview stakeholders for requirements based on their pain points.

Your initial research will give you a sense of the market and available features, but you don’t want vendors to drive your requirements list. It’s now time to work with users to determine what they need.

Keep in mind that features don’t make for good talking points because users don’t think in terms of features. They think in terms of “jobs to be done.” With this step, you’re translating everything you’ve learned about the market into requirements based on users’ pain points, and aligning expectations with what’s out there.

The Vendor Questionnaire at the end of our Definitive Guide to Spend Management provides an excellent framework for this. Reading through the guide not only provides a list of potential questions for vendors, it also gives central talking points for discussions with key stakeholders. 

Your knowledge of the current market and what’s available gives users a nice starting point when you ask about their thoughts on their pain points. The questions themselves don’t change too much:

  • How are you solving the process right now? What’s taking the most time and effort?
  • Rate these requirements in order of priority. Which would you say are non-negotiable in a new software system? Which ones are not necessary now but will be in the future?
  • What does success look like with a new system?

Step 3: See the system in action.

Once you have a confident vendor shortlist, it’s time to hand things over to them. Each vendor should be able to demonstrate how the top requirements will be met. 

Each of your prime stakeholders need to see the product to understand how they will use each feature. Think of it like test driving a car: it’s one thing to see a list of specs, but quite another to get behind the wheel. An interactive demo should be able to take you through the product to get a sense of the usability. 

Following this three-step framework will help you run an efficient software evaluation process that gains by having buy-in from the teams that will use it.

Lynn Elwood, Head of Product Marketing at Airbase
Lynn Elwood, Head of Product Marketing at Airbase
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About Airbase

Airbase offers a one platform solution to manage all non-payroll spend. It provides oversight and control over spending with real-time reporting and automatic syncing directly to your general ledger. Control all paymentsphysical cards, virtual cards, ACH, and checks – from one place. Close faster. Empower employees. Control spend.

To learn more about Airbase, contact us for a product demo.
Lynn Elwood, Head of Product Marketing at Airbase
Lynn Elwood, Head of Product Marketing at Airbase

Lynn is Head of Product Marketing at Airbase. Prior to Airbase, she held Vice-President positions at OpenText, a world leader in information management, and led development teams at technology companies. Lynn has an Honours BA in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Waterloo.

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