6 dimensions to consider when purchasing a FieldForce Automation solution

03 May, 2021

Introduction - Take your time before selecting which software to adopt if any

A Field Force Automation solution will bring more efficiency and transparency to your field operations. It is usually a cloud based solution composed of two applications:

  • Mobile Application

  • Web Application

Deciding to implement a Field Force Automation solution is a long term commitment, the decision making process should not be rushed, and should be conducted with the right governance internally, with alignment between all the stakeholders: Sales, Marketing, Finance, Procurement, etc. 

In this article, we try to shed more light on what needs to be considered when making your choice and how to structure the decision making process.

The 4 step methodology for selecting a software

We have laid out the 4 simple steps to take:

  1. Define your requirements in a precise scope of work. Understand, assess and prioritize your needs. The more they are accurate, the easier it will be for the provider to commit to a precise timeline for deployment and the higher the chances of what you get actually are aligned to your needs. Keep in mind that requests that come after the brief will often be considered as Change Requests so it is better to think through as much as possible before all the dimensions of the implementation

  2. Shortlist the vendors. Identify relevant vendors based on their industry experience and prior implementation. It can be worthwhile to try new actors as well such as start ups with less experience in which case what matters will be the quality of the leadership, their professional experience and the funding of the company.

  3. Assess the vendor on the right dimensions listed below. Before looking at the price tag, consider all the dimensions we detail below. Ask for product demos in relation of your use cases

  4. Finally select the vendor that is most in line with your business requirements. This is best done with a scoring on a matrix on all the dimensions and the involvement of the right decision makers. 

Check out the user feedback 

While there are many software out there, what matters to ensure user adoption is the quality of the user experience. And the good thing nowadays is that it is easier to see the feedback of current users about how useful and easy to use the tool has been for them, without the usual filter of the marketing exaggeration. 

For the mobile application, the reviews can be seen on the PlayStore or App Store listing of the app.

Check the number of downloads, number of reviews, the rating and the qualitative feedback written by the users.

Other sources of feedback could be the LinkedIn Product Page or dedicated pages, such as Capterra or GetApp. Checking who has given the feedback and reading the comments can be very helpful in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the product. With Linkedin you can know where the review comes from, which helps you relate to the reviewer.

Try the product with a pilot

It is a common practice when purchasing a software product to try it out on a limited scale before embarking on a full deployment.  You should ask the different providers to take you through a product demo showing the main features or possibly run a Proof of Concept to see how it can be useful for your business requirements.

While a software can look nice on a slide deck, or on a controlled demo, nothing replaces a real test with real users to be convinced it is the right solution.

Ideally the pilot should last at least 1 month, with 10 users involved and a cross functional team involved for an end to end testing of the solution. 

The pilot consists in an unique opportunity to try out the possibilities of the tool and to ensure it can fit your business needs.

Scalability

By scalability we mean the ability for the software to support the growth of your business, in terms of supporting a more intensive usage or higher number of users.

Buying such a software is usually a long term commitment, so you want to be sure that as your needs evolve and the usage increases, the software can grow at the same time.

Scalability is a technical term that means that regardless of the number of users using the software the quality of the user experience, expressed in terms of speed, etc will be the same.

A non scalable software is equivalent to a dead end, whereby you can’t progress further because there are architectural flaws .

Concretely, let’s say the software works fine on 100 users, on a specific user role, and you want now to deploy to your entire field force of 2,000 users, managing all your customer base of 200,000 clients. At that point, you realise the application takes much longer to load, the volume of data makes the reports crash, etc.

The challenge is that it is difficult to realize such types of problems until you reach that scale and usage. One way to check is therefore to:

  • See the current usage handled by the software

  • See implementations with as many users as you

  • Require some stress tests to simulate each usage

Integration to third party systems through APIs

The benefit of such a software it to be able to communicate with other systems you might already have in place, such as:

  • An Enterprise Resource Planning software (Syspro, Sage, Navision, SAP, etc)

  • A customer support / service system (Zendesk, etc)

  • A Distribution Management system

  • A payment / communication system (SMS, Mobile Money, etc)

For this to be possible you want to make sure that the software you purchase has the right set of APIs to enable that. APIs stand for Application Programming Interfaces, it is a well defined technical language that enables to pass on information between systems in a robust and scalable way. The way to check this is to read the public documentation of the APIs. A well written, clear to understand APIs will make it easy for developers to build integrations with any other systems.

Ability to customise and configure

It is essential to make sure that the software is not a rigid framework that you can hardly modify. What you may want to customize is for example:

  • The workflows of the users in terms of activities they need to fill

  • The dimensions on which you identify your customers, your products, etc

  • The structure of your reports

There can be cases where clients have to change their ways of working to fit within the templates provided by the solution. We believe that it should be the opposite and the software should be modular and customizable enough to adapt to your business requirements.

Another way to check this is about the extent to which the software is self service or requires the intervention of the software provider assistance. As a long term commitment, it is better that a dedicated resource on your end is trained to understand all the possibilities of the tool and that the tool allows a lot of independence in doing the changes on your end.

Assessing the cost when building the business case

For cloud based software, better known as Software-as-a-service (SaaS), which has become the norm, the usual pricing model is subscription based, which means it qualifies as an Operational Expenditure (Opex), not Capital Expenditure (Capex).

A subscription makes sense to cover the continuous update of a SaaS software, the customer support, etc. It is usually based on the mobile user per month.

It is common practice to have a set up fee as well for deploying the software and configuring it initially. This will be a function of the man days spent in implementing the solution.

To compare the prices, check the following dimensions:

  • What is covered by the support and what is not. To what extent will the support accommodate your requests or qualify them as a Change Request that is charged

  • If there is any discount based on the number of users

  • The payment terms: Advance payment, quarterly, annually, etc

When it comes to building the business cases, you need to factor in the cost savings that this software will allow you to do. There are explicit benefits, such as saving on the need for dedicated data entry clerks or paper ressources if that is the current process.

There are also implicit benefits such as:

  • A higher productivity of users, on the field and in office

  • Better internal coordination and information sharing practices

  • A higher level of transparency and efficiency, etc

  • Reduced risk of fraud

  • Enhanced quality of reporting to make informed decisions

Conclusion

We hope this article was enlightening. As a software provider ourselves, we recommend our prospects to go through this decision making process to ensure there is full alignment between what we implement and their needs.

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