Quite often the business users involved in deciding software tools for their firm, emphasise heavily on features and look-n-feel aspects of the tools. They keep comparing tools in a table that has columns with the list of features.
What gets missed out in this evaluation process is non-feature aspects of the tool. And let me tell you, these aspects are very important. For example, you may zero on a proposal software that ticks almost all items in your features list but what if, it does not offer enough support or the rest of your team does not find it intuitive to use.
We have seen it over and again, multi-million dollar software purchased by companies are put to dust in a matter of year for various reasons including it was difficult to use, lack of change management, no onboarding/training or support, challenges in accessing it, etc.
Though I am calling it a non-feature aspect of proposal software, these are supposed to be must-have kind of characteristics of the tool.
To be clear, I am referring to online proposal software
Non-Feature Aspects of a Proposal Software
‘Intuitiveness’ or ‘ease of use’ is almost like a common sense which we think is uncommon. Similarly barring few good tools, intuitiveness of a software is a hard thing to come by.
Remember, a software is going to be used by humans and initial resistance is understandable. But the problem gets compounded if the proposal software you have chosen is not easy to use.
For any software system that is complex to use, in order to achieve adoption you will have to invest heavily in other areas like training, onboarding, etc.
So without a thought, intuitiveness is a must have characteristic a proposal software
As I mentioned earlier, there will be resistance to any new system you’d like to introduce in your company – be it process or tool.
In the case of proposal software, if the tool is intuitive enough, you have won the half battle.
Yet, easy onboarding that is more personal to the individual, something that will do hand-holding for the new user, will just melt the ice.
I am a strong supporter for easy-onboarding for software and tools.
I have seen people who kept resisting till they have seen or got first-hand experience with the tool, getting deeply involved during the onboarding process, because they were able to GET IT.
Easy onboarding can be in the form of introductory video, a step-by-step walk-through of the tool, enabling features in stages, etc.
User-Guide, Training, Support
While I am all in for designing most intuitive software, I understand as the features/capabilities grow, it becomes very difficult to implement the most intuitive software.
And what I came to realize is that under the disguise of intuitiveness or ease-of-use, there are users who want to explore-user advance capabilities feel left-behind and it is vice-versa. If you design a tool meant for advanced users (call them techie?), ordinary users will feel they are left-behind or the system is not for them.
Hence, for the proposal software that can balance the expectations of both ends of the spectrum, has to provide excellent user-guide and training that can educate techie/smart users about advanced features of the tool.
This has to be assisted with training as well as support if you are stuck. This is a also a must-have thing for a proposal software ‘vendor’
For online proposal software, all time availability is absolutely critical. Why?
Today we live in a global world wherein our customers will not necessarily be a shop-across-the-street. For the other online tool I’ve been managing, we have a customer who has offices in the US, UK, Israel, Dubai and Egypt. And they have cross-location teams working together on projects. Middle-east has different weekend days that other part of the world.
I think, you got my point.
Since we are talking about online software, I don’t think 100% availability can be guaranteed for technical and other reasons but something like 99.90% SLA will work for most businesses.
Accessibility is a big word but let me try to define it for a proposal software.
Accessibility in terms of time, location and device-types.
We talked about availability in above section so proposal software should be accessible any time of the day, all days of the week (excluding scheduled update/upgrade)
Being online/cloud based software, it should be accessible from ANYWHERE, any part of the world, as long as there is a connectivity. This in true sense helps you to target and win global customers all over the world.
The tool should also be accessible on multiple types of devices whether it is smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop; especially for your prospective customers, they should be able to view/accept your proposal on smartphone too.
A software tool that is too buggy, one that breaks every other day is not the best tool for your company. You need to carry out your own tests to decide the robustness of the tool.
Having said that I should also mention that there won’t be any software that will be 100% bug-free, even today Microsoft, Apple, Google keep updating their software on our devices on a regular basis.
I’d like to be reasonably satisfied about the stability of the proposal tool in order to use it for my company, my clients.
Performance is a bit easier for you to check. For online proposal software, performance can be simply checked as – how long does it take to load the proposal, to send the proposal, to get notification when prospect opens your proposal, etc.
Though in a software there would be lot of data processing, analysis, number-crunching that may happen in the background but you, as a user shouldn’t be made to wait to see the result.
In this sense performance on online proposal software is critical from the customer’s perspective. Make sure you test the tool by sending a proposal to your colleague and see how fast it loads/renders for him and if he can quickly, easily navigate the entire proposal till the end.
Responsiveness/ Frequent Update
I am referring to responsiveness in terms of how quickly the proposal software company is responding to your questions, queries, help requests.
Does it take days for you to receive just the initial response to your question or it takes a couple of hours?
Though some of your request/questions can not have resolution in a couple of hours but you should be able to receive response/direction/information regarding your questions/requests.
Some of your requests/questions/messages could mean bug-fix, enhancements, new feature request for the software. Make sure you check how frequently the proposal software is updated/upgraded. If it gets updated like daily/weekly/bi-weekly, then it is good. But if you see 5-6 months when the last software update was done, then you ask question about it.
Public Roadmap is about transparency – how a proposal software is evolving. It is also an indication of livelihood of the organization.
Typically product owners of the company would have included features to the product roadmap. But what you need to check, for the features you don’t find in the product roadmap, can you make requests for new features? If so, how easy it is to submit, track? How is the proposal software company responding to the feature requests, enhancements as well as bug-fixes.
Having a public roadmap is important for a proposal software.
Form-factor is something similar to intuitiveness but I have included it separately here. It refers to the design system of the tool.
Today we live in a world where social media has disrupted not only the form of communication but it has also redefined how quickly people have adopted new technology. The form-factor, interaction designs of these social media has made it easier for people to quickly start using it, and keep using it.
It means people are waking up to a new normal in terms of form-factor, interaction design.
You should check whether your proposal software has contemporary form-factor or traditional/age-old one?
Today you may be a small company but hold a high potential. If you are to marry a proposal software that can not grow with you, you will have difficulty in the future.
So make sure you are evaluating proposal software for a scalability perspective too. Here the scalability refers to what if your number of proposals grows, your number of clients grows, number of categories grow,s number of users grows.
How easy or difficult it is to grow up or scale down? What is the cost/pricing implication of it? – These are some of the questions you should ask and check.
Data Backup, Security
This is utmost critical. Everyone is hugely concerned about their own data: proposals, clients, users.
You will have to make sure the way the proposal software company manages your data is reliable.
You can check few things
- What information do they collect, how do they categorize it
- How do they secure data during transit, at rest?
- What is the process to secure the data at rest and who has access to it? Who are security-cleared to access the data?
- Which cloud provider does the vendor use, is it reliable?
- How does the proposal software vendor back up the data? How frequently? Where?
- What is the process to restore the data in case something happens to the cloud provider? How quickly can he restore it?
- Is there a data security document which is publicly accessible ?
It is not only features or price or excellent marketing material that you use to make a decision about a proposal software, there are non-feature aspects which are equally important if you want to ensure more success winning more clients with your proposals software