We live in a world of transactions — your day is likely filled with dozens of them. You pick up a coffee on the way to work, you stop at the grocery store for milk, you put gas in the car in the way home, maybe you order up a pizza if it’s been a particularly long day. Most of these transactions, you don’t think much about – you pay the money, you get your milk, boom, transaction complete and onto the next item on your to-do list.
Our lives are also filled with relationships. Your significant other, your kids, your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, teammates — people you see regularly and who you care about. You think about these relationships, you put the work into maintaining them (or if you don’t, they dissolve). These are people you talk to on a regular basis, who share their feelings and thoughts with you. You occasionally argue with these people and disagree on things, but ultimately move past it.
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Most of the time, there’s not much of an overlap between our ‘transactional’ lives and the relationships we have — the great majority of products or services you purchase, you receive your goods or services and that’s that.
But, in some cases, the lines between the two are blurred — particularly when you’re relying on someone else for something critically important. Lawyers, doctors, real estate agents — all people who you are not only paying, but trusting for expertise as you make major decisions. You put your faith in them and share some highly personal thoughts and information with them — similar to other relationships you have. These people are partners in your life, working with you to help you achieve your goals.
A key question to ask yourself: the companies you rely on to provide the software that powers your business: Is it a transactional relationship, or are they your partner?
When Transactional Goes ‘Sour’
If you stop at the corner store and buy a gallon of milk, get it home, and find out it’s sour, you take it back. They give you either your money back or a new gallon of milk.
Nobody at the corner store is particularly concerned about this. Milk goes sour sometimes. We’ll fix it. Here’s your new milk. And as a customer, you’re fine with that.
Now imagine if that sour milk is broken software.
Suddenly, we’re not talking about a few bucks and a ruined bowl of corn flakes — software gone sour, a system outage or data corruption means security concerns, angry customers, lost productivity. There’s a high tangible cost to this.
Transactional relationships are great for the things that don’t have deep impacts on our lives — a gallon of milk, the gas in your car. And for some types of software, a transactional relationship is perfectly fine.
For example, at ServiceBridge we use Mailchimp for our email marketing services, sending newsletters, and marketing campaigns. We’ve never talked to Mailchimp. We don’t really need to. We pay them, we get email, and that’s the end of it. And since we are not relying on email for mission-critical functions, if it’s down for a few hours or we lose a list, it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience, much like buying a sour gallon of milk.
For the software that you don’t rely on for mission-critical functions, it’s perfectly fine to treat it as a transaction. But for the software that’s going to drive critical business functions and help your company grow, you need a partner.
Characteristics of a Software Partner
In order to choose the right software partner for your business, it’s important to first understand the characteristics of a software partner relationship. In any relationship, any investment — business, love, real estate, and yes, software — going in with clear expectations of what you want from the process is a key to ultimately getting the outcome you want.
These characteristics will change depending on your company, but for a baseline:
- An aligned mission: You wouldn’t start a business with someone who has a dramatically different vision than you. You wouldn’t marry someone with radically different life goals. Why would you work with a software company that doesn’t align with your goals?
Start by learning about the companies you are considering as a provider. What is their mission? Why did they create the product? Who do they serve? What makes them different?
A company dedicated to enabling small business growth probably isn’t the best choice for a Fortune 500 company. If they’re focused on providing franchise network solutions, then they’re likely not the right choice for a single-unit company.
- The right product: In both transactional and partner relationships, the right product is key Even if a company aligns with your values, if their product doesn’t match your requirements and workflow, there’s no point in pursuing a relationship. Sign up for trials, watch product videos, schedule a demo — spend time on research and understanding what products are the right fit.
- Continuous feedback: Much like how your relationship with your significant other requires communication, so does your relationship with a software provider. (No, you don’t have to text the developers “I love you” every night while on a business trip.)
In an ideal partner relationship, the software company you work with is coming to you to ensure you’re making the best use of the system, asking what is working for you and what can be improved. As a customer, you should be regularly communicating with them — about the things you like, the results you’ve seen, what’s working, and what’s not working.
- Conflict Resolution: Even the best relationships will have disagreements and arguments. Successful relationships figure out how to resolve them and move forward.
Anyone who’s worked in any customer-facing role will tell you “the customer is not always right.” At the same time, everyone has dealt with at least a few companies that simply don’t care about fixing the problem. The right partner will disagree with you sometimes but should be able to explain their disagreement with you and work with you towards a resolution.
Finding the Right Partner
Starting with your main checklist, choose 3-5 vendors to research — or use a provider such as TechnologyAdvice that will help guide you to the right solution based on your list of requirements. Read reviews, watch videos, compare products. And then, don’t just sign up, but really interview these software companies. Treat it like a job interview or a date. Don’t choose what appears like the best product on the packaging, or the software with the lowest cost. Get to know the people behind the software. Are they committed to your success? What do they do if something goes wrong? Why are they in business when there are countless other solutions on the market?
Ask these questions. Through the answers, you’ll arrive at the right partner for your business — someone who can help take your company to new heights, help you reach your goals, and lead both of you to success.
Barry Dyke is the Marketing Specialist for ServiceBridge, a Chicago-based software company offering customized franchise management solutions for service-based companies throughout the United States and the world.