Many clients ask me to help them find a cost effective enterprise solution for ERP, CRM, e-commerce, and a variety of data management challenges they are faced with. It was not too long ago that third party on-demand and OTS (off-the-shelf) solutions were simply not what they promised to be. They had an unprofessional look and feel, custom branding wasn’t possible, they took a lot of time to learn, took days to implement properly, didn’t really deliver on what they promised, and often required a very deep commitment from users.
Times have changed and some third-party applications have come a long way to provide cost conscious users with robust, customizable, and brandable solutions.
Affordable no longer equals “cheap”.
The challenge remains though to select from the multitude of products available the one that is right for you.
Whether it’s a custom solution or off-the-shelf, it has to be flexible enough to grow along with you, meeting your needs today while able to accommodate the new ones that come along with growth. Additionally, it is important to be able to detect the product’s limitations and potential incompatibilities with the way in which you do business.
For example, when considering a third-party cataloging solution, you want to find a product that provides you with line item level functionality but does not require your products to be tied into the system to such an extent that if you were to discontinue the service or, for whatever myriad of possible reasons, the service became unavailable (company went out of business, system malfunction, etc.), you would lose all sales and marketing information at the product level. This scenario happens often. My team had to rescue several businesses from such an occurrence when they discontinued using the third-party service but did not plan ahead.
Any quality third-party solution should integrate seamlessly with your branded website. You always want your web pages to provide the indexable product information that serves to educate and motivate your prospective customers. Your search engine optimized web pages and offsite efforts serve to build your authority score in the eyes of the search engines for the terms associated with your content, providing you with search engine effectiveness and on-going return on investment.
On the other hand, if your content is tied with the third-party solution at every level, linking only from your homepage before leaving your site completely to access it, then you essentially own nothing that serves to build your business online. Once you stop the service you are out of business on the web because no one can access your product content online any more. For those of you who sell through your online application, this can have a detrimental effect on sales.
The third-party app evaluation process has to take into consideration what you can and cannot do without. Sometimes it makes sense to use a comprehensive product catalog solution, for example, that takes care of everything from soup to nuts. What you have to understand is what you are giving up. Does it make sense for the way you do business? What happens if you decide to no longer use the product?
- What must the system do today and in the future
- Does it offer a flexible architecture that will grow along with you
- Does the look and feel accurately represent your branding and your professionalism
- Is it user-friendly for the public as well as the administrative tools you will have to use
- What is the learning curve
- How long does it take to implement
- How will you be affected if you discontinue to use it or it malfunctions
- What are your true costs of ownership, including but not limited to purchase price
- What is the return on investment (how does it streamline processes, particularly for leads, sales, and time-consuming administrative tasks)
- What are the limitations and how will you be affected by them
There are many excellent third-party solutions available for whatever you need to accomplish, from enterprise level ERP solutions to simple little cart apps for custom requests for quote or online sales. Whatever your objectives, understanding ‘how’ to consider your options is critical to making a wise investment. Make a poor investment and it could cost you dearly in time, money, and business.