Tech 101

Beyond Features and Functionality: Evaluating Cloud Business Solution Providers for Trust and Flexibility

Dec 8, 2021

Functionality and price may be where you start your SaaS selection process—but it shouldn’t end there. Vendor trust and flexibility are key to ensuring you make the right choice for cloud business solutions.

Laurie McCabe - Guest ContributorCo-Founder and Partner at SMB Group
Beyond Features and Functionality: Evaluating Cloud Business Solution Providers for Trust and Flexibility

Cloud-based or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business solutions are increasingly becoming the obvious choice for small companies that need a new application. 

While adoption was steadily increasing prior to the pandemic, cloud solutions really proved their value during lockdowns. These tools helped many businesses keep operations going by enabling employees to get their work done from anywhere—whether in finance, sales, HR, or IT support—with just a device, an Internet connection, and a browser. 

Cloud applications also provide small businesses with an easy way to deploy new applications to support changes to their business strategies and operations—from enabling remote work to creating virtual services (such as fitness, telehealth, education, etc.).

However, choosing the cloud solution that will be the best fit for your business isn’t always as clear-cut. With so many solutions to choose from, it’s not surprising that small businesses rank “figuring out which solutions will work best for my business” as their most pressing challenge when it comes to implementing technology solutions.

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Sites like GetApp help address this challenge, providing tools to compare software products side-by-side, get detailed product data, and read validated user reviews—helping to cut through the noise and zero in on the most promising options. 

In the case of bet-your-business solution areas, such as financials, customer relationship management, HR, and eCommerce, there are other critical factors to consider—most notably, trust in the vendor and flexibility of the tool. These factors can be tougher to assess than functionality and price. But they can make a significant difference in how satisfied—or not—you’ll be with the solution you select.

A matter of trust

Everyone prefers to do business with someone they trust. This is especially true when it comes to core business solutions. You want to engage with a vendor that goes the extra mile to ensure that your company can get the results it needs from the solution. 

While there’s no litmus test, there are ways to gain insight into vendor trustworthiness. 

Compare how vendors stack up in the following areas:

  • Understanding what you need and clearly explaining how their solution will help your business. This sounds like a given, right? But small and midsize businesses (SMBs) say the top three ways that vendors can improve the buying process are “making it easier to get answers to questions,” “better articulating how the solution will help us improve specific business goals,” and “take more time to understand our requirements.” To avoid unpleasant surprises, look for vendors that take the time to listen and help you understand how the solution, pricing, services, and other aspects of their offerings work. 

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  • Connecting you with reference customers. You can get a lot of great user insights from application review sites—and this may suffice in some cases. But if you’re selecting a core business solution, a one-on-one conversation with someone at a company with similar needs to your own can provide you with invaluable insights about the solution and “lessons learned.” 

  • Demonstrating a positive company culture and strong employee engagement. A company that cares about and values its employees is more likely to have the same perspective about its customers. And happy employees are much more likely to go the distance for their customers. Check sites such as Glassdoor to see what employees are saying about the company.

  • Offering an easy-to-understand, comprehensive contract. No one likes to read the fine print, but it matters. Vendors should provide you with easy-to-understand contracts, which should include service-level guarantees that spell out minimum acceptable performance levels such as uptime, response time, and other variables. They should include data security and business continuity provisions, such as certifications that validate security, backup, and business continuity procedures, and liability for any damages due to security breaches on their end. The provider should also be clear about data ownership, and how they will return your data to you if you terminate the subscription.  

The flexibility factor

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that change is the only constant. That means you need to select a solution that will work for your company today, and vendors that can help you meet new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. 

Key areas to investigate here include: 

Ease of use: Small businesses say ease of use is the number one reason a solution will make it to the short list over other alternatives. This appears obvious—when applications are easy to use, people want to use them, are more productive, and need less support. 

But it’s hard to develop an intuitive user interface, especially for sophisticated business solutions. Almost all vendors say that their solutions are easy to use, but many really aren’t. Look for vendors that make visible investments in user experience, and have the people in your company thoroughly test it to ensure it will be easy to get up and running with.

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Functionality for today and tomorrow:  Like Goldilocks, most of us want something just right. If you underbuy, the solution will quickly fall short of your needs. If you overbuy, you’ll end up paying for things you don’t need—and dealing with more complexity than you’d like. 

Business solution suites for financials, HR, customer relationship management (CRM), and other core functional areas that deliver their solutions via an incremental, yet integrated, approach can help solve this dilemma. You can start with the modules you need today and add additional, pre-integrated applications when you’re ready. For instance, if you’re moving up from a small-business accounting solution to a more robust financial management application, you may want to start with financial management and basic reporting, and add payroll or more sophisticated business planning capabilities over time. 

A strong partner ecosystem: No one vendor can do everything for any business, in every industry. But partners can fill in the gaps with integrated applications, and with consulting, implementation, training, and other services. Look for vendors that have a growing, engaged group of partners that can help you get up, running, and productive with the solution, and application partners that are developing the kind of applications and integrations you’ll need.

An innovation roadmap: Examine how the provider is using newer technologies to make their solutions more valuable. For instance, it’s increasingly important that applications are as accessible and easy to use on mobile devices as they are on a PC. 

In addition, technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can make applications smarter—helping you to save time, improve productivity, and make better decisions. Consider technologies that show potential to create advantages in your industry. For example, industries such as education, healthcare, and retail are starting to use augmented and virtual reality to improve training and customer experience. Manufacturers are using the Internet of Things (IoT) to lower costs, reduce human error, and improve product quality. 

Although some technologies may seem futuristic now, technology moves at warp speed—and you want to choose a vendor that can keep pace.

Perspective

Many cloud business solutions vendors are vying for your business. Assessing functionality and price may be where you start your evaluation process, but it shouldn’t end there. Trust and flexibility are crucial factors when selecting a new solution. 

When it comes to trust, vendors that take a customer-centric approach in the buying process are more likely to also have your back once they’ve won your business. Look for those that are easy to do business with and take the time to provide you with the knowledge and connections you need to make the best choice and get the best outcomes. 

Vendor and solution flexibility is also vital to your long-term satisfaction with the solution. Those with solid capabilities and plans to improve ease of use, add new functionality, enhance their solutions with emerging technologies, and nurture a healthy partner ecosystem are in a good position to stay ahead of the curve and provide you with what you’ll need in the future.

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About the author

Laurie McCabe - Guest Contributor

Co-Founder and Partner at SMB Group
Laurie McCabe brings more than 25 years of experience in the IT industry to her current role as Co-founder and Partner at SMB Group. Laurie is a six-time Small Business Influencer Awards winner; she has been recognized as one of the 50 Most Influential People in small-business marketing by AllBusiness.
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