This post is part of Made @ HubSpot, an internal thought leadership series through which we draw lessons from experiments conducted by our own HubSpotters. As someone who manages HubSpot’s learning technology, I have sometimes purchased software the wrong way. I’ve moved on without the right technical partners, missed an automatic contract renewal deadline, and made changes to my team without empathy for how it might affect their day-to-day life. From these experiences and from working with others at HubSpot who acquire and implement software, I have learned a lot. Today, I feel good about the way I manage our technology and purchasing decisions. I have come to realize that a successful purchasing decision has less to do with vendor research and management (although those are important factors) and more to do with project management, change management, and acceptance of new ideas. These are some of my most important lessons for those who are considering buying new software or are just curious to learn more.
Lesson n. # 1: Establish a business reason before seeking acceptance.
In the past, I didn’t take the time to step back and assess what value my proposal would bring to the entire organization. Even if the user base for your new software will be only a small portion of employees, think and communicate how it relates to business results. Here are some examples: Currently, a process is very manual and you want to automate it. The business reason for this software would be to save time and money. Your team is trying to accomplish something and you don’t have the skills, the time, or the functionality. The business reason for this software would be to expand the capabilities of the computer. Recently, our L&D team at HubSpot wanted to be able to track the performance of new hires in their training courses. The business reason for this software was so that we could provide managers with more information on how best to spend their time training their new hires as they progressed in their roles. Once you establish your business reason, you are more likely to gain stakeholder support.
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Another important business factor to consider when obtaining a share is cost-value. Adding more software means another vendor to manage, another contract to consider, and another system for your co-workers and team to adopt. Make sure you’ve thought it through carefully and are confident that this new software will provide enough value to overcome these considerations. This will help you handle any initial objections. Getting the purchase should be done long before you plan to buy the software. This process takes time. You should speak to people outside of your department and often outside of your company to ensure you understand the big picture of what is already happening, what is possible, and what it will take to run new software.
Lesson n. # 2: Understand that you will need help.
You may be the most experienced software buyer in the world, but you can’t do it all alone. In my experience, the best help you can get in purchasing and implementing software is the team whose expertise is the software – your IT team. Send them early in your process, see what they’re already doing to solve the challenge you’ve identified, and ask at least one champion for feedback. Depending on your business, you may also need to loop through Security, Legal, and Finance so that they can add their expertise and highlight any blind spots you may have. You will also need two key people: someone who serves as a project manager, and someone who has experience with the type of software you are considering buying (which could be you with enough research). It is important to remember that you cannot make alone decisions about software and expect everyone to love and use it. You may think you know what is best for the team, but you really need feedback and should get it before you dig too deep. You don’t have to take everyone’s opinion as a requirement, but you do have to take into account everything mentioned by various people and capture this feedback. The more you document and share how you’re making your decisions along the way, the less rejection you’ll face when you’re ready to begin finalizing the deal. It may take a little more time up front to write everything down and share it, but this process will save you a lot of time in the end.
Lesson # 3 Be vulnerable and empathetic.
Change is difficult for everyone. Even those who are most excited about using new software may be overwhelmed by the prospect of changing what they are used to. It is important to be transparent and empathic with your project team, co-workers and the organization in general. For example, if your team members generally love process and organization, recognize that a project is going to be difficult because there will be many things that will start out disorganized or unknown. A tried and true method of solving this as a team is to share your emotions openly and then collectively decide to move on. Encouraging your teammates to share your concerns can help you better define the direction of your project and create a sense of camaraderie that will come in handy when the going gets tough. Regardless of which team you’re on, who your user base will be, or how many vendor demos you’ve seen before, these tips will help get you started on the right track. Buying software is not easy, but done right it can add value, connect you with your colleagues, and help you discover the art of change management.