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With twenty years in the enterprise software industry, I've learned a lot about the importance of the sales process as both a customer and supplier. As a supplier, I've learned that an effective sales process is the ultimate exercise in listening: it serves as the foundation for a long and productive partnership that delivers value to both sides. At mabl, our sales cycle plays a key role in shaping product vision, strategy, messaging, and roadmap as we learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing quality practitioners. 

As a customer, I've learned that all buying decisions deserve careful consideration, as initial pricing and features are only a small part of the ultimate cost and value of any solution. Ideally, a solution has the capabilities and support to grow with my own company and has the support to guide my team on best practices throughout the partnership.

With that in mind, here are 4 questions enterprise software customers should ask vendors during the buying process:

1. Is my use case common among your existing customers?

As a product person, it's exciting when I discover that a customer is using my product in a novel way. In some instances, this shines light on a nascent market opportunity, and we invest accordingly. But other uncommon use cases end up as perpetual outliers, and customers can end up frustrated with the lack of investment in their use case.

To avoid a potentially frustrating situation as a prospective customer, you should explore up front whether you are using the product differently than most other customers, relying on little-used features, or challenging any aspect of a vendor's scale. If you find that you're a unique use case, it's important to get that on the table and assess whether the supplier is committed to supporting you in the long run.

2. What type of support should I expect?

Support plays a critical role in reducing the hidden costs of new enterprise software, as effective support smoothes the transition and ensures that lost short-term productivity is minimized. But enterprises often overlook the quality of customer service and support during the buying process, or are caught off-guard by training and support fees after entering into a partnership. By focusing instead on features and pricing, they forget that support is just as essential to the value of a solution.  

Beyond support coverage and SLAs, consider digging deeper into support expectations, channels, metrics, prioritization, staffing, and volumes to get a full picture of the operation that will be your first line of support with the new software. Ideally, the buying process should include some real-world experience working with the vendor's support during a proof of concept and/or discuss support specifically with reference customers.

3. What was last year's roadmap?

Many prospective customers are excited to hear about the vendor’s product plans. Roadmaps illustrate the general future direction of a product, but they tend to focus only on new features and the timing can be off by months or years. Instead of focusing strictly on the road ahead, look in the rearview mirror with the vendor to get a better sense of what's been delivered over the previous 12 months and why. 

This will help you understand the product team's velocity, whether the roadmap is realistic, and how a vendor integrates customer feedback into the product’s growth. Likewise, dig in to investment priorities beyond product features that could affect the value of your solution, such as quality, performance, security, usability, and efficiency.

Be wary of software vendors that don't have an investment plan or strategy for these critical aspects of the solution. To establish a long-term relationship that supports your own organization’s growth and goals, a vendor needs to have a solid and strategic vision for the future. 

4. What happens at upgrade or renewal?

I've probably seen the most unnecessary heartburn created in this area. During the buying process, we focus on what will happen during the first period of the contract based on straightforward assumptions, often without fully exploring scenarios where those assumptions don't hold true. 

To avoid unpleasant surprises down the road, it's crucial to explore whether there are limits that aren't described in the contract, whether there are any breakpoints in volume where the solution becomes dramatically more or less expensive, and if new capabilities will be included in the existing license or offered as a paid add-on. Any vendor that lacks transparency around partnership contingencies is unlikely to prioritize offering value to your team in the long-run and will only serve as a headache when a curveball comes your way. 

In the end, it’s a partnership 

Buying enterprise software can be a long, stressful process. But in the end, you’ll hopefully find a partner that cares about your success and provides value and support to your team. I hope this set of pre-sales conversation starters helps you avoid some of the common sources of post-sales angst and helps you navigate identifying solutions with the vision, support, and transparency to be valuable partners. At mabl, we work closely with each and every prospective partner to ensure that we live up to these standards and provide every customer with the resources they need to simplify test automation and embrace a culture of quality. 

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