How do you choose the right business tools? You ask questions. Lots of questions. You are choosing tools that you will be working with for perhaps years to come, so take the time to make the right choices. Trying to work with the wrong tools can only lead to frustration and potential loss of revenue.

Nowadays, every company should have in mind the trend toward SaaS (Software as a Service). SaaS products are web-based tools that can automate many aspects of your business. This automation can improve your productivity while reducing the chance of human error.

Why waste precious time on some repetitive, boring manual tasks when software can do the same work for less money, while being faster and more accurate. Whether you are a corporate giant with billions of revenue, or have a garage-based start-up, there are SaaS solutions that can help your business.

These products can help with a wide range of business applications: from the conventional ones such as marketing, accounting, and customer management, to surprising areas such as human resources management, gamification, and enterprise resource planning (ERP). The problem doesn’t lie in too few options: au contraire, the real issue is the paradox of choice: how to select the right business tool when so many are offered.

So, how do you pick a SaaS solution that fits your needs? Of course, there is the possibility of old-school googling. This is a legit way to get all the information you want, but it is easy to get lost in redundant numbers and descriptions.

A better solution is to do your research using B2B (business-to-business) marketplaces. These services have the primary task of simplifying your search and arranging the facts about each product in a useful manner. They usually feature advanced search tools and various articles with product overviews or comparisons. They strive to provide you with everything you need to choose the right SaaS solutions for your business.

A good example of this kind of B2B marketplace is DiscoverCloud. They specialize in SaaS solutions, and have information on more than 3000 products. These products are organized into over 100 categories and subcategories and divided depending on the size of the business. In addition to standard search tools, DiscoverCloud publishes a blog with product reviews of all types (short, full, P1 vs. P2) written by a group of experts, as well as a knowledge base with in-depth elaborations for further reading. (Screenshots used in this article are, in fact, all from their website.)

Whatever approach you take, here are the steps we suggest you follow:

Step 1. Decide what exactly you want the software to do for you.

One may smile, but you wouldn’t believe how many companies in fact don’t know what they want. Many SaaS products are designed to be multipurpose, so it is a waste of money if, for example, a restaurant management tool is used just as a meal planner or for guest statistics only. Firstly, decide on the basic functions your ideal SaaS solution must have. Then list additional capabilities that would be nice but are not essential.

Since the software you purchase is supposed to help your business, you should have a realistic estimation of your requirements, as well as the shortcomings of your current solution. Without these, how will you know how to improve the workflow? Keep in mind the possibility that software and hardware are already in your possession may have an option to upgrade. You may be able to meet your needs that way, at least in the short term.

It can be tempting to stick with what you have and avoid the risk of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. But it is not uncommon that new software turns out to be not the metaphorical fire, but a perfect answer to challenges yet to come. A proper, long-range plan will help you avoid mal-investment in a product that will quickly be outdated or cannot serve your needs over the long run.

Picture 2. List of specific toolsPicture 1. List of specific tools.
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Step 2. Set a price ceiling.

 This one is quite straight-forward: determine your budget. The list of potential vendors will probably become easier to get through once the maximum fee you are willing to pay is factored in.

 Step 3. Compare various vendors of the products from the same category.

Remember well: there is always an alternative! Yes, there is a significant chance you will have to compromise instead of simply picking the best fit, but that’s no small wonder. Now that you have a smaller set of potential SaaS solutions, compare the core and bonus features, pricing, possibility of integration, user ratings, reviews from professionals, languages it is available in – literally everything that can be used as a discriminative property.

Narrow the field even more with the filter options, such as monthly or yearly subscription fees, the presence of a free or freemium model, etc. Don’t forget to use more than one source in order to achieve objectivity and diversity. Once you have finished this preliminary phase, you are ready to start digging deeper into the products that fit the desired profile.

Step 4. Get to know the vendor.

As mentioned before, Internet is loaded with information – so use it! Since you finished the initial investigation and decided which products get to the second round, there will be a limited number of companies you should look into.

First of all, you should find out if your potential partner is an established firm with stability and credibility in the given field. If they employ an engineering team, it can be a sign of continuous development and growth, as opposed to getting acquired by larger company that could cut the funding for software you just obtained. The possibility of scaling to your needs is especially important if you expect your client base to increase rapidly.

Integration can be a decisive parameter: if the new software cannot combine with your other tools, is it worth the investment at the first place? Virtually every vendor has a customer service department you can easily reach to find out relevant, up-to-date information. Some companies even have an expense calculator on their websites, so you can do the math on your own. Don’t forget to take into consideration any extra services that have to be paid for: annual maintenance fees, personnel training, or system setup.

Since SaaS utilizes the cloud i.e. stores your data on somewhere other than on your computer – and that data can be private, privileged, confidential or all of the above – we recommend you thoroughly research the history of the company. Look for information about possible leaks or other security lapses.

If you are looking for a healthcare SaaS provider for example, you want a vendor that not only has not been breached, but that meets all the relevant compliance standards. How exactly do they protect your data? How robust are their encryption algorithms? Do they still use older protocols that are no longer fully secure?

Picture 3. Detailed info about one productPicture 2. Detailed info about one product.
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Step 5. Consult someone who is an expert. And consult users. Especially ex-users.

If you run a small business focused on design, why would you need to know that BEAST is Browser Exploit Against SSL/TLS, hence requires special protection? You don’t. Read the articles where others discuss their experiences with some product, and contact them for additional info. Sure, not all of them will have the time or the good will to answer, but it is not uncommon that some of them will talk to you.

Users are, of course, people from other companies that have experience with the product you are considering. Listening to what they have to say can only yield useful information. People who are still using the product will most likely give you a sense of what works well, and where to expect problems. Ex-users tend to be a bit less objective, but if the vendor’s support department is unresponsive or important modules of the program are only available at an additional charge, you want to know it in advance.

Step 6. Take the demo / free trial.

Once you have narrowed the field to one or two finalists, give them a shot and see how it works out. It is never just as you perceived it in your head – the functionality, benefits, design, features, flexibility, clarity – all of it has to be tried out. While the purchase decision will be made by a small number of people, it is useful at this point to let a lot of people test the products. You will get diverse valuable feedback from the others once you put the system in use.

After evaluating the finalists you can either make a purchase or do another round of evaluations. Don’t rush a decision. It is better to repeat these steps a few times and find the right product than to rush into a purchase that can haunt you for years.

If you follow the advice we have given you here, you will maximize your chances of choosing the right business tools for your business. Good luck!