Choosing a Professional Services Automation Solution

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Choosing a Professional Services Automation Solution

I’ve been doing some work writing an eBook that’s a primer on professional services automation software, and I got to the section on some of the choices you as a buyer would need to make in order to select the right vendor. I actually dislike the term “vendor” in general, because what I think you’re really doing here is less about selecting someone to buy a product from, and more about choosing someone with whom you’re looking to have a long-term relationship with: a true business partner.

As I wrote the section, I wanted to stay away from specific features, individual solution providers, or particular products since there are plenty of resources that dive into that level. (I reference several of these sources in the eBook if you are indeed looking for more detail.)

Rather, I thought I’d discuss some of the more general pieces of advice I often give people when they ask me about choosing a PSA. Most of these points are applicable whether you’re shopping for a PSA solution or any other piece of critical business software for that matter. So, I thought it would be useful to extract a few of those thoughts, expand upon them a bit, and offer them as a separate article here on our blog.

So, without further ado, a few thoughts about what you need to think about when choosing a PSA solution:

Choosing a Professional Services Automation Solution

Choose a partner, not just a product

Many people looking for a PSA for the first time get consumed by miles-long features lists, shiny user interfaces, and complex API documentation. They sometimes overlook evaluating the creators of the product with the same level of scrutiny.

Does the vendor actually understand the professional services industry, or is the PS market just one of a myriad of business models they purport to cater to? Diversification is not a bad thing in itself, but not if it comes at the cost of diluting their knowledge and understanding of the fine nuances of how you, as a professional services organization, run your business.

Are they profitable, stable, in it for the long haul? Or, are they at the tail end of depleting their last round of VC and scrambling to secure their next round in order to stay afloat? Perhaps just as bad, did they just complete an acquisition (or just get acquired) and are heavily distracted trying to integrate, consolidate, absorb, or otherwise deal with the upheaval of a significant event?

Are they someone whom you would consider a partner, not just a vendor? To my comments before, does the company have a communication style, set of values, and corporate culture that is, if not exactly similar to yours, at the very least supportive of what you’re trying to accomplish?

Consider product today and product tomorrow

Don’t get sold vaporware. Don’t rely on a vendor’s promises about what’s coming. Think about what the product will be able to do for you now. Too often I hear about clients get sold on and become reliant upon features scheduled for a future release, only to find out that those features got delayed, deprioritized, or dropped altogether.

At the same time, especially given the rate of innovation with SaaS-based products, do consider where the vendor plans to take the product. Are they done making significant enhancements to the product and consider themselves in milk-the-cash-cow, minimize-investment-at-all-costs maintenance mode? Or, do they have an interesting roadmap for their product that suggests both an acute understanding of the industry combined with a visionary perspective of the future?

Think beyond the features

Don’t get me wrong: the product has to be there…it’s the price of entry. It’s not, however, the whole story.

Think about what the vendor brings to the table beyond pure software. Do they have the wherewithal to implement the product in a way that will impact your business? Have they implemented their product not just for organizations like yours, but for organizations that are where you want to be in five years? That is, do they have enough experience in the industry to help you not only solve the business challenges you’re facing today, but also to anticipate those that you might be facing in the near future? Alternatively, is that something that gets fobbed off onto an implementation partner that may not be fully up to speed on the product, much less on the fundamental problems you’re trying to solve?

52 hours of video training (not to mention tutorials, interviews, articles, templates, design reviews, and playlists) are available in Projector’s e3 program, our community dedicated to ongoing, proactive education, engagement, and empowerment of our users

What about product support? Will a real, live person actually pick up the phone when you call support? Does the person who answers actually understand your business and actually know the product? Or, is the support team outsourced to an external firm that can do little more than read you pre-canned answers to the most frequently asked questions?

What is their attitude towards ongoing education and end-user empowerment? Are there forums or communities where you can go and ask questions of other users, share best practices, or just discuss alternative approaches? Is the available training limited to the tactical, hands-on, or is there a range of the strategic/conceptual down to the practical? Does the company consider proactive user education an ongoing responsibility or an afterthought?

You can learn a lot about a vendor and their culture by asking them not just about the product, but also how they stand behind their product, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to do both.

Get the “how well,” not just the “what”

Too often I see people taking the checklist approach to selecting a PSA. Manages fixed price projects? Check. Runs reports? Check. Product with the most checks wins, right?

What you should be asking is how well does the product do something, rather than simply whether it does so. Sure, the PSA can manage fixed price projects, but what hoops does the user need to jump through to track performance? To measure profitability? Project revenue?

PSA tools run the gamut in how mature they are and how well they can model your business. Beware the slick-looking product that demos well, but falls apart when you ask it to do something just out of the norm.

4.72 out of 5 is the level of satisfaction reported by execs at organizations who used Projector as their PSA—the highest level of satisfaction among all PSA solutions by a long shot

Perhaps the ultimate indicator of how well a PSA works and how it impacts the business is satisfaction scores. Take a look at PSA satisfaction surveys to see how each product and each vendor scores. The important thing here, though is to look less at surveys of end users (many of whom have no experience beyond using a small cross-section of the product). Rather, take a heavier look at satisfaction surveys of PSA buyers and executive sponsors such as the annual professional services benchmark survey by SPI Research. These are the people who can assess not just whether the Save button on the time tracking interface is big enough, but who have a more strategic perspective of what the impact the product has had on the business, how easy the vendor is to work with, and how the whole package compares to other alternatives in the market.

Take a deep breath and dive deep

Finally, the biggest piece of advice I give to people is to take a deep breath and dive deep. Not everywhere, and not for everything.

8 hours is how long the demo with the 15-page use case lasted (our demos don’t always take that long)

0 is the number of other vendors who were able to model the use case successfully

Take a particular example that’s important for your business and peel away the superficial marketing claims. Playing out one particular example and taking it deep will give you a good sense of whether the product just looks good at the surface, or whether it has real depth. Whether it was designed for real-world scenarios. Whether the team standing behind the product knows what they’re doing.

One prospect once gave us a 15-page use case of a real project—complete with tasks, schedules, resources, invoices, revenue recognition, budgets, scope changes…the works. They said “model this”—and we did.

They’re still one of my favorite clients, and have been for the past nine years.

How does Projector stack up?

While I can’t give you a blow-by-blow accounting of how each of the PSA products on the market stack up against these points, I can give you a sense of how our product, Projector, fares. It’s no surprise that I think it does quite well, mostly because I think these factors are important and have therefore designed them into our product and our business. Call it confirmation bias if you want, but figure out what’s important for you and ask the right questions!

Learning More

If you’re interested in learning more about PSA software for services organizations, take a look at our recently published eBook. In it, you’ll find additional information about how Professional Services Automation solutions can improve the performance of a services organization. You’ll also see information about some of the decision points you’ll need to make when selecting a PSA, some of the trends we’re seeing in the PSA market, and much more:

Check out our eBook:
Professional Services Automation: A Quick Primer

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