Customer reference calls and a site visit to see an ERP vendor’s customer using a proposed ERP solution in a real-world environment is a logical and essential step in the ERP selection process. That said, organizations that are evaluating distribution and manufacturing software solutions need to consider when in the overall selection process to ask the ERP vendor for such references. Following these two simple guidelines will not only help an ERP selection team find the best possible ERP system for their respective business, they will help the selection team make the most effective and efficient use of its and the ERP vendor’s customer’s time.
1. Complete the vast majority of the ERP selection project first, including remote demonstrations, an RFI, an RFP, and onsite scripted software demonstrations, before moving into customer reference calls and a site visit.
ERP selection teams should make every effort to complete other phases of the selection project before worrying too much about speaking to an ERP vendor’s existing customers. Selection teams should conduct a thorough, quantitative assessment of each potential ERP vendor and solution through distributing RFI’s and RFP’s, participating in initial web demonstrations with potential vendors, and bringing a short-list of vendors in to perform a day-long, scripted software demonstration. Through distribution of an RFI and RFP, a perfectly logical request would be for the software vendor to provide some sample customer names who are in a similar industry and/or who have similar internal processes and software requirements. Through onsite, scripted software demonstrations, the ERP selection team should be able to narrow their short list of potential vendors and solutions down to one (or two at the very most) preferred vendor of choice. Done right, the scripted software demonstration process should provide the selection team with a clear-cut, quantitative ranking of the various software vendors and ERP solutions being evaluated.
Requesting customer references with only the preferred vendor or top two vendors will minimize the number of reference calls made by the selection team and prevent the team from calling customers of ERP vendors who have already been eliminated from the evaluation project due to functional fit.
2. Avoid cold-calling; allow the ERP company to arrange dates and times for customer reference calls based on their customers’ and the selection team’s availability.
Following scripted software demonstrations and identification of the preferred ERP software vendor, the selection team should request the vendor to arrange dates and times with three of its customers who are similar in size, industry, and functional requirements. The selection team should also request the vendor to arrange the calls with customer contacts who have an intimate knowledge of the proposed ERP solution and vendor, the software selection process that was used when evaluating the vendor, and who will be able to discuss his or her experiences with the ERP software implementation process and working with the software vendor.
Calling ERP vendors’ customers without having the vendor first arrange the date and time of the call with the right contact will prove to be largely ineffective. Not only does the selection team run the risk of a given customer contact not being available, it risks speaking to somebody who may not be able to answer the full scope of the selection team’s questions relating to the ERP vendor, the software, the selection process, and/or the implementation process.
Customer reference calls are, without doubt, essential elements to the overall evaluation process. It is important, however, for the selection team to make the most effective use of its time to keep the selection process moving forward and request customer reference call arrangements to be made at the most logical time in the process.