The Five Stages of a Relationship (With Your Software Vendor)
Much like a romantic relationship, finding the right software vendor to be your partner will consist of moments of highs and lows. And though every relationship has its own unique complexities, these ups- and-downs typically occur throughout five similar stages. Learning how to recognize these stages can help you to better determine whether you’ve really found “the one” or if it’s time to start seeing other software.
The Infatuation Stage — sometimes called “the Honeymoon Stage” — occurs at the onset of the relationship and is where everything about the vendor and their software seems perfect. You might’ve heard a sales pitch or started some initial negotiations, and it probably seems like they’re a really good fit for your needs.
The biggest pitfall with the Infatuation Stage is that it’s hard to find a lot of faults in your partner. That’s not to say that they don’t exist, but it’s so tempting to rush into something new — especially if you’ve had difficulties with other vendors or their software in the past— that it’s easy to overlook the likely challenges right in front of you. And even if there are noticeable quirks, it’s easy to assume that eventually the software — or the vendor — will change to suit your needs.
Keeping expectations in check during the Infatuation Stage can save you from later problems and wasted time. It’s great to be excited about what could be, but be sure to still ask questions and review options before falling too hard. Additionally, stay realistic in managing your own hopes for what software will be able to do for your business.
The Reflection Stage usually happens within the first few days of the relationship and is a necessary period of self-assessment and expectation-management. Before finalizing any decision about your software, you should ask yourself some questions: Can this vendor actually do what they’re promising? Will this software help my business become more efficient or profitable? Am I expecting too much from the software? Do we really even need to switch software, and do we have the time and resources to do it the right way?
Taking a step back to figure out the wants and needs of your business, as well as where you’re at with your current software, can save you from rushing into a commitment you might not be ready for — or worse, making a change that you don’t need. It’s easy to get swept up in the glamour of the Infatuation Stage, but you should still ask yourself if you’re interested in the software because it’s new and exciting or because it actually satisfies the needs of your business.
In the Reflection Stage, talk over your options with your team, especially those team members who will be the primary users of the software, to figure out what your exact business needs are. You can then use this feedback to narrow down what you’re looking for in your vendor to make sure they’re truly a good fit. As sleek as new software may appear, make sure it checks those “need” boxes for your business before you end up with something that isn’t right for you.
Immediately following the Reflection Stage, the Reality Stage sets in — where you begin to realize that your partner may not be entirely perfect in every way. Unfortunately, this stage occurs in every serious relationship, and it’s usually the most challenging to overcome. As a result, it’s also where most relationships end.
In the Reality Stage, a partner’s shortcomings start to become more noticeable as you compare them to the needs gathered in the Reflection Stage. For a software vendor, this can occur in a number of ways: from the software maybe not being as sleek or user-friendly on every screen as it appeared in their promotional material to the training process taking longer than anticipated. It could also be that, even though the software has the features that you need, it doesn’t have enough of the features that you want.
Know what your deal breakers are, but be sure to evaluate whether they really are important enough to end the relationship over and not just wishlist items that won’t improve your business or processes. Just because software looks good or has “cool” features doesn’t mean that it’s the best option for you — especially if it can’t handle the actual needs of your business.
If you move forward from the Reality Stage with your vendor, you end up in the Stability Stage. The good news is that if you make it here, your relationship has a fair chance of lasting a long time.
Like a romantic relationship, the Stability Stage is also the time when you should meet the important people in your vendor’s life — namely, the key members of the company that you’ll be working with: from the initial training and onboarding staff to the team responsible for ongoing support after the implementation is complete. Learning about these resources can also be useful in making a final decision to commit to a vendor. If a vendor is only looking to seal the deal and doesn’t offer adequate support after the sale’s complete, they might not be looking after your best interests.
It’s important to keep in mind that you’re not just purchasing software; you’re essentially buying a relationship with your vendor. If their “family” doesn’t align with what you’re looking for, the vendor might not be the best fit for you.
The Commitment Stage occurs just prior to purchasing the software or signing a contract with your vendor. You might be at the point of starting to plan for training or on-site visits as you’re ready to take the relationship to the next level. There’s a sense of trust between you and your vendor that, together, your businesses can reach new heights.
During the Commitment Stage, it’s a good idea to look at the long-term plans for you and your software vendor. Having already assessed how well their plan fits with yours, now’s the time to work together to write your roadmap to the future with their products, services and support. This includes looking at their development pipeline as well as recommended checkpoints for continuing education and consulting.
Begin to make these plans concrete, and write down a shared understanding of what you want the next one to five years to look like working with your vendor.
Like a romantic relationship, communication is still just as vital during the Commitment Stage to ensure that both you and your partner maintain a similar vision for the future.
Finding a software vendor is easy, but finding the right software vendor takes time. By realizing the stages of the relationship that you’re progressing through with your software vendor, you have a better chance of keeping your feelings in check to make sure that you’re committing to the best partner for your business, not just the hot new thing that caught your eye.