ERP Journey: Time to Choose an ERP Vendor

Stop the train: I need to decide.

Over the past eight months, our intrepid search team has typed and scribbled reams of notes about our ERP options. Two companies from the original 22 survive. Now, in the inimitable words of John Sebastian and The Lovin' Spoonful in the song "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind," we must "Say yes to one, and let the other one ride."

Recently I shared our research with a friend whose company is also looking for a new business system. He turned to me and said, "Your company must have a spreadsheet for everything." Then he laughed. "I'm glad my wife didn't have a spreadsheet around when she was considering me."

The week before we made our decision, our team was sitting around the conference table debating a tricky order-entry feature. The pingpong discussion became louder and repetitive. Then, like a voice in the wilderness, one of our quieter members said, "Does it really matter?" The other four faces around the table stared at him like he was the village idiot. "Of course it matters! We must be sure." Slowly, we smiled and, one by one, realized it didn't matter. This feature wasn't going to change anyone's mind.

If this had been a musical, a swell of violins, a roll of tympani drums and a final blaring chord of brass would have played. We were ready to decide.

The tone of our project changed with that realization. An almost palpable shift could be felt in the room as the process went from fact-finding to active decision making. Although we all agreed on the basic strengths and weaknesses of the products, I suspect that each of us wanted to champion a favorite. As we moved ahead, that inclination grew.

We built our decision matrix around a dozen categories such as business intelligence, messaging and industry commitment. We assigned weights to each, from a low of one to a high of five, based on each category's importance to the company.

Our CFO led the way. He proffered two's for the purchase price and accounting categories. He said it was our job to negotiate the purchase price so it didn't make a difference. He reasoned that a 100% improvement in accounting software couldn't impact the company's bottom line as much as a 5% improvement in counter sales.

After a half day of this, we organized our data and booked our conference room for the following Monday and Tuesday. Then we told the prospective vendors that we'd announce our decision on Wednesday. This triggered a flurry of last-minute calls from the sales reps of both companies as they offered assistance, followed by uncomfortable silences as they avoided saying, "Pick me."

ERP sales reps typically make a handful of new sales each year. One sale could tip their year. The sales cycle with our company had already lasted longer than most, and this must have heightened the tense silence on the phone.

The CEO of one of the companies called and told me he had already had more dinners with me than any other prospective customer, but he was willing to have at least one more meal with me.

This was first published in May 2005

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