What do they do?
Searching for and evaluating ERP software is difficult. Really difficult. There are so many different terms, products, markets, deployment models, and technologies, that it can be hard to narrow down your choices to a select few. I talk with people all the time who have undertaken this challenge, and clarity is a challenge. Occasionally, companies pay a selection consultant for help figuring out which solutions to learn more about.
What exactly does an ERP consultant do? This person will assist your company in a variety of ways, depending on your needs. Services can include helping you define your requirements, identifying vendors, conducting/coordinating demos, selecting vendors, negotiating contracts, and implementing the chosen ERP.
Every company is different, so you may need one or all of these services. If you’re weighing the benefits of ERP selection consultations, here are some things to think about…
Do we need one?
This is not a one-size-fits-all answer. For a lot of companies, these are the questions to ask before you can determine if you need a consultant:
Do you have the budget? Selection consultants are obviously going to charge for their services. But if you’re in a situation where you don’t have time to do ERP research on your own, a selection consultant may be well worth the price to help narrow down software solutions you should consider.
Do you have a board, ownership, or executives who want detailed justifications of how an ERP can help transform your company? Another benefit of hiring a selection consultant is that they typically have ROI (return on investment) tools that can help “put a dollar amount” on the value ERP can bring.
Do you need help evaluating software demonstrations? Selection consultants often have templates that companies can use to “grade” how a particular ERP addresses their requirements when looking at vendor software demos.
Do you need help scheduling meetings, visits, calls, etc.? A selection consultant will typically serve as a logistics manager for coordinating your schedule with your selected vendors’ schedules.
How to Vet ERP Selection Consultants
There are risks to consider when deciding whether or not to use a selection consultant, both from the prospective customer side, as well as the ERP vendor side. Here are some questions to help you vet a consultant for experience and objectivity, and minimize your risks.
Will your consultant provide you with an exhaustive list of vendors to consider, or just ones he has a relationship with? Ask this question when interviewing a selection consultant-if the consultant is compensated in ANY way, you need to be aware of this.
Does the consultant provide services relating to any of the solutions that he recommends? While this is not direct compensation from a particular ERP vendor, it’s certainly indirect.
Can the consultant provide more than one reference? You should talk to four or five previous clients and ask about their experience working with the consultant and what solution they chose. If every reference you talk to chose the same solution, you should be suspicious that the consultant is steering clients toward a particular solution.
Does the consultant ask tough questions? If you engage a selection consultant, keep a careful eye on how they interact with vendors. Tough questions are a good thing, as long as every vendor gets tough questions and there’s no favoritism!
ERP Evaluation Processes with Consultants
I mentioned earlier that selection consultants have tools for evaluating solutions, grading demos, etc. A typical approach is for selection consultants to “control” the evaluation process by making all vendors perform the exact same demo in the exact same order, so everyone on the team can fill out their grading spreadsheet consistently. This makes logical sense on the surface, but if you think about it, the vendors you are considering are potential LONG-TERM partners. By following a process dictated by a selection consultant, there isn’t a way for those vendors to differentiate themselves other than a demo and you want to be able to see the full breadth of what they can do for you, now and in the future.
This may sound like I am diminishing the value of a selection consultant. Absolutely not; I have worked on evaluations both with and without consultants. In my opinion, the best role a selection consultant can play is to be an advisor to the company that hires them, while allowing the ERP vendors to “do what they do.” Structuring the roles this way allows your company to evaluate the vendor, as well as the software. The selection consultant can ask questions or advise your team to ask questions based on these activities, bringing clarity to both sides when there is confusion or a breakdown in communication. This approach is typically more successful, because it gives everyone the freedom to explore the solution and allow a relationship to develop.
Whether you are going to use a selection consultant or not, take a look at the Visual South website; we have lots of information to help. If you’re searching for an ERP solution, I suggest downloading our e-book called “How to Select ERP and Not Regret It.” Or, if you’d prefer to have a common-sense conversation with someone who is not a salesperson, schedule a free consultation with our president, Jack.