Al Bsharah Business Minded, Technically Inclined

The Tech Tool Roadmap: How to find, buy, and implement the right tools for your growing business

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This was originally posted as part of a larger series Seismic is doing on Medium called Foreshock, which focuses on topics that high-growth companies care about.


There’s literally a tool for everything these days. Internal communications tools, CRM systems, task management tools, spreadsheets and presentation tools — all things we take for granted that have transformed modern business.

That said, technologies and tools can bog us down and overwhelm us. In my 20 years of founding or operating in growth startups, I’ve seen poorly implemented technologies cause new problems that didn’t exist before. Some organizations have poorly implemented tools that solve a portion of the problem they actually could, or just make things worse because of unrealistic expectations or lack of implementation resources. And for companies looking to grow fast, poor selection of technology tools can hinder growth.

Here’s how I’ve mapped out the process to bring on new business tools and avoid these pitfalls.

Commit to your process, until the tool is absolutely necessary

I’m a process-first kind of guy. I believe wholeheartedly that tools and technology don’t solve problems, processes do. The tool is used to enable that process to flourish.

Consider a hammer. You buy a hammer when you have a blueprint for what you’re building, bought wood and nails, measured and cut all the proper pieces, and now need to put it all together. If you bought the hammer but then realized that you need to use screws instead of nails, you may not have any budget left for a screwdriver. That’s going to make your job a lot harder. And when you are trying to grow rapidly, getting the right tools on board can make a major difference.

Figure out your process up front and put it into action. Show value and get buy-in. Push that manual process to its limits, until you absolutely need to bring on technology to push value even further. Soon, all stakeholders will realize the importance of automating and enabling this valuable process.

Select and commit to the tool evaluation process

After determining that you need technology to solve a pain point, it’s time to find the solution. My evaluation process is pretty rigorous, and it scales with the depth and complexity of the requirements for the tool. The more complex and impactful, the more rigorous the evaluation. A rigorous process will really put vendors to the test — recently, Gainsight is one vendor that truly navigated my process extremely well, and now we feel incredibly confident in that tool.

First, I map out our evaluation process to present to each vendor — something that most vendors I work with greatly appreciate. It gives them a map, and whether they can follow it and fit their product to your process on the fly is a good starting signal for whether the tool might be right for you.

Second, I record every demo, to refer back to and help flesh out our list of requirements. These quick evaluations might cause you to also add some new requirements to your list. Get feedback from other stakeholders to make sure they agree with the list.

At this point, put a score on each category for each tool, for a sense of which tools might solve the most problems. Get feedback from other stakeholders. Show them demos, notes, capabilities, and stand-out features. See how others score and rank and whittle the list down to what best fits your needs.

Build a shortlist and dig into the technologies

My last technology evaluation consisted of 3 vendors, 3 dedicated days per vendor, and at least 2 stakeholders dedicated to each evaluation. Going in, we designed scenarios for each vendor, to determine if that tool met our requirements. We required that each vendor be “available on demand” for their 3-day window so we could navigate quickly through the hurdles that were inevitably going to crop up. The evaluation included rigorous notetaking and additional scoring, vital to help visualize your plethora of information to make tough decisions.

Also — this is more than features and functionality that fit your needs today. As a high-growth company, you have to consider where you’ll be tomorrow. Will this technology and vendor grow with you? Can they support your technical and personnel needs long-term? Don’t buy yourself into a corner — ensure that the technology you choose makes sense for your team today as well as in the future.

Decide on — and commit to — the tool that wins

After picking a tool, you still have to commit necessary resources to implement and manage it long-term. All of the hard work to build and select the best tool will fall apart if nobody is successfully launching and managing the tool.

Every tool is different, as are every organization’s needs. But I can’t preach this enough: You need full buy-in from the top down. This is going to require time and dedication from you as well as every stakeholder to fully commit to the transformation the technology can bring.

Getting buy-in can be tricky. While it’s important you show that you’ve dug into the details, you have to present high-level benefits in a clear and concise manner. Map out metrics that your various audiences care about: Speed to market, return on financial investment, how additional data or insights the tool brings impact revenue, employee time saved, etc. These metrics can serve as baselines for tool value as you continue to grow and change your processes.

Conclusion

This is rarely an easy process, no matter how much the vendor tells you it will be in their demos. Don’t buy the hype! Dedicate the time and resources to do this process correctly, and it will pay dividends.

A little extra proof: In my last technology evaluation, after watching all of our demos, we were fairly confident that our top three choices would come in the order: A, B, then C. After our full 3-day evaluation of all these tools, they actually came in the exact opposite order: C, B, then A. That’s a big swing where our expected #1 ended up dead last, and vice versa.

Without our dedicated process, we would not have been able to pivot towards bringing on the exact right vendor for us.

The effort is worth it!

About the author

Al Bsharah

Al’s been involved in multiple San Diego startups since 1999 after leaving the Detroit auto industry as an electrical engineer. He's started two of his own companies where he's raised capital from both VCs and angels, and sold one of them to both Seismic and Return Path. He resides on the board of Startup San Diego, is a Tech Coast Angels member, and has graduated both Techstars and Founder Institute accelerator programs where he now mentors. Al is currently the Vice President of Product Operations at Seismic and in his free time he manages to play a little beach volleyball, invest in startups, trade stocks, and camp with his wife, son, dog, and friends.

By Al Bsharah
Al Bsharah Business Minded, Technically Inclined