Questions to Ask About Vendors When Evaluating Their Products

Good products are usually developed by good companies. It would be difficult for a bad company—one that is poorly run—to develop a good product. When we evaluate products, in addition to looking at the products themselves, we can learn useful facts that might not be obvious by asking a few questions about the companies that produce them. Here are a few questions you might want to ask about a software vendor when evaluating one of its products.

  • Does the vendor have deep expertise in the domains that its products support? Does it exhibit this expertise, not only in its products, but in its communications as well, including marketing materials and sales presentations?
  • Does the vendor invest in the development of features and functions in its products that actually work and are actually needed by more than a few users?
  • Does the vendor exhibit a commitment to designing products to be as easy as possible to use?
  • Does the vendor develop products that nudge users in beneficial directions (that is, in directions that actually produce results that effectively serve their needs)?
  • Has the vendor defined its potential users clearly enough and gotten to know them well enough to develop the product in relevant ways?
  • Does the vendor refrain from making marketing claims that are false or otherwise misleading?
  • Does the vendor know how to tell the story of what its product does, how it works, and why it’s good? If it doesn’t, this is a sign that it doesn’t have a clear story to direct its efforts into a coherent product.
  • Does the vendor make it easy for potential buyers to evaluate its products?
  • Does the vendor help its users develop the conceptual skills (not just skills in using the software) that are necessary to use its products productively? For example, if it produces data analysis software, does it offer instruction in the principles and practices of analysis?
  • Does the vendor take the time to develop user documentation that is really helpful, with clear explanations and meaningful examples?
  • Does the vendor’s support mechanism (phone support, etc.) demonstrate that it genuinely wants to solve your problems rather than only provide the minimum support that customers will find tolerable?

I’m not suggesting that these are the only questions to ask about vendors. These are just a few that come to mind that could prove useful. Please feel free to add to and refine this list.

Take care,

4 Comments on “Questions to Ask About Vendors When Evaluating Their Products”

By David Ashleydale. January 8th, 2010 at 11:26 am

This is a super useful list!

Another possible question along the lines of “designing products to be as easy as possible to use”, is — Does the vendor develop services and products that are usable by people with disabilities? This topic is coming up more and more often these days and it’s important to know up front if the vendor has experience with this. It’s a difficult thing to ask the vendor to add in later if they have no expertise in the area.

By Larry Keller. January 10th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

May I add that the vendor stories as referred to in Stephen’s list include specifics related to vertical markets…i.e., financial services, health care and category management. How was the product used? What were the roles of the users (IT or business). What was unique about the benefits in the vertical market?

By Robert. January 12th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Another factor to consider (at the risk of getting too “technical” and specific) … will the technology used to produce the graphics work for your intended audience, for the intended lifetime of the output?

For example, if you’re planning to put your graphs on a webpage, for any arbitrary user to view for the next 5 years, then gif or pdf output would probably be a good/safe choice … whereas perhaps a still-evolving standard, and/or a standard that require a special version of software be installed on the user’s computer to view the graphics, might not. If you’re generating graphical output in formats such as java, activex, svg, flex/flash, etc … (expecially ones that require the end-user to have a specific viewer to render the graphic at viewing time), this could be an important issue.

By Nikki. January 13th, 2010 at 3:13 am

Robert - I couldnt agree more, I am constantly fighting the internal battle not to overdo the graphics ‘just ‘cos we can’ and ‘isnt it cool’ - not when it doesnt help the consumers of the output!!!!