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.