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Shopping for a New Prospect Research Tool? 7 Steps to Help Guide your Purchase

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By Megan McMillan, Marketing & Communications Manager, iWave Information Systems

Recently, I shouldered the task of researching and evaluating new software for our marketing department. With a number of vendors vying for a considerable chunk of my budget, the shoe was suddenly on the other foot and I felt the pain of every researcher who was ever tasked with “scoping the options” for a new research tool. With that in mind, I created the following guidelines:

Step 1: Destination unknown
You can’t start mapping the course for a journey with no final destination, just as you can’t purchase a new research tool without knowing first and foremost what your goals are. Do you need a one-stop-shop tool? Is list building important? Are customized prospect profiles important? Do you need to screen your database first to identify top prospects? Are you looking for… new data providers? Know the end goal before you start shopping or you might end up with a large screening order when what you really needed was a one-off lookup tool.

Step 2: Deal breakers and makers
Now that you know where your research is headed, prioritize the datasets and features you need to get there. This is your shopping list and just like a trip to the grocery store you can use it to focus your research efforts and avoid distractions like flashy promos and flowery marketing jargon.

Step 3: My momma told me, you better shop around*
Now it’s time to get shopping and I hate to say it, but mom was right. Not all research tools are created equal and when budgets are tight selecting the right tool for your organization is imperative. Cast a wide net in your initial search spending 15 minutes or so poking around each vendor’s website, ask trusted colleagues from other organizations what tools they use, search LinkedIn groups and PRSPCT-L archives, sign up for vendor blogs and download any of their PDFs that offer further information. Now is also the time to get organized – create a master file that includes all the vendors you’re considering, the name of their product, and the pros and cons of each. Once you’re organized, it’s time to pick up the phone.

Step 4: Pick up the phone
Reach out to your shortlist of vendors and ask for a product demonstration. The key here is to be sure you schedule all your product demos for the same day (if possible). Research tools share a lot of features and often provide similar types of data. By keeping demos close together, you’ll ensure all the information is fresh in your mind and decrease the possibility of forming product biases before evaluating all your options.
This is also the time to ask about training and support to back up your investment. What channels of communication are open to you for getting tech support? What is the turnaround time for email queries? Does additional training cost extra? You’re about to enter into what is hopefully a long term relationship with this vendor – be sure you know what your support options are and that you can feel comfortable exercising those options.

Step 5: Seeing is believing
Most vendors will allow free trial access after a product demo giving you the opportunity to see if the research tool really meets your needs. This is where booking all your demos for the same day really pays off – now you can compare tools side by side running the same searches and exploring the features to see which has the data and level of customization you need. Refer to your shopping list from step 2 to help focus your product testing. If a prospect’s charitable giving history is your top priority, no fancy feature or slick interface will make up for a lousy charitable giving dataset.

Step 6: It’s all about the Benjamins
By now you’ve probably got an obvious favorite which means it’s time to talk price. If you were already quoted a price during your product demo, circle back with the vendor and be honest with how their product measured up against the others. In some cases, they may be able to offer a more competitive rate to secure your business. Be aware that although the customer is always right, most vendors are well aware of their competitor’s price points so low-balling your sales rep won’t guarantee a deep discount. Explore all your pricing options and be sure to keep in mind add-ons such as additional users, training or usage charges. Think about the future growth of your department and be sure these add-ons won’t inflate the base subscription price beyond your budget.

Step 7: Go forth and prosper
Now that you’ve chosen your prospect research solution, be sure you take advantage of all training and support opportunities and provide feedback to your vendor. Vendors are constantly on the lookout for new datasets and features that will give them the competitive edge. If there is something your research tool doesn’t do or that you think it could do better – tell you customer service rep or account executive. You might not see your suggestions in place the next day, but I can assure you customer feedback is taken very seriously and often helps guide the next stages of development so speak up – you just might get what you asked for!

*      From “Shop Around” –  track #9 on the album, My World: The Definitive Collection by Smokey Robinson.

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