Ten Questions to Ask Manufacturing ERP Software Vendors

By Sheldon Needle

1. How much does your software cost?
Vendors almost never publish realistic prices for their ERP software solution. They want to know who is competing for your business and what it will take to win the deal. There are just too many variables to tie down including the number of users, applications needed and any special installation requirements to provide specific pricing. But vendors should be able to provide a typical price range for a company your size, industry and number of users. If they won’t do this, they are simply withholding information they know in order to keep you on the hook.

2. How good is your support?
Measuring support quality by asking a vendor is about as likely to provide realistic information as asking your grocery checkout person. They just won’t be able to tell you. What you can ask is how many full time support personnel they have, their rate of turnover, and whether support is US based or from a foreign country. Some vendors offer pretty good support as part of the contract, while others only offer good support when you are willing to pay “escalation” fees that are over and above your already paid for support program.

3. How do you justify your annual maintenance fees?
If the vendor says, maintenance is for support and software improvements, think about how much support you expect to use and ask them to show you press releases on software improvements over the past several years. It’s not at all unusual for users of MRP software systems to spend several thousand dollars a year on a maintenance policy and only use support a few times and receive very little in meaningful product enhancements.

4. Why are you better than your competition?
If the salesman really knows his product, he or she should be able to answer that. The answers may have to do with function, database , report writing, complexity of setup and questions on any number of different aspects. There are huge differences in product expertise between manufacturing software sales people!

5. What is your database backend?
Beware of vendors who won’t give you the name of their database and just say it’s proprietary. They may be trying to hide something.

6. What is your customer profile?
A reputable vendor should be willing to tell you the percentages of their customer industry and size breakdown. That is the best way for you to know if your company’s needs and size matches the vendor profile. If the vendor refuses, or makes, it should be considered a red flag. What is the vendor trying to hide?

7. What are you not good at?
No vendor is good at everything. Those who won’t admit to any shortcomings may not be open about the pitfalls of the product. For example, some may have good job accounting but are poor at quality assurance, plant scheduling or work in process tracking. There are a number of systems whose standard reporting is very superficial requiring heavy usage of a custom report writer or Crystal Reports in order to prepare reports that are meaningful to management.

8. Why can’t I get a trial copy to try out?
Many vendors don’t want you to dig too deep into the software and possibly find out there are things about it you really don’t like. So they want you to be dependent on sales controlled demos. That may work if you are only spending $10 or 20 K on a solution. But what if you are going to be spending substantially more? You would be negligent to spend that kind of money without having your company personnel carefully test the software out before you sign a contract.

9. How much will I have to spend to upgrade my server and network?
Depending on the ERP vendor package, the number of users, and the current state of your hardware , you could be on the hook for a major hardware and/or network upgrade.

10. Why do you slam the competition so much?
Negative selling is not a good sign of ethical business behavior. If the vendor spends a lot of time bad mouthing his competitors instead of boosting his solution, he is probably coming from a weak selling position.

Summary

Software selection is one of the most complex projects you and your company will ever undertake. These 10 questions will take you a long way toward understanding the complexities and realities of the process in order to avoid, or least lessen, the “FUD” (fear, uncertainty and doubt) factor in selecting a system.

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