As entrepreneurs, we rely on various business apps and tools to make our jobs easier and more efficient. If you work in technology (like me), your company probably uses heaps of online tools internally, besides your own, to run your business.

That's certainly true for my e-mail marketing software company, VerticalResponse. Maybe it's because we are tech geeks at heart!

But how many times have you found yourself cursing at your tools? Maybe they don't work the way you expect them to. Or you're short on time and the learning curve is just too steep. Or they don't play nice with your other tools and apps, causing pandemonium.

Been there, done that.

It's hard not to get a little blinded by a shiny new tool or app that you come across. But you need to give it some thoughtful evaluation before diving in; otherwise, you and your company might end up being even less efficient.

Here are three things to think about when you look at a new tool, software, or an app:

1. How much time/money/effort will it save?

You're probably constantly getting approached by vendors with new tools and services, and it's easy to get sucked in and think you need every new thing in order to be competitive and stay current with your technology.

But do you really need all those tools? When evaluating a tool or service, do an analysis to understand all the features and the benefits. Think about who in your company will be the end user of the tool. Will it make the person more efficient, or will it simply take time the person is using today and transfer that into managing the tool? Can the tool be shared across multiple users, divisions, or subsidiaries at your company? How much time, money, or effort will it save?

As part of your evaluation process, make sure you can contact customers of the tool and get a true sense of their experience with it. What are their challenges and successes? Knowing that, would they still buy it today? Try to find a company in a similar industry with similar business goals, so you'll be able to make a solid assessment of whether the tool would be a good fit for you.

2. How long is the implementation process?

Many vendors will tell you practically anything you want to hear, just to close the deal. I've found that spending some quality time digging into exactly how long the tool takes to implement is key. And it's not just about how long it will take; it's about how many people and resources you'll need to dedicate to the process internally.

I've heard the line "It's so easy; it's just a single line of JavaScript you put on your site" more times than I'd like to say, but when push comes to shove, that single line of JavaScript may actually take multiple teams (IT, marketing communications, engineering) to implement. And that means time away from other things they're working on.

Before signing off on the contract, decide if the effort is worth the end benefit. You'll also want to consider how much training and on-boarding you'll need for the users in your organization, and whether that's included in the price of the tool. (You would think so, but some vendors charge separately for training!)

3. Will it play nice with your other tools?

Anytime you bring a new tool on board, see if it will integrate with other tools you are using or might use in the near future. For instance, my company's e-mail marketing tools integrate with Salesforce, allowing our customers to use our tool from within Salesforce. You've got to do your due diligence with this one, because there is nothing worse than investing in a new tool and getting into the weeds of implementation, only to realize that it doesn't work with your customer relationship management system, your billing platform, your analytics, or any other system or tool you might be using.

Tools are terrific and make our business and personal lives easier in so many ways. Just remember: Whenever you see a shiny new tool or app about to lure you in, take a step back and evaluate it with an unbiased mind so you can be sure what you get actually benefits you in the end.

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Published on: Apr 3, 2014
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