How to Buy Software in an Emerging Category

January 31st, 2020

Searching for software in a relatively new category is not the same as buying software in a cemented one. For example, there is a ton of information about what the best firewall tools are or loads of tips on how to choose the best marketing automation software. However, there isn’t much about intent data providers and their key differences. You may know that you need a solution to a particular problem, but have no idea where to begin with  actually identifying potential vendors and figuring out a game plan for implementation.

The good news for you is that Alloy recently published all about this in the Tell-All Guide to Buying Software (in an emerging category). In this post, we’ll define what an emerging category is, how to choose your top picks in such a category, highlight the biggest kicker, and end with some roadblocks or gotchas to look out for on your buyer’s journey. Here’s how to buy new software.

What is an emerging category?

An emerging software category is one that is in its early stages of development and takeoff. Typically, these types of categories don’t even have an industry-wide agreed-upon name, so get creative with Google searches when scoping out potential products for your shortlist. There also isn’t even usually a designated “leader” in the category either, like how almost everyone uses “Google” interchangeably with the word “search” now, but it’s only been the most popular search engine for about 10 years (and the world wide web has been around for 25).

Because an emerging category is so nascent, there typically isn’t a lot of analysis of its market. This means that you as a buyer kind of become the analysis. When evaluating software, even before sitting down with a vendor, see if you can identify products’ competitors, any budding category leaders, and the requirements it needs to be considered whatever software solution you’re evaluating.

How to choose your top picks

According to our 2020 B2B Buying Disconnect Report, the average buyer consults 5.1 different sources of information to make a purchase decision, so you should, too! Especially in an emerging category. Most buyers are spending much of their process doing anonymous research, focusing on information they can get independent of vendors, without filling out a lead form. However, it’s important to keep track of just everything you need to know about a product when doing your evaluations.

The Tell-All Guide includes a checklist of important considerations to make for products ranging from service costs and pricing model to implementation timeframe and product roadmap. These considerations will help you identify product strengths and weaknesses, and even identify which aspects of a software are more crucial to have than others. The main categories of considerations are listed below, but there are many more nuanced factors you can read about in the guide.

 Key considerations

  • Performance and innovation
  • Time-to-value and customer success
  • Total cost of ownership
  • Customers
  • Team and stability

Great resources for your research are third-party reports, communities/forums, customer reviews, and product demos. Remember not to do this alone. Adventures are best embarked with a team, so make sure to get multiple stakeholders (like people who would be using the software most importantly), to help you with your search. This will not only help you divvy up the work involved in researching software, but provide you with teammates who will be able to hold vendors accountable for answering the tough questions and displaying results. 

A word of caution

The truth of the matter is, when it comes to emerging software categories, the block is hot. Without a rich history of customer feedback, strongly adopted changes, and even failed trends from which to learn and avoid, it’s easy to get lost in the mire if this really is your first time at the rodeo.

One of the best things you can do for your team or organization is to know when to call it quits. Don’t let a sunk cost fallacy force you to invest in a software that you realized wasn’t necessarily needed after all, definitely didn’t solve your problems, or fit your unique use case.

In general, you should be on the lookout for the following emerging software traps:

Blackbox technology: Avoid vendors who aren’t transparent and seemingly can do everything and anything, but can’t share details of the very architecture or technology powering the tool you’re checking out

Unhappy customers: Listen to their customers. Especially customers like you. If it seems like organizations similar to yours in terms of both industry, size, and the like, you may want to step back and reassess products that you were initially thrilled about.

Nickel-and-diming: We’re not saying software needs to be cheap, but if you’re potentially being charged per feature, for capabilities that you absolutely needed, it’s not the software for you. You shouldn’t have to pay-to-play for basic functions. 

Pushy salespeople: You probably already know about this one. No one wants to feel pressured, or even stalked (hello unsolicited LinkedIn messages) when they’re on the market for software. No one knows your needs better than you, so be wary of sales teams that seem like they want to pressure you into quickly signing the dotted line. There’s a difference between persistent and even eager, and not letting potential buyers do their due diligence before choosing a product.

Too-good-to-be-true claims: You definitely know about this one. Listen, as much as we love product checklists and integration trackers, there is never going to be perfect software. Even if a software completely fits your needs, you’ll quickly identify room for improvement. You want a tool that gets the job done and gets the job done well, not a goose that lays a golden egg.

All in all, buying software in a new category is incredibly rewarding. If you do find that magic tool you’ve been waiting for to take your business objectives to the next level, you’ll be the talk of your company. Not only are customer reviews like the ones on TrustRadius always going to be a great starting point and grounding resource, but a great tip we got from Alloy was also to check out Glassdoor reviews from employees (both former and current) for the vendors you’re considering. It’s a great way to get perspective from the very people developing the software you’re benchmarking. Happy hunting!