Evaluating software vendor options is a regular part of an IT manager’s job. The most important part of this job is defining your needs as clearly as you can and quantifying your buying criteria before you begin comparing. Once you determine your software needs and what you require from a vendor, then the process becomes a simple matter of elimination.

I’ve developed a tool that helps you do this first important step. Download this spreadsheet to help you define your buying criteria and to collect objective data from each vendor.

Given the same or equal functionality, a software choice may come down to cost. Or maybe you anticipate a heavy support need so you want to ensure the vendor can adequately support the application.

You may want to select a vendor that has research and development capability and is committed to enhancing the application and providing release upgrades every year. This is especially true if you are selecting an application that addresses an environment that constantly changes, such as payroll tax laws, healthcare billing standards, and so on.

After you define the buying criteria, rank them in order of importance. You may also want to list criteria that qualify as strong “buying influences” but that are not necessarily required. Now, you are ready to start collecting information about each vendor’s capabilities to meet your buying criteria.

List all criteria that are important for you to consider, especially information that pertains to your defined buying criteria. In some applications, there may be only two or three functionality features you consider absolutely important. In other applications, you may have a dozen or more.

Realize that no two applications are the same, so—to some extent—you’re potentially comparing apples and oranges. Ultimately, you will need to purchase the application that best meets your needs in a cost-effective manner and that will be supported to the extent that you need support.

Price will obviously need to be considered, but it is not always the driver. An application that costs considerably more than competitive offerings may be an exceptional value if it contains additional functionality or features that significantly improve your company’s productivity or reduces costs. One key evaluation may be to look at the overall return on investment (ROI) for each software solution.

Try to look at each vendor offering as objectively as possible. Let your buying criteria drive your selection based upon how each vendor stacks up. Use your business judgment to weigh each vendor’s strengths and weaknesses to determine which set of capabilities match up best for your given situation.

By using our software comparison download, you will be able to see all of your criteria laid out alongside software product features, which will help you make the best decision possible.

Mike Sisco is the CEO of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company. For more of Mike’s insight, take a look at his IT Manager Development Series.