Free trials are the fun part of the software selection process — if you manage it well. Unless there is only one software program that you think will work for your organization, you should be trialing 2-3 competing software packages against one another. Excluding custom-made software, if you are interested in something that doesn’t come with a free trial, you may want to avoid it altogether unless it is something that is tried and true.
Your trials should be built on the groundwork you laid in Part 1 of the series. You should have a defined process in place and know what you want out of any software you will be using. You should make a matrix at this point with all your requirements down the left-hand side of the grid and all your trial software along the top. Organize your requirements in priority order from the top of the column to the bottom and highlight the ones that are mandatory for your organization. These are the bellwethers for possible disqualification for a piece of software. You should also do this if you are only trialing only one piece of software as well.
Time is your enemy with free trials. We have all gotten to day 29 of a 30-day free trial and realized we’ve hardly looked at the software before we’re forced to cram in a rushed testing session. You have two choices when doing the free trial time management:
- Test the free trials one at a time (in series)
- Test the free trials at the same time (in parallel)
While both options are possible, it is our opinion that the second option is better. It requires more time in a shorter period, but you may find that some of the software you’re reviewing does things that you really like that you’d like to add to your requirements list. If you do the trials in series and you find that functionality in the last piece of software you trial, you may have to go back and re-review the others.
Schedule a set amount of time each day to make progress on your list. Work through the list starting with your non-negotiable items until you’ve completed the trials. Make sure you note if you are dealing with mixed length trials, of course. Trials can range from 7 to 30 days in range and unfortunately, you are constrained by the shortest one.
What happens if the trial yields no good candidates? The first thing to do, is make sure you’ve exhausted your search. The second thing to look at is whether you were looking for too much in a piece of software. Can the job be done best by two or three pieces of software that communicate together via API as we talked about in Part 5. If neither of those two things yield anything, then it is possible that you should look at custom software.
Remember to have fun with your free trials. Include your team and make sure to get their feedback while doing the trials, so that you have their buy-in on the end solution. Software is designed to help your organization be more efficient — so, if you don’t find something that meets your needs, keep looking until you find something that fits your organization like a glove.