If I told you that there are five actions that you can take to significantly improve the likelihood of a successful enterprise software implementation before you even sign the contract, would you do them? Actions that will improve your business relationships, build excitement for your project and simplify your communication? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

The best practices related to selecting an enterprise software package should come as no surprise. Identify your requirements before you begin. Develop a short list of vendors that have the capabilities that you need. Score the vendors and evaluate them against one another. And so on.

Most companies have gone through this selection process at least a handful of times, for both small and large software evaluations. They evaluate vendors, negotiate a contract and begin to plan their implementation. At some point they recognize that they will need to do some end-user training, and should probably let the users and stakeholders know what is coming. What they don’t recognize is they are already playing catch-up, before the implementation has even begun.

Effective organizational change management begins well before your software implementation begins. Applying five key change principles to your selection process will increase the likelihood of a successful project, before the software is even selected.

  1. Identify your key influencers and engage them in the process

It is easy to identify people within your organization who have influence based on their title. What is not so easy, however, is to identify informal influencers whose influence transcends their organizational level. These informal influencers will play a key role in the success of your long-term software implementation, as their opinion will heavily influence that of their peers.

Spend time up front to identify these influencers. Bring them on to your project team, and engage them at each key step in the selection process – defining requirements, participating in demonstrations and evaluating vendors. Ensure that their voice is heard and work to resolve their concerns.

  1. Ensure that your key leaders play a strong, visible role

The engagement (or lack of engagement) of your key leaders in the software selection process sends a strong sign to the organization about the importance of the project. Ensure that your senior leaders play a highly visible role in the selection process from start to finish, contributing to requirements, asking questions and showing support for the process. Keep them well briefed on the selection process so that they can answer questions that come up from their teams.

  1. Communicate early, and communicate often

It is often said that a message needs to be repeated seven times before it is truly heard. Begin to build awareness of the software selection and the need for change before the project even begins. Communicate at key points in the process – project kickoff, as the vendor list is refined and most importantly, once a vendor is selected. Encourage consistency in word of mouth communications by providing influencers and team members with answers to questions their teams and peers may ask about the process and project. 

  1. Evaluate the cultural fit of your prospective vendors

 Software selection is often a quantitative process where vendors are scored based on how well their functionality meets the business needs. Equally as important is the cultural fit of the vendor with your organization. Pay attention to the vendor’s approach and style throughout the process.  How well do they engage your team? Are they open and receptive to questions? What is the emotional response of your team after their interactions?

  1. Recognize and reward the contribution of your team 

Software selections often take a long time and require a significant time commitment from your team. Employees spend many hours in vendor demos while work piles up on their desks. Find opportunities throughout the process to recognize this time contribution, and reward it. The size of the reward isn’t important – it may be as simple as a thank you note from a key leadership team member, or as significant as a bonus or day off.

It is not uncommon to want to power through the software selection as quickly as possible so that you can get to the “real work” of the implementation. Resist this temptation. Investing the time up front to think through the change management of your software selection before it even begins will pay dividends in your long-term implementation.