Web Development

Researching How to Shop for Business Software

I’m looking for feedback/input on this piece about how to shop for business software or enterprise software. I wrote this for my column, but my editor asked me to broaden it. The software directory referenced below represents one potentially useful tool, but what other sources do you turn to when evaluating these products? I’m particularly looking for tools and techniques for those who can’t afford an account with one of the high-end IT research firms like Gartner.

Shopping Around for Business Software
Software Directory CEO Cites ‘Biggest Mistakes,’ Invites Reviews

By David F. Carr

Capterra CEO Michael Ortner sees a few common mistakes with how businesses, particularly small to midsize ones, select enterprise software.

Writing in response to one of my recent columns (A Software Maven Picks Her Tools), he argued people also need to know how not to pick software. Some of the mistakes he cites:

1) Limiting your choices to the first few products you come across. The software industry is insanely competitive and there are usually dozens, if not hundreds, of choices for virtually any kind of software.

2) Deciding upon requirements too quickly. You and your company need to give serious thought to what your needs AND wants are both now AND a year from now. The end users should give the majority of the input for the purchase.

3) Underestimating your software budget. So many people are looking for the absolute cheapest product when they may have a lot to gain in the grand scheme of things by spending just a little bit more up front.

4) Maintaining your same business processes. Now that you are automating through software, there are probably lots of things you are doing that you should either stop doing or do very differently. Every activity should be questioned.

Now, you could say Ortner has a vested interest in getting you to spend more time researching your software options, as he is in the business of providing tools to help you do that research. Although I didn’t realize it when I first spoke with Ortner, Capterra also supplies the data for the software finder on (

“I’m basing my list of user mistakes, #1, on user behavior,” Ortner says. After 10 years in business, he has spent a lot of time studying how many listings visitors to the website click on when they are exploring a product category. The website also allows visitors to submit a request for information with their requirements to multiple software makers in a given category, and since one of the fields on that form is “budget,” he says he has a good idea of how often buyers are “lowballing on price.”

A former management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ortner also worked in corporate IT at J.P. Morgan. He came up with the idea for Capterra during a brief stint at the Internet firm Digex, working on software partnerships. “That really opened my eyes to what a huge and fragmented market enterprise software was. Prior to that, I only had experience with the big guys,” he said, referring to the likes of SAP and Oracle. “But I saw that was only the tip of the iceberg.”

The business model is this: Capterra provides free listings to software publishers and makes money by selling enhanced listings – not ads per se, but listings that get top placement with upgrades available for displaying the company logo or a link to a demo page.

The objective editorial content on the site comes in the form of user-generated reviews, so that the site functions as a sort of Angie’s List or Yelp for enterprise software. Or, at least, it could if there were more of those reviews, particularly critical ones.

Ortner says most of the reviews come from the software makers encouraging their customers to post something, and therefore most of the reviews are positive. I imagine some of them are spurred on by a discount at license renewal time or free drinks at the user’s conference, too (although that’s probably also true of published case studies, including some of the ones I’ve reported on). Still, it does show the software can boast some happy customers who are willing to put their name behind a product endorsement.
As for negative reviews, Ortner says he encourages the software companies to take them as an opportunity to show how well they respond to criticism.

“That was a concern for us in the beginning – what if we really alienate our biggest customer? But the way I’ve dealt with it is that no anonymous reviews are allowed – you have to give your name and your company. And if the vendor wants to, they can respond to any review, publicly or privately, to say, ‘You know, that was a valid concern but we’re addressing that’ or ‘That was true a year ago, but not in the latest version.’”

Capterra’s policy is that the only reasons for removing a review Is when it contains slanders or profanity, or where the software maker can demonstrate that the reviewer was never a customer.

“We did have an instance about two months ago where there was a very negative review, and because we thought it contained useful information we wanted to keep it – even though the vendor was shouting for us to take it down. But it did contain some profanity and name calling. So in that case, we reached out to the buyer and said, ‘We’d like to keep this, but you need to clean it up.’ Unfortunately, they refused to do it. They said, ‘These guys are bastards, and this is our review.’ They refused to change it, so we had to remove it. But we actually wanted the review to stay because we believed it was a useful negative review.”

To which I say, let’s take the man at his word. If you’ve had a negative experience with your business software package, do your peers a favor and post a warning to them on this site. Just be polite about it. And put in a good word for the software that’s proven its worth to your business, too.

David F. Carr is Forbes’ columnist on technology for small to midsize businesses. Contact him at

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