How to Evaluate
Dealer Management Systems
by Laurn Rice, VP & General Manager, ADP Lightspeed
Most marine dealers have
little, if any, experience managing a software evaluation
and implementation process.
So how can you be expected
to accurately evaluate dozens
of alternatives (all of which
promise the same dazzling
benefits) while juggling a
busy day-to-day schedule?
This article brings together the best
ideas from thousands of dealers
in multiple industries to help you
effectively choose and implement a
software solution.
Many dealers think choosing a
dealer management system is
simply a process of considering
reputation, basic functionality, and
cost. While those three items are
a good start, there are at least 10
criteria dealers should consider
when selecting software. Each of
these criteria should be thoroughly
evaluated before making a final
level system that lacks advanced integration. A sales deal, for example,
in one system may have several
hundred feature sets while another
system may offer half the functionality.
Implementing a dealer management system is a significant investment of time, money, and effort at
multiple levels within the dealership. Dealers who are not fully committed to the effort will fail. One
best-practice is to create a crossfunctional team—including the
Dealer Principal/General Manager,
department managers, and the accountant—to evaluate and choose
a solution. Including department
managers in the evaluation process
will promote buy-in to the final
decision, and will go a long way
toward successful adoption.
Second, you should determine
what’s most important to the
dealership. In some dealerships,
for example, a strong customized
reporting package is most important but for others it may be the
rental module. Does the software
under review offer the breadth and
depth of functionality needed for
the dealership? Is the user interface
clean and intuitive to make training
easier? Is every module integrated
to eliminate the need for re-keying
information? Does it increase efficiency across the dealership?
Here are 10 criteria to consider:
1. Functionality
You should start by creating a requirements document that details
the functionality, by department,
that is required for the type of
dealership. Smaller dealers often
require less depth of functionality
while larger dealers will quickly
become frustrated with an entry-
2. Implementation
Even with the best software, a poor
implementation process can ruin
the chance for success. Software
vendors should clearly outline how
the implementation process is
organized, including key dates and
responsibilities. Can the vendor
provide a step-by-step checklist
for implementation? Does the
vendor have enough resources to
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implement the system in a timely
manner? How experienced is the
implementation team?
3. Training
Good dealer management systems
are not of the plug-and-play variety; they require thorough training to understand the advanced
functionality and sophisticated
processes that need to happen to
maintain proper checks and balances. You need to create a plan for
initial and ongoing training. How
much training is recommended by
the vendor? What training and support programs are offered (onsite,
classroom, computer-based, etc.)?
At what cost? How many trainers
does the vendor have on staff?
What is their background?
4. Support
What types of support are available? Toll-free? Web-based? Email?
How large is the customer support
staff? What areas of expertise are
covered (i.e. accounting, parts,
hardware)? Does the vendor offer
support hours that adequately
meet business hours? When calling
support, is live staff immediately
available? What is the average hold
time? What about after-hours support?
5. Services
Vendors should offer a variety of
services that complement the software, such as advanced training,
consulting, data analysis, or office
forms and supplies. What other
services does the vendor offer?
Will the vendor help the dealer
get a complete picture of the
dealership’s performance? Can the
vendor help you compare your performance against similar dealers in
other areas? Can the vendor help
you run your business—not just
the software—more effectively?
6. Technology
The technology a vendor chooses
will have a significant effect on the
performance and stability of the
product. Why did the vendor make
the technology choices it made?
Are the technology choices cost-effective for the dealer? Is the system
platform and architecture stable?
How often does the system crash?
How quickly does it perform common commands? How up-to-date
is the technology? What databases
are supported?
7. Vendor
Because technology changes so
quickly, many dealers evaluate
software more on the merits of the
vendor than the feature set of the
software. Is the vendor financially
solvent? How long have they been
in business? What other markets
do they sell to? What share do they
own in each market? How often
does the vendor issue new releases? How many developers (full
time equivalents) are dedicated to
the product? How quickly do they
adapt to new trends?
8. Timing
Before beginning the evaluation
process, you should set a timeline
for the project, including target
dates for vendor evaluation, vendor
selection, and target completion. A
typical implementation (ordering
hardware, installation, data conversion, database configuration and
customization, and training) can
take about 90 days, depending on
the vendor. Can the vendor meet
your timeline? When is the next
software release? Is internal staff
available for the implementation
9. Compatibility
Is the vendor (salesperson, implementation, training and support
team) professional and courteous? How active are customers in
directing future functionality of the
product? How well does the vendor listen to its customers? Is the
dealership ready and committed
to make the required changes? Do
they work with the best partners in
the industry?
10. Cost
The total cost of implementation
typically includes fees for software,
hardware, database configuration,
maintenance, software support,
hardware support, and training.
You should weigh the total cost of
each vendor, not just the sticker
price, compared to the value they
deliver in the categories listed
above. You should also prepare for
some short-term loss of productivity while employees become
accustomed to new software, and
in many cases new processes. How
will the software make the dealership more profitable over time? Is
there a budget for upgrades and
additional users as the dealership
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Salt Lake City, UT 84116