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How to recommend the right apps for your clients

You’ve successfully signed on a new client, sold them on ‘the cloud’, and got them set up on the best cloud accounting software. But something extra is needed… you need to help them tie in their business process with their accounting, and toss out their old, unplugged approach.

“Not to worry,” you think, as you hop on to the various App Marketplaces! But suddenly, you’re greeted with over 500 app options, and you have no idea where to start! What a headache!

The sheer volume of options does make the job of recommending a apps and add-ons a little less cut-and-dry than it used to be. You need a way to find the best-fit solution for the business at hand, without spending days investigating. You only have a limited amount of time, but you also don’t want to accidentally miss a fantastic solution. You’ll also have other clients with different situations in the future.

Sure, you could just use the app with the biggest marketing budget - but that doesn’t mean they’re the best product by any stretch!

Start by identifying your client’s key problems

This is critical in being able to efficiently search the available apps for the right fit. For example, jumping straight to ‘timesheet add-on’ is probably too broad of a search. What kind of timesheets? Something like MinuteDock is a great fit for professional services firms, contractors or freelancers who need to generate invoices. But that’s an entirely different category to something like ZoomShift which is great for hourly employees needing to be scheduled and clock in & out of their shifts. These key distinctions are usually included in the description of each marketplace - making it easy to cross out or flag potential options at a glance.

Keep it simple if you can

It’s also worthwhile taking a step back and asking if adding another piece of software to the mix is really necessary. Could a simple Excel or Google spreadsheet suffice? Sometimes a little pivot table magic can go a long way. Or, can the business process be adjusted slightly from what is currently being done to simplify or fit in with built-in features of existing software?

The best time to implement a smarter business process is while adding new tools or workflows - this is an area where you can really add value.

Work with the business and figure out what the current day-to-day process is.

You need to have a solid understanding of the workflow to be able to quickly include or exclude products in your search. It’s also important to figure out why the business uses a particular workflow. Is any of it done as a workaround for something particular with their existing set up? Or, are there any parts that seem redundant or unnecessary?

Categorise the main problems

Keep in mind that there can often be more than one ‘problem’, which may need more than one app to solve! Going back to our timesheets example, you might break it down into: employee time-recording, budget tracking, and client invoicing. Within each category, you may want to note down some specific key requirements which you can refer back to as you’re researching.

Be careful about making a long check-list of must-haves, as this can be a warning sign that you’re being too specific about fitting a new solution in the client’s existing workflow. You’re looking for a new, smarter workflow to implement for the client - some of those previous requirements may not even be relevant anymore!

Gathering the options

With a clearer understanding of what’s actually needed, we can now look to come up with a solution.

Check with your friends or network

Has anyone investigated solutions for the same scenario before? A great place to look is on the various Xero or QuickBooks Facebook groups for partners & advisors - there is constantly great discussion on these topics.

Explore the app marketplaces

The richest source of prospects is going to be the places like the Xero App Marketplace, or QuickBooks App Store. One easy way to cut out the noise is to jump into an industry category, which each provide convenient filters for, and also allows you to further drill into different feature sets. For example, in the Professional Services industry page, you can further filter your search for specific problem categories (eg. time tracking).

Generate a list of promising candidates

Scan through the list and the descriptions in the app marketplaces - these will include keywords that match those high level categories you defined before. But don’t waste time diving into the details of trial accounts and webinars just yet. Rather, as you go through the list just open any potentially relevant apps in a new browser tab so you can refer back to them later.

Pay extra attention to the apps with reviews - they have been confident enough to ask their customers to recommend them. You can also click on the ‘reviews’ link to see the feedback in new tab. In general, the reviews on the app marketplaces are quite useful - other users have been very forthright in their feedback. It’s really valuable to see if anyone has any insight matching the type of business and problems you’re looking to solve.

Don’t forget that you can sort the add-ons by ‘newest first’. This lets you keep up to date with ones you haven’t seen before - very useful when reviewing & building on your previous research for a new client.

Scan through the marketing websites.

I know they say to never judge a book by it’s cover, but be very cautious of a software provider that puts minimal effort into making their website look nice and explain things clearly - a bad marketing user experience can often be an early indicator of badly designed app experiences.

Also keep an eye on add-ons that look like they are doing a lot more than what you’re looking for. In a perfect world, an app that does exactly what you’re after for and nothing more is ideal. Generally there will be a few extra features you may not need, but if a product is trying to be too many things to too many different types of businesses, it results in a more complicated user interface and a less streamlined workflow for the problem you’re trying to solve.

Build the short-list

As you’re doing all this, you should be building a short-list. Remember, don’t spend too much time getting into the nitty-gritty of each add-on as this is just an initial search. Ideally, you’ll come up with a handful of options that might be a good fit, having excluded out a bunch as not fitting the core requirements through checking over their marketing website, reviews, etc.

Some may look promising, but perhaps you aren’t quite sure about something in particular. This is a good chance to email the app’s support team. When doing this, remember to also give a basic explanation of the context and problems you’re trying to solve, rather than just asking if they offer a specific feature. This will help the customer support team understand what you’re trying to do - and they might even have an alternative way to achieve the same goal.

Picking the winner

If you’re lucky, there will be one clear winner. Most of the time though, you’ll have filtered your list down to a handful of promising options, but there may be a few quirks or missing things you’re not quite happy with.

Take advantage of the free trial periods

Usually you can tell pretty quickly when trialing a product if it’s going to be something that fits. When you set up a trial, make sure you connect to the other software that will be connected alongside so that you’re properly testing out the integration. Either use the live account for real-world data, or if you’re not ready for that then you can always connect something like the Xero Demo Account (which is great for testing).

If you get stuck or have questions, remember to reach out to customer support instead of instantly writing it off. Most apps have a friendly customer support team that will often go above and beyond to get everything sorted for you.

Another thing you can do here is enquire about the feature roadmap of these apps. This can give you insight their development plans, especially whether or not they’re moving in the right direction for what you’re looking for, and whether or not any key missing features may be available in the near future.

Remember to involve the business owner

There’s no harm in presenting a few options and getting their feedback on which one they like the look of most. Watching some webinars or training sessions can be very helpful. Keep an eye out pre-recorded options, as this lets you fast forward through stuff that you already know or aren’t interested in (this can turn a 45 minute webinar into a 5 minute run-through!).

At the end of the day, sometimes you may just need to take a punt and pick one. Your gut feeling can be useful here, as well as referring back to the reviews and community comments.

Helping clients find great business software and implement more efficient workflows into their business is brilliant way to bring additional value to the table. That said, there’s definitely a fair amount of work that goes into researching add-ons. Thankfully, a lot of this work is transferable across clients - and once you get a process down-pat, it can go a lot faster. Happy hunting!