I’m a big fan of the Application Service Provider (ASP) model for obtaining access to powerful software for use in businesses large and small. In case you’re not familiar with the term, Application Service Providers are third-party organizations that ‘rent’ online access to software to clients that they manage and host on their behalf.
Examples of solutions relevant to Internet marketers that I’ve used (among others) include www.campaigner.com (for email marketing), www.salesforce.com (for CRM), and www.parachat.com (for chat).
There’s a ‘hosted software’ solution for just about anything you might want to do these days. But how do you ensure you are choosing the right one?
If you’re an Internet marketer considering a ‘hosted software’ solution for yourself or your clients, here are 10 essential questions you must ask the software vendor before you sign on the dotted line.
# If the software will be sending automated emails to your customers, what has the ASP done to ensure that their outbound email server does not get blacklisted?
# What sort of editorial control do you have over these emails? Can you edit every single element, such as the subject line and “from” fields, or merely the body copy?
# What sort of design control do you have over Web pages generated by the software? Is “customization” limited to including a logo or do you have full access and control over the entire page layout?
# If the software generates Web pages, are they search engine friendly? How much control, if any, do you have over the page title and meta information?
# If you plan to serve a Canadian market, and the software is from the United States or elsewhere, can the language be ‘Canadian-ized’ so that, for instance, colour is spelled with a “u”?
# What is the uptime of the server that the software sits on? How fast is this server’s connection to the Internet? And what happens if the server crashes?
# If the software is generating or storing a database for you, how and how often is this critical asset verified and backed up?
# What kind of instructions are available to you and your team to get the most out of the software? Is there a detailed manual or online tutorial section for you to refer to? Training? Samples and templates?
# What kind of support will be available to you? Is it just email support or can you actually phone and speak to a … gasp… live person?
# What sort of guarantee will you be provided with? Can you test drive the software for 30 days, which is about how long it might take (at least) to know for sure if it will do the trick, or do you have to commit for a year right from the beginning?
The answers to these and other questions will help you decide if a specific ‘hosted software’ solution is the right choice for you. Good luck!