Your Software Buying Guide For Cutting Through Software Vendor Marketing Jargon

By: Toby Cox - Guest Contributor on January 16, 2023

When buying new software for your business, you’re not only looking for your perfect software match (i.e., the platform that will fit your business’s needs and achieve whatever goal you have in mind). You’re also looking for your perfect software vendor match (i.e., the vendor that will work with your business and give your team the ongoing support it needs).

Your first impression of a vendor is its website. Does the vendor use clear language or language that sounds potentially tricky? Can you understand what the vendor is saying with 100% certainty, or is there ambiguity?

Nearly every company will use some kind of marketing jargon—it’s not an automatic red flag. But while some of this jargon will be honest and well-intentioned, others might be sweeping promises the vendor won’t be able to keep.

If you’re part of your business’s taskforce for finding new software to address a specific challenge, then you’re going to want to pay close attention to these things. You’ll also want to pay attention to platform details, such as software features, price, how it integrates with other systems you use, and data security plans.

In this guide, we will highlight common marketing phrases and critical questions you can ask to make sure you understand what you would be getting your business into before you sign any contracts.

4 questions to ask about common software vendor promises

Vendor websites can be full of big claims, which can make your hunt for software even more confusing. If you don’t ask the right questions to clear up this confusion, you could be misled into investing in a bad software match. Worst case scenario: You overspend on a software platform, buying features your business doesn’t need or that don’t address the challenge you were trying to address. In other words, you end up wasting time and money on a platform that doesn’t work.

This scenario, however, can be avoided. Here are some questions to ask about promises you might see on a vendor website. Don’t leave it up to chance; ask the critical questions needed to gain clarity and get what you think you’re signing up for.

Availability: Ask about the vendor’s uptime track record and contingency plan for interruptions

A platform’s uptime is the amount of time the platform is available to users. For example, if a platform has an uptime of 98%, that means it is available to users 98% of the time. The higher the uptime, the fewer interruptions users experience when trying to use the system.

Potential marketing claim: “We guarantee 100% uptime!”

Reality: Vendors often offer uptime guarantees to communicate to potential buyers their reliability. Of course, a 100% uptime would be ideal and mean a user experience with no interuptions. The downside is that this is an unrealistic promise.

Even if the vendor uses the best equipment, has the most skilled employees, and does everything right, things can still happen beyond its control, such a power outage, tech malfunctions, update glitches, and simple mistakes humans are prone to making as imperfect beings. No company is immune from these events, so it is more likely that the vendor is simply not making, or not sharing, contingency plans.

Every vendor will also need to do scheduled maintenance at some point, which will make certain aspects of its platform unusable for a certain period of time.

To get to the bottom of this, ask questions about the company’s plan for unscheduled interruptions and if clients have access to uptime records. If a vendor is transparent about its uptime history and plans, it’s a good sign.

Questions to ask

  • Can I see your website’s uptime records (not just static pages) in real time?

  • Has there ever been a time when the platform was down? How long was it down, and what caused it? How did you take care of your clients?

  • What types of contingency plans are in place in the event of unscheduled interruptions? How will I be notified? How will my data be protected?

  • Do you publish a service health dashboard like Amazon Web Services [1] does?

  • How often and at what times do you perform scheduled maintenance? How long does maintenance typically last?

Pricing: Make sure you understand the vendor’s refund policy

In the software buying process, it is important to keep your budget in mind to avoid overspending. It is also important to know you can ”try on” the software and make sure it really is the perfect fit before fully investing in it. 

Potential marketing claim: “You’re protected by our 30-day, no-questions-asked refund guarantee!”

Reality: If this type of claim makes you feel more at ease, that's because that’s what it is designed to do. But refunds are not always as easy as they’re made out to be.

Some vendors may only offer the refund option if you purchase the software on an annual contract rather than a monthly subscription model. Others might offer only a partial refund that does not include fees you’ll pay for services such as installation, data migration, and training. In these cases, their promise wouldn’t be a lie, but also not the whole truth.

Whatever the case may be, ask specific questions to make sure your understanding of the vendor’s refund policy actually aligns with the actual refund policy it offers.

Questions to ask

  • Do you offer a demo or trial version? Is there a free or freemium version?

  • Does the 30-day refund guarantee apply to both monthly and annual pricing models?

  • Is there an installation fee? If yes, will that be refunded in the event we decide the platform isn’t a good fit within the 30-day timeframe?

  • Can I cancel the subscription at any time during the first month and still get a full refund?

  • Will all my data be returned or erased if I cancel my subscription? Can the data be exported to another product? If so, will this be free-of-charge?

  • Will you continue to store my company’s data or my customer’s data if we decide your platform is not a good match?

Service and support: Inquire about the vendor’s customer support model

According to Software Advice’s 2023 SMB Software Buying Trends Survey [*], 43% of respondents identified concerns over downtime and the learning curve during implementation as the main barrier to implementing new software. Perhaps you are also worried about how your team will be learning to use the system.

Potential marketing claim: “We offer 24/7 support through email, phone, and chat.”

Reality: In the early stages of implementing new software, you want a software vendor who will help you work out any hiccups, safely migrate your data, and train your team members on how to use the system. But vendor support goes beyond this stage—you also need to make sure that the vendor will be there to help answer future questions about functionality and features, adding and removing users, and working out any glitches associated with updates or human error.

Some vendors may not clearly mention whether the support they offer is free or not. Others may offer free support through some mediums, but not all mediums.

It is important to check with the vendor about its customer support services. Never assume something is free.

Questions to ask

  • Is 24/7 support included in the subscription cost or paid separately?

  • What is your primary customer support model: phone, ticket-only, email or chat? Are all of these mediums available free-of-charge 24/7?

  • Do I have to pay a premium for phone support?

  • What is the response time for email?

  • Will I have a dedicated account manager or support engineer?

  • What is the process and cost associated with adding or removing users?

  • What is the training process like?

Features offered: Confirm scalability claims

Your business is dynamic—you likely have a business growth plan for three, five, or 10 years out—so it makes sense if you want a dynamic software to match.

But how your own business will grow, how fast, and what you’ll need then versus now can be tricky even for you to predict, let alone a software vendor.

Potential marketing claim: “Our solution is highly scalable. It’s designed to grow with your business.”

Reality: Scalability cannot be predicted because your business’s specific needs at different stages cannot be fully predicted. Many software vendors make the claim that their software will scale to match the needs of a customer’s growing business.

Unless you’re looking for super industry-specific software, such as dental imaging software, construction software, or assisted living software, it is likely that the vendor services businesses in a wide array of industries. Businesses in different industries, or even within the same industry, do not experience growth in the same way. Scalability needs are also not uniform.

Even if a vendor is highly scalable, it is unlikely this will be the case for every business in every industry that uses their platform.

Some vendors may also not have the number of servers nor the infrastructure needed to truly support these claims.

Before talking to the vendor directly, you can research how their scalability claims hold up in customer reviews. Pay extra close attention to reviews that are both verified and written by someone in the same industry as your business.

It is also important to keep in mind that while scalability is ideal, it is most important to invest in a software platform that meets your business’s needs right now. It might be tempting to go with a system that your business can “grow into,” but this can lead to usability issues, such as overly complicated processes and wasted money on features that are unusable.

Questions to ask

  • How can I measure your solution’s scalability? What metrics do you offer to support your claims?

  • What should a business within my industry consider in terms of scalability?

  • What is your integration strategy for the next five years to support your scalability plans?

  • How many of my existing software tools do you integrate with? Will integrations with all of my existing tools be seamless?

Opt for clarity over ambiguity

Whether you just started looking for new software or you’re ready to schedule demos, you’ve already started to interact with vendors. You may have already seen some of the marketing claims we discussed in this article.

If you’re considering a vendor that guarantees 100% uptime, a 30-day money-back guarantee, or long term scalability, it doesn’t mean they’re lying to you or that you should scratch them off your list of contenders. It simply means you should ask more questions to make sure you understand what they are promising.

The marketing jargon and claims you see on vendor websites may very well be well-intentioned and honest. But like with most things, if it sounds too good to be true, it doesn’t hurt to verify.

Pose critical questions to vendors to make sure you’re all on the same page and to avoid confusion and disappointment later on.

If you are shopping for software and need a helping hand, we’re here to help.

  • Check out our home page. You can browse software categories, compare platforms, and  sort the options by market, price, and business size to narrow down your options. Find out which software vendors offer free versions and read verified reviews from real users.

  • Talk to one of our (human) software advisors. It’s fast, free, and you’ll leave the conversation with a shortlist of software options. Click here to access our advisor chat line.

Survey methodology

[*] Software Advice’s 2023 SMB Software Buying Trends Survey was conducted online from August 2022 to October 2022 among 504 respondents from the U.S., and from SMBs with revenue less than $1 billion and two to 999 employees. Respondents were screened for their involvement in software purchasing decisions and those who were a leader or member of the group or had significant influence qualified for the study.