12 Questions to Consider Before Buying a Communications and Task Management Solution

How to buy a platform that drives excellent internal communication

Retail Communications
September 12, 2019

Maintaining efficient communication between headquarters and your stores is likely a top priority for most retailers. If you’re ready to move away from antiquated and inefficient forms of communication and harness the power of a communications and task management solution built just for retailers, this guide is for you.

1. What are the benefits of a communications and task management solution?

That depends on why your organization is looking for one. For many retailers, it’s because they need to organize all of their messaging in one place.

If that’s your primary motivation, you need a powerful communications and task management solution that features all of the following:

  • Easy adoption for everyone from HQ to store teams
  • Enterprise-level capabilities
  • Efficient and speedy communication
  • A system that is scalable, ready to grow right along with your organization
  • Top-of-the-line security
  • Multi-language support

2. Are there any downsides to a retail SaaS platform?

As with any big change, consider the potential downsides. If you’re currently married to a suite or collection of communication tools, it might take some time (and money) to integrate the new platform with your old tools. Or, if you plan to drop your current tools altogether, everybody who uses the new tools will need training. You’ll also want to consider the exit costs, if any, of switching to a new platform. Figure out what that looks like for each solution early in your search; it can save a lot of heartache down the road.

It’s also worth mentioning that you’ll be depending on your vendor’s security team, at least in part, for the protection of your data and infrastructure. Moreover, you also have to consider your vendor’s vendors, because a vulnerability anywhere up- or downstream is your vulnerability, too. If the solution you’re considering can’t show you proof of their vendors’ security, that’s a red flag.

3. What about pricing?

Look for a store comms platform with a pricing model that’s flexible and can grow with the demands of your business. 

Some SaaS platforms, for example, scale their pricing based on the total number of stores or users, while others offer a one-size-fits-all pricing structure. Others price by feature, so that you pay only for those features you need. It’s important to choose a tool with a pricing model that’s aligned with your business’s operations and growth plans.

4. Does your vendor understand retail?

There are several SaaS communication tools in the marketplace, but not all of them are made with the complexities of retail in mind. Without that, you risk getting a solution that doesn’t quite solves your challenges and, in the process, forces you to change your behavior to suit the product -- rather than the other way around. 

How well does your potential platform developer understand the basic tenets of the retail process? For example, are they well versed on the challenges of clearly communicating with store teams that may be separated by geography, language, and time zones? And do they understand what it takes to get store teams to complete their assigned tasks? Consider these questions before giving any retail SaaS platform the green light.

5. Can you segment your audience?

It’s obvious that not all messages are meant for all employees, so it’s crucial that your prospective communications platform provides a way for you to appropriately segment and target message recipients. Determine how finely you can tune that platform’s targeting capabilities -- i.e. by location, time zone, store type (e.g., prototype, remodel, outlet), store number, multi-unit manager, weather, etc. Some retailers even have distribution lists for stores subject to certain regulations, such as California’s many environmental laws.

If you often run different pilots and tests with select store groups, it’s also worth asking about custom or ad-hoc distribution lists: specifically, how easy are they to generate, and does it cost extra to create them?

6. How does the store comms platform handle message scheduling?

You want a tool that gives you control over when and how messages are sent to the stores. Some brands send messages throughout the day, while others batch them and send all messages at once. Only move forward with a provider that lets you schedule messages according to your preferences -- in a way that promotes employee engagement and helps increase store productivity.

7. Can you track message open and task completion rates?

One reason so many retailers struggle with task execution is that messages seem to disappear down a black hole. The store comms team can show when they were sent, but nobody has visibility into whether the messages were even opened, must less whether they were read and the tasks completed. The platform that you purchase should give you complete insight into each message’s journey after it leaves HQ: who opened it, who didn’t, whether the task was completed, etc. 

These basic KPIs not only drive accountability at the store level, but also foster a culture of continuous improvement. By restoring line of sight to the business, it becomes much easier for your brand to test new initiatives quickly -- similar to the way you can online. Likewise, if you know which messages are (and aren’t) resonating, you’ll be able to learn and iterate so that your communications strategy becomes even more effective over time.

8. Is the platform speedy and mobile-friendly?

Since speed and mobility are crucial considerations for any retailer, it’s important to choose a platform that won’t limit your team’s productivity. A mobile-friendly store comms platform will put the power of team and store-to-store communication in your employees’ hands, enabling them to leverage it from the sales floor, the loading dock, or any other approved area. 

Even if you don’t provide your employees with mobile devices (or don’t yet have a BYOD policy in place), it’s a good idea to implement a mobile-friendly platform anyway, so the technology is ready and waiting when your hardware and/or employee policies evolve. 

9. How are software updates handled?

Technology moves quickly, and your store comms platform needs to keep up. That’s why one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a solution is how it improves over time. Since past behavior predicts future behavior, take a look at the vendor’s changelog to learn about the frequency of updates. If a vendor never updates its software, you could end up with a platform that’s inefficient - or worse, susceptible to security threats.

On the other hand, if your vendor frequently updates features without giving you a proper heads up, your team can quickly lose track of key functionality and timelines. Think about it: the last thing you need is a technology update throwing a wrench in your critical Black Friday communications. That’s why it’s important to look for a vendor that handles updates in a way that fits your business needs.

10. How secure is the system?

With data breaches and privacy issues making headlines with increasing frequency, your vendor’s security practices and policies should be a top concern. Make sure any vendor you’re considering for your store comms platform is fully compliant with all of the latest security and data privacy standards. 

It's always best to work with a retail SaaS system supplier that is quick to show proof that they understand and have solutions for security concerns. Also, ask your potential vendor about how frequently they ask users to change their passwords and how quickly they install security patch updates when they’re released. SaaS security is (and should be) one of the top concerns for any business, so do your homework!

11. What does IT think?

They’ll likely have their own vetting process, but it’ll be easier and faster if you narrow your list to your top two or three choices first. 

Once you turn your top choices over to IT, they’ll take a close look at several factors. One thing they’ll examine closely is security, since the average cost of a data breach is expected to top $150 million in 2020. Then there’s the issue of data management. Organizations are collecting and storing data in an increasing number of places. Much of it is unstructured data -- like the emails you send to stores. 

Your IT team will want to make sure the platform you choose allows them to map your messages’ place in the organization’s overall data hierarchy. Not only does this provide more information to the organization’s AI and machine learning tools, knowing where data is housed can be a critical part of regulatory compliance.

12. Will your vendor help with the rollout and training?

Many people naturally push back against change, resisting even those changes that will make their jobs easier once they finish the transition. How much assistance will your prospective vendor provide with rollout and training? Look for a vendor that will partner with you to communicate the change before the rollout, learn about your current processes (so they’ll understand how big a change employees will be facing), help with change management, and train your team during and after the rollout to ensure that your transition is as smooth and delightful as possible.

Get up to speed with Retail Zipline

Retail Zipline was designed by retail, for retail, so brands like yours can improve store execution and engagement in an intelligent, state-of-the-art way. Read more on our blog, or, better yet, sign up for a demo so we can show you how Retail Zipline can help you transform your communications the way LEGO, Lush, and Casper already have.