by Kevin Iwamoto | March 22, 2017

Kevin IwamotoHow many times have you heard or seen strategic meetings management and/or event software and technology referred to as a "tool"? For me it's daily and, frankly, it really grates on me like nails on a chalkboard. Many of you know I've been blessed with a long and diversified career in the business-travel and meetings-events industries, most recently in the software-technology side of the ecosystem.

Currently, I've seen too many references to meetings and events software and technology as tools in RFPs, presentations, quarterly and annual reviews, and even other blogs. Let's all agree to try from today forward to appropriately refer to SMM and event technology as either solutions or tools. There is a big difference, and by not using the correct terminology, you could very easily and unintentionally be perceived as a neophyte or novice by anyone with a background and experience in technology.

The distinct definitions between a tool and a solution were initially brought to my attention by the CEO of Lenos, Patti Tackeff. She followed up our discussion by sending me a link to this excellent blog post by Matthew Gratt of Zapier.

In his blog post, Matthew gives a great example of the difference between a tool and a solution using a shed. I won't spoil his analogy, so read it directly from his blog link above. OK, so what's the big deal and difference, you're probably asking yourself.

At a high level, a tool is generally inexpensive, simple and easy to use, and the adage, "you get what you pay for," applies. It's turnkey, with minimal to zero training, and it's totally incumbent on the purchaser to make it work for their company. You may get some level of integration options, but generally it will get the basic job done, nothing more and nothing less. A tool is not scalable or has only a limited capacity to scale to the program needs and deliverables. A great analogy would be shoveling snow with a shovel or using a snowplow.

A solution, on the other hand, is not cheap (and it shouldn't be, so buyer beware if you get a price that's too good to be true). It's designed to resolve complex issues and challenges. It's not overly simple and intuitive to use, there's a lot of functionality and capabilities that are available either in a bundle or modular offering, and there's a good degree of built-in training, account-management support and other expertise available. A solution is designed for the enterprise; it automates manual processes increasing productivity; and it is meant to be used across all business verticals, departments and globally. It's designed for scalability at any given point of the enterprise-deployment process. Solutions are meant to help transform the way a company manages its business and employees.

There are many cases where companies have purchased tools to demonstrate proof of concept (like SMM), then upgraded into an enterprise solution. There are also cases when a tool developed into a solution. Regardless of the scenario, let's start to refer to the technology appropriately, instead lumping all SMM and events technology into one bucket and calling them tools.

From a sourcing perspective, for those buyers who are conducting an RFI, RFP or RFQ for SMM technology, it's critically important to compare apples with apples – in this case, tools with tools, and solutions with solutions. Don't lump your pool of suppliers into the same bucket and expect to see the same pricing -- you won't. You're either buying a tool or you're buying a solution. Way too often I see crazy comparisons and efforts to challenge and negotiate software technology suppliers to provide solution pricing at the tool pricing level. Level-set the supplier base you are sourcing and source them in the right category for a more apples-to-apples pricing comparison. To expect a solution provider to provide their enterprise-based product at a basic tool pricing level is not only unfair to the supplier base, it sets the buyer up for failure. In my global corporate procurement career, I learned very early that you do get what you pay for, so exercise better sourcing criteria that doesn't weigh too heavily on price.

Matthew Gratt's blog capsulized it best and succinctly: "Tools deliver value, solutions deliver business-process change." Hopefully you are all now fully educated on the correct terminology and usage for both words. What are you using for your SMM program? Hopefully you're using a solution; if you're using a tool, you will eventually outgrow that and will need a solution.

Kevin Iwamoto is senior consultant at GoldSpring Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinIwamoto. His book, Your Personal Brand: Your Power Tool to Build Career Integrity, is available from Amazon (including a Kindle version), as well as from CreateSpace.