For the past 20 years, my company has implemented sales, marketing, and financial software that is used by thousands of people at hundreds of our clients around the country. You probably have heard of many of the applications we resell — applications made by Intuit, Microsoft, Salesforce, and others. We’ve had some great successes and some memorable failures.

Regardless of how well these projects went, one thing has become obvious almost across the board: Most of these clients have made the same mistake.

The mistake has to do with the nature of today’s cloud-based software applications. In 2018, software is pretty mature. Thanks to social media channels that alert vendors of a widespread problem, issues are fixed faster than ever before. Because these applications are hosted by their manufacturers, rather than being spread among thousands of customer servers and locations, any new features that a company rolls out can be quickly mimicked and published by their competitors.

The cloud has enabled these same vendors to easily integrate their products with other third-party apps and to make them accessible from just about any device — whether it’s running an operating system made by Microsoft, Apple, or Google. Customization tools are widely available and an army of software developers and experts — from around the world — can now be easily deployed thanks to sites like Upwork, Guru and Fiverr.

So with all this power, all these features, all this ease of access, why do so many companies still struggle with their software investments? It’s because most of them are getting the same thing wrong about software. They’re spending their money in the wrong place. Are you?

Here’s a secret for you the next time you decide to purchase a new collaboration, customer relationship, service or financial management system: Don’t touch it. Don’t customize it. Don’t integrate it. Don’t change it. Don’t hire developers. Don’t waste your money on database experts. Avoid doing all of this and you’ll avoid making the mistake.

Instead, take all of that design, implementation, customization, and development money that you’ve been persuaded is so, so important and re-target it…to training.

Online and classroom training is good. Then find an expert on those sites I mentioned above (also try your vendor, LinkedIn, and Craigslist) and bring them in for some face-to-face time. Have that person walk you through the entire application soup-to-nuts so that the two of you can create a mutual agenda of training tasks that hone in on the specific things you want to do with the application that will generate a return on your investment. Nobody ever uses all the system’s features, so don’t try to do too much.

“But we get training,” you say. Maybe. But like so many of my clients, you’re still probably getting the same thing wrong about software.

That wrong thing? “Training” is not a one and done. It’s not just a class or an online seminar or a few hours of face-to-face before you “go live.” Training is a long-term investment.

Your software training should take a year. Yes, a year. Have your trainer continue to deliver training to your users, power users, and administrators on a continuous basis every week or twice a month. Make sure he or she is available by phone and online if issues arise. Slow down and take a long-term view. Agree on quarterly objectives to be achieved. Set a goal of using the most powerful features of the product with minimal changes to its design. Leverage and learn to use the automation, workflow, and productivity tools that likely are included with the application.

Follow this advice and here’s what you’ll find:

  • The software — as is — can provide a huge benefit for your company without your making many (if any) significant changes to it.
  • You will get an immediate benefit and your people will engage.
  • You will be able to leverage the vendor’s materials because you haven’t altered the product.
  • During that training year, your team will become much smarter about the application.

So if you then decide that a significant customization or integration is needed, you’ll also be a lot smarter about what’s involved and what it will cost.

Don’t just “train.” Invest.