So you’re going shopping for a new tee sheet this winter. This is a big decision regarding one of the more important tools for managing your business. You can either launch an organized evaluation process that considers all the angles… or you can go “eenie meenie minie mo, catch a tee sheet by the toe” and randomly pick one. We hope you opt for the former process… we’ll try to save you a little time with the info in this post.
Of course, the ‘big 3’ areas to consider in evaluating your alternatives are:
- Feature Set
- Customer Support
You’re probably thinking… duh… I knew that.
And I knew you knew that, but please consider one insight in each of these areas that can make a real difference in the quality of your decision.
On FEATURES, here’s a conversation I had with many clients over the years as they were evaluating software solutions.
Client: We need to swap out our ABC System. Our current system sucks. We need something much better.
Me: Ok, let’s gets started… it’s always helpful to have a prioritized list of features that are critical for your business. We can help you develop that.
Client: Yeah, let’s start with everything the current system does… we want to make sure we don’t lose any features.
Me (silently): Ok, how do I politely tell this client that they may not want to replicate the system that they just told me sucked.
Don’t fall into this trap. If you really want your new system to pretty much work the way the old system worked, then don’t get rid of the old system. Typically, a system change will net you a bunch of new features that provide you with great value but it will also result in you losing a few features that you liked. Think hard about how important those features are before you make them a ‘must have’ in your evaluation… you very well might be able to live without them.
High quality CUSTOMER SUPPORT is critical when you need it, but the best products turn the customer support team into the software equivalent of the Maytag repairman… a rarely needed appendage. Spend as much time learning about how easy to use and reliable the products are as you do evaluating the response time of the support team. The best way to do that is to check references, and in addition to the references that the software vendor provides you might want to try a few that they don’t provide… The Golf Gadfly has a list of the vendors used by over 10,000 golf courses so if you want a ‘stealth’ reference check in with us.
PRICE isn’t just what you pay for the software… it’s the net of the benefits that the software provides less the fees that you pay. Effective software can definitely help you generate incremental revenues that should be factored into your business case. And, I know you all know this, but I’m going to say it anyway… software paid for with bartered rounds is not “free”… be sure to factor the cost of those bartered rounds into the equation when you compare the cost of various systems.
In addition to the big three of Features, Customer Support and Price, here are five other issues that you should give some serious thought to as you do your evaluations:
- Cloud-based vs. Server-based – This is a big issue… and it’s more complicated than you’d think at first blush. In essence, cloud-based systems are accessed via your Internet connection, with the software and data for your system residing offsite. Server-based systems operate using software and data stored on a computer server located at facility… or at a data center that you contract with. There are pros and cons. Upgrading to new versions is typically much easier (basically invisible to you) on a cloud-based solution while it can be quite an involved and risky process for a server-based system. On the other hand, if your Internet connection is flaky, relying on a fully cloud-based system could mean some significant downtime. There are various shades of gray between pure cloud-based and pure server-based systems… you need to pay attention on this issue. If you don’t understand it, ask lots of questions and if you still don’t understand it, spend a little money on some assistance from someone who does.
- Customer Experience – Don’t spend all of your time evaluating how the system works for you. Spend at least as much time thinking about how user-friendly it is for your customers when they book tee times or check the status of their tee times/accounts. For example, we noticed a significant difference in the response times that customers experience when booking tee times on various systems. If the customer is king in your business, make sure you consider their needs when evaluating new systems.
- Openness – What we mean by openness is… who gets to decide which 3rd party systems you allow to connect to your tee sheet… you or your software vendor? Do you have to “ask permission” every time you want to connect to a new marketing channel? Even if you don’t currently use 3rd party booking systems (or are trying to get away from an abusive 3rd party relationship), we strongly recommend that you keep your options open and your contract with your new vendor should be very clear on the rules of the game re 3rd party connections.
- Integrated solutions vs. best-of-breed point solutions – Some vendors offer a full suite of systems for tee sheet, POS, food and beverage, website, email marketing, account management, etc. Other vendors offer only certain modules and will integrate with partners. For example, many of the tee sheet software companies also offer website services but Club Prophet chooses not to… and often teams with vendors such as 1-2-1 Marketing for website services. There isn’t a right and wrong answer here… either method can work just fine. But… if you are going the best-of-breed route, you should make sure that the different vendors that you select are truly compatible. If you buy two products that have never been integrated before, you’re introducing some risk and you need to make sure it is contractually clear who is on the hook to fix problems if they arise. We generally don’t recommend that a golf course try any first-time integration partners unless the golf course has enough technical savvy to manage its way through any problems.
- Win-Win Or No Deal – In all of your dealings with a prospective vendor, pay particular attention to whether they exhibit a “win-win or no deal” attitude. Are they focused on making sure that you are getting good value from their software? Do they clearly articulate how their system can help to improve your business? Do they steer clear of conflicts of interest with you? Are they upfront about potential pitfalls? Do they genuinely seem to care if you succeed? This is obviously fuzzy-wuzzy stuff, but it definitely pays to have your antenna up on this issue and not to gloss over anything that doesn’t feel right. You’re probably going to be joined at the hip with this vendor for quite awhile and this is a pretty critical piece of your day-to-day operation. This is another area where checking several references can pay off big time.
Ok, let’s say you’ve got your ducks in a row and are ready to start contacting potential vendors… who should you consider?
Here is a brief outline on the top 8 tee sheet vendors (based on volume and momentum) in the US market.
GolfNow and EZLinks
These two beasts combine to control about 75% of the current market. Both vendors also are prominent players in the 3rd party distribution game… in face, most people would consider GolfNow to be a 3rd party distributor that also is in the tee sheet business and EZLinks has placed a great deal of emphasis on the growth of their TeeOff.com booking service.
Normally, market leaders like this are ‘safe’ bets when selecting a new system. In this case, however, the smaller vendors are adding market share very quickly and this is a market that could turn upside down in just a few years.
Your evaluation of these two vendors should not award them extra brownie points for safety… evaluate them straight up on features, customer support, price/value, customer experience, openness, win/win attitude and the other factors mentioned above. Since both of these vendors have multiple tee sheet systems as a result of their acquisition binges, you need to make sure that you are getting the product that is the best fit for your course and need some assurances that you are not buying a product that is going to be phased out soon as these vendors consolidate their assets.
And… only you can decide whether the fact that these vendors are in the tee sheet business and in the 3rd party tee time booking business is a strength or a weakness. Some of you will choose to eliminate them from consideration on that point alone, while others will find value in that synergy.
Club Prophet and tee-on
These two vendors have tried and true systems, although tee-on’s customer base is primarily In Canada (200 of 240 customers that we have identified).
Club Prophet has 400+ customers that we have identified in the US and was the 3rd fastest growing provider over the past 18 months.
Club Prophet and tee-on are both server-based and both have been in business for many years, so you can find many references that have long track records with these vendors.
The fact that these products have been in the market for some time is another of those two-edged swords. On the one hand it means these vendors have had many years to round out the features in these products, but on the other hand software doesn’t always age well. If software hasn’t been architected extremely well, years of layering on new features can result in software that is increasingly complex and difficult to enhance without breaking old features while adding new ones.
The Up and Comers
ForeUP and Teesnap
These two relatively recent market entrants both offer cloud-based solutions and were the 2 fastest growing tee sheet vendors over the past 18 months (both in % growth and in growth in number of customers). Both have reached critical mass (ForeUP with ~400 customers and Teesnap approaching 200 customers) and clearly have designs on being among the long-term market leaders.
ForeUP has taken the lead in openness, with a new set of APIs that make it very easy for a golf course to connect to alternative marketing channels. Teesnap has focused its leadership on creating a mobile check-in process (iPad-based), paperless processing and leverages its Allegiant Airlines parent for expertise in direct marketing features.
Because these solutions are relatively new, they are based on modern new software technologies and have plenty of room for growth. At the same time, they are relatively immature and are still in the process of rounding out their features sets one major function at a time.
Chronogolf and TeeQuest
Chronogolf is a French-Canadian company that has substantial market share in Canada and other French-speaking markets but currently has only a small US presence. Their recent actions indicate they are going to take a serious run at the US market, and their current US customers seem to be quite satisfied with their services. Chronogolf is another cloud-based solution.
TeeQuest has been a regional success story in the Heartland and is now focused on expanding from its base of 30-40 customers primarily in the Kansas City area. Some early success in Texas and a few other states indicates that they are making some progress in establishing a national footprint. TeeQuest has some unique capabilities in terms of payment system integration and is very focused on helping courses that are interested in regaining control of their distribution destiny (if you’re paying attention, you probably interpreted that correctly as a euphemism for “getting off of GolfNow”). TeeQuest is a server-based solution.
By this time next year, one or both of these vendors may have advanced into the Up and Coming category… time will tell.
Niche Market Solutions
If you are a private club operator, one or more of the solutions above might work for you, but that’s a long shot. There is a whole set of vendors who specifically focus on your needs… ForeTees, Jonas, Club Essential, NorthStar are among the most prominent.
If you are a resort operator and want to integrate your tee sheet with your overall property management system, the vendors listed above can’t help you… you’ll need to evaluate systems like Agilisys, Springer-Miller or others.
And… if you are a municipally-owned golf course and need to integrate your tee sheet with your POS for all other city services, Vermont Systems is a niche vendor worth considering. Having said that, we are noticing that more and more city/county/state-owned courses are operating their golf courses on independent POS systems, making the 8 vendors outlined above viable options.
Ok, that was a mouthful… thanks for sticking with it.
Of course, that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the details we could have provided and you need to pay close attention to the devil in the details as you make this very critical decision for your business.
If you are seeking some help as you head down this rabbit hole, consider checking in with the Golf USA Tee Time Coalition, a joint venture of the National Golf Course Owner’s Association and the PGA with the primary purpose of supporting “a more competitive and balanced marketplace in public golf that is both supportive of the golf course owner, operator, PGA professional and the golf consumer.” You can find their details at http://teetimecoalition.org. The managing director is Jared Williams.
And if you want some help identifying those references, contact us here at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck in your efforts.