Autumn – my favorite season, despite the more laid-back nature of summer – is beginning its beautiful drift into cooler weather (finally.), football season, pumpkins, and of course Halloween. As a distance runner, it’s also the beginning of prime racing season for marathons, half marathons, and other endurance events. Yesterday, my new running shoes were delivered, in plenty of time for me to break them in for a race I’m running towards the end of October in Petersburg, Virginia. I picked this race over the bigger and more popular Richmond Marathon because I like smaller race crowds, but primarily for the fantastic skeleton medal (see picture).
As I laced up for a training run this morning, I was excited to test out my new shoes, but I was also thinking about the thousands of people who were also testing out new running paraphernalia and the process behind selecting running gear. It struck me that this process was similar to how retailers and other companies should consider new software when upgrading existing systems or replacing legacy systems.
Most runners have their favorite gear, especially when it comes to shoes, decidedly the most important piece of equipment a runner will buy, and they will not typically stray to another brand. I have been running in Saucony since beginning training for my first half marathon about 15 years ago. Back then, once my training partner and I had made the commitment to train and run a half marathon together – something neither of us had ever done – I walked into the local, family-owned running store and asked the opinion of the person working there – who happened to be a seasoned endurance runner and was highly knowledgeable about the different options for running shoes. This expert first got a comprehensive understanding of my past running experience and requirements, took a look at my running cadence and stride, inspected my existing (and at that point really worn out) shoes, and talked about my budget. All of this to best understand what range of shoes would possibly fit my needs – like a solution vendor short list.
At that stage in my running career, I didn’t know a thing about pronation (i.e., the natural side-to-side movement of the foot as you walk or run), cushioning, or even proper fit – nor did I really understand all the different options that I should consider. It turns out I’d been running in shoes that were almost 2 sizes too small. It was truly eye-opening and really worth my time to have an outside expert with a great deal of solid experience and knowledge of the different options not only guide me to the right decision, but make me smarter for the many training miles that would come next.
Confidence in the Brand
Now flash forward 15 years, and I’m still running in Saucony shoes. Why? I trust the brand. I’ve run just one full marathon, but countless halfs and shorter races, and since that time I’ve tried other brands, but Saucony shoes work best for me. This is not to say that when selecting a new system a retailer should always stick with the same vendor – it’s more about having trust in the company and their products. This trust can be gained through knowledge of other companies who have successfully implemented the software and can vouch for the system capabilities as well as the software provider’s commitment as a partner.
During Parker Avery’s software selection and strategy projects, a key activity we do is facilitating reference calls with companies who are similar to the client. It’s important to have that comparable perspective because of the many nuances of retailers as opposed to other industries and even within retail. Hearing first-hand about the implementation and post go-live user experiences of the software needs to create confidence that the software provider can work successfully in a specific retail environment.
Going the Distance
This sentiment also holds true for non-vendor implementation partners and system integrators. Our firm is fortunate to have the opportunity in many cases to assist our clients in actually implementing the software we help them select – from project management, process design, change management, testing, training and more. Building the intimate knowledge of our clients in the upfront software selection and implementation planning phases is critical to a successful implementation. From a runner’s perspective, I think about the 2-week rule: “nothing new 2 weeks out from a race” – mostly regarding switching to new equipment. Although we all know this timeframe isn’t realistic for an implementation, the principle of keeping a consistent, trusted team in place from strategy and selection, throughout implementation and even post-go live for support is key to success.
When I ran my marathon, I trained with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Birmingham, Alabama, and my coach also happened to be my pacer (the person running with a sign for 26.2 miles to keep other runners at a targeted, even pace). Having him by my side gave me assurance that I could successfully finish the race. Were there bumps in the road? Sure – I thought I was bonking at mile 18, when I literally felt like I was out of fuel. My coach, who had run many marathons and even a few ultras (100 miles), helped me through it, and when I crossed the finish line, I was grateful for his expert guidance and ecstatic about my achievement.
My run today was great; not once did I wonder if my new shoes were going to fail me. I have confidence they’ll take me through the final 6 weeks of my training and help prepare me for what is sure to be a fun 13.1 miles, as many people – including myself – will be running the race in Halloween costumes.
Best of luck to our runner friends during this fall racing season, as well as to those retailers who are embarking on package selection and system implementation activities.