When you are charged with buying a software package for your company you will brave the pressure of many conflicting forces. Of course the vendors and their employees have a near manic desire to have you select them over their competitors. Be very wary however of vendors who make the first effort to contact you... I mentioned one such salesman horror-story in an earlier post. It's always better to be at the "selecting" end of the vendor relationship than at the solicitation end.
Your staff may have their preferences based upon their own familiarities or tastes. Yet considering the fiduciary responsibility you owe your employer, your overriding role would seem to require you to execute due diligence to evaluate the vendors on a level playing field.
Begin with some exploratory internet searches to find software with keywords representing some of the more specific requirements. This will give you a clue to the names of the main contenders. Then run a query with the top three package names, along with the words "comparison" or "review." This should retrieve some industry zines with a more thorough examination of what the vendors offer.
Now create a spreadsheet for yourself with "weighted" line-items for the characteristics you need. Remember to add lines for Vendor stability and service record: you're not just buying software, you're buying a service relationship with a company. How are they run? Are they stable? How is their customer service? It can easily take a few days to conduct a thorough review.
After you narrow the field ask the top two choices if you can get a demo. Since the actual folks in your company who will be using the package day-to-day may not all have the skill levels to be comfortable with the software, allow them time to examine it and gather their impressions.
Large purchases may require considerably more effort in the review, including issuing formal RFPs, evaluating the impact of any BPR that may need to occur, and determining how you will integrate the new purchase into existing systems. Don't be shy to retain professional assistance for larger selection efforts.