Choosing a CRM implementation partner? A seven point check-list…

by Richard Boardman on December 23, 2012

The main point from my last post was that most CRM software is implemented by CRM implementation partners, rather than the company that develops the software, and while good CRM implementation partners are pretty much essential for success, particularly if there’s any complexity in what you’re doing, they’re surprisingly hard to find. Here’s a quick check-list of things that you might want to take into account when evaluating potential partners:

What’s the synergy like? – Can you work with them? And I don’t mean the salesperson, which is how most organisations make purchase decisions. Once the contract is signed they will at best be a peripheral figure. Can you work with the people you will be working with on a day to day basis – the implementation and support teams? The only way to find this out is to spend time with them as part of the selection process.

How do their capabilities match your needs? – An implementation partner that’s right for one project might not be right for another. Some suit a particular implementation approach, size or type of project. For example, a partner that’s used to relatively straightforward customisation work might struggle with a more involved project involving complex data migrations and integrations, or a partner used to big projects might not be cost-effective for a smaller implementation.

Does their implementation approach make sense? – Flashy PowerPoint slides with lots of boxes and arrows as illustration of their methodology is not incontrovertible evidence that a partner either has or follows one. Cut through the acronyms and get them to explain, in terms you’re comfortable with, how they will approach and manage the project. It’s amazing how many struggle to do this. But if they can’t articulate a well-structured approach, it’s a pretty strong tell that they’re unlikely to deliver a drama-free project.

Do we have a range of priced options? – It’s sometimes assumed that potential implementers of a given technology will propose similar prices. That is not my experience. Implementation proposals vary enormously, even when you have a detailed specification of requirements (something we strongly recommend). Support costs, which in times past seemed to be a fairly standard ten per cent of the software costs, these days seem to be subject to rather more exotic and unpredictable formulations, which, again, can see huge variations in pricing. While cost isn’t everything it’s obviously an important context to any decision and we recommend that organisations explore a range of options before selecting a partner.

On this point I note that some CRM software companies seem to adopt a policy of discouraging competition between their partner community, presumably on the basis that competing with one another is a waste of effort and resources (that could presumably be better spent selling their products). While this may be good for the CRM software company, it isn’t generally good for the buyer of CRM software, who normally benefits from exploring a range of options in a competitive environment.

Have they got the experience with the product? – Inexperience is dangerous. Particularly in CRM projects. I’ve seen some nasty and ultimately very expensive messes left by inexperienced implementers. It’s best to ensure you’re working with people and who have plenty of implementing CRM systems and, specifically, experience in the product you’ve selected. Many implementers work with multiple CRM technologies, but that doesn’t mean they’re uniformly capable and experienced in each of them.

Are they going to be here for the long term? – Ideally you want to be working with someone over the long term. Unfortunately the world of value added resellers and implementation partners is relatively fluid, and things can change quickly. Partners change CRM products, shift resources away from products, get acquired, stop being implementation partners, or go bust. While there’s generally other partners you can turn to, it can be expensive and disruptive to move, so look for signs that a partner is committed to your chosen product, and has the financial ballast to survive the inevitable ups and downs of the economy.

Can we validate their credentials? – One of the best ways to understand what an implementation partner is really like is to talk to their customers. This isn’t entirely fool proof however as even the worst implementer can generally trot out a few glowing references. It can therefore be more insightful to make your own enquiries. Implementers will generally mention or list customers as part of their sales pitches and approaching these independently can provide valuable perspective. Alternatively, ask the prospective partner to list ten similar customers (bearing in mind the previous point about different partners suiting different projects) and randomly select three or four for them to arrange a reference call. Be deeply suspicious about partners who are reluctant to provide references, this is a real red flag about their confidence in the quality of their implementations.

It might seem logical to assume that the quality of implementers should be relatively consistent. This is not the reality in my experience and there are a lot of poor quality implementation partners out there, who can cause considerable damage to a project and the on-going support of a system. Taking the time to really research the market may seem a bit of a chore, but it’s a lot less work than trying to sort out a project that’s gone astray as the result of a rash purchase decision.

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