CRM implementation partner selection – rush it at your peril

by Richard Boardman on December 16, 2012

There have been reams written over the years about the reasons for CRM project failures. But one aspect seems to get very little attention – poor implementation partner selection.

A lot of effort gets focused on CRM technology selection, but for some reason the partner side of things is often overlooked. And yet, this is one of the most common reasons projects get into trouble.

Most CRM technology is implemented by value added resellers and implementation partners these days, and this is as applicable to cloud-based solutions as on-premise.  While CRM software has become more user-configurable, partners are still required for more complex customisations, data migrations, and integrations.

There are some big benefits to having an ecosystem of implementation partners to choose from. Firstly, it gives companies the opportunity to find a partner they are comfortable with. Secondly, having multiple options helps drive down costs, and thirdly, if things don’t work out there’s always the option to move elsewhere.

I’m currently working on a project at the moment to replace a system that was implemented by the original software developer, but the client has been disillusioned by the level of service they receive, and in the absence of partner community for this product, they’ve had to make the expensive and painful decision to replace the core platform.

So in many respects choice is good.

But not in all.

The problem is that there is inherent weakness in the implementation partner community. These are typically small organisations. They tend to be reliant on a few key people. They are rarely super-profitable. As a result they are considerably more ephemeral than the software vendors themselves. They’re much more likely to be acquired, go bankrupt, leave the market, or change software product.

There’s also the question of quality. As with many things it follows a typical bell curve. On one extreme you have a few incompetents and rogues, and on the other a few genuinely top flight implementers. In the middle is the mediocre majority.

The consequence of this is that implementation partner related issues are surprisingly common. Typical scenarios include:

  • Budget overruns
  • Dumbing down of requirements to avoid budget overruns
  • Missed time-lines
  • Inability to deliver a system that delivers tangible benefits
  • Poor design decisions that impact usability
  • Overpaying for services
  • Disputes
  • Unsupported customisations
  • Poor  and/or unresponsive on-going support

When these manifest themselves the impact can be huge and many CRM projects founder as a result. Sure, there’s always the option to move to another partner, but that’s a difficult manoeuvre to pull off in mid-implementation, and is disruptive and expensive at the best of times.

The best approach is to avoid this situation in the first place. This involves accepting two things:

1. A good implementation partner is key to success, particularly if there’s any project complexity.

2. Good implementation partners are few and far between and you’re unlikely to find them without looking hard.

In summary, the implementation partner selection phase merits considerably more time and energy than it’s often given. In next week’s post I will make some suggestions as to how to go about it.

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