Photograph courtesy of Ross Elliott

Last time I discussed some of the common problems organisations experience with gathering CRM requirements, in this post – or posts as I suspect the list will prove a long one – I want to cover off the CRM vendor selection process. In principle selecting and purchasing the right CRM software might not seem to be the most daunting task, but in practice it’s something a lot of people struggle with. Here’s my take on some of the main issues:

Poorly specified CRM requirements – ok, sorry, this is a recurring theme on this blog, but many organisations begin the vendor selection process with only a high level sketch of their needs. This leads to two main problems: firstly vendors are only able to estimate costs, which makes it hard to compare offerings, and the initial estimates can end up being a fraction of the final delivered cost. Secondly, there’s a significant risk of selecting an inappropriate technology because the functional requirements haven’t been fully defined. Getting the CRM requirements documented in detail up front allows you to solicit firm pricing estimates in a competitive environment, driving down costs, and reducing the downstream risk of scope creep and project overruns.

Too much focus on the CRM technology rather than the implementer – most CRM software is implemented by third party implementation partners rather than the developer of the technology. While choosing the right software is important, choosing the right implementation partner is even more important. Would-be buyers of CRM software often assume the quality of implementation partners is uniformly high. In my experience it’s very varied. A good technology decision can quickly be undone by hasty implementation partner selection, or a good technology may get discarded because the partner showcasing it is weak. Separating the technology and the implementation partner decisions, and approaching each with equal vigour is key to a successful purchase.

Failure to allow for pricing schizophrenia – in principle you might assume that if you passed the same detailed requirements specification to half a dozen implementation partners for the same technology, the resulting pricing proposals would be similar. In practice this isn’t usually the case and there can be big disparities between the responses. I’d like to give you some sort of rational explanation as to why, but I’ve never been able to fully explain it. Perhaps it’s down to how diligently the partner reviews the specification or how much they want the business. Whatever the cause, the implications support the point I made previously; it’s best to first define, or at least narrow down the technology choice, then go to a reasonable selection of prospective suppliers. Too narrow a selection may mean you overpay, or discard a good technology, because you happened to catch the partner on the wrong day.

Get the right short-list – I was asked by a client to help them select from their short-list of six CRM technologies. In the absence of any documented requirements (being cardinal sin number one of course) I asked them to walk me through what they needed. It didn’t take long to identify that none of the six options could deliver what they wanted. The importance of having options in vendor and partner selection can’t be exaggerated, but it’s critical to have the right options. It’s hard to make a bad decision if you’re choosing from a bunch of great suppliers, easy if you’re not. 

Do you have a purchase process? – while it might seem a dumb question, I’ve seen a lot of purchase decisions that seem to be more the product of complex group dynamics rather than considered analysis of functional fit. While there’s no one way to make a decision, it’s important that there’s sufficient structure to avoid a choice that sacrifices fit for consensus. This may take many forms including clear definition of mandatory requirements, scoring of request for proposal responses, demonstrations of software against tightly defined usage scenarios, and careful review of evaluation software. Whatever the form, there should be a carefully defined purchase approach designed to produce the right decision rather than just a decision. To quote Lewis Carroll ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there’

To be continued….

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