10 Steps to Getting the CRM Solution You Need

Updated: April 30, 2009

A CEO or CIO considering a CRM move should be fully ready and able to have a straight talk with vendors who are vying for the deal. For best results, the client and the vendor should speak the same language, preferably English and not CRM-speak.

The first step toward making a CRM purchase that your company won't regret is making sure that business executives, as well as internal IT staff, are aware of exactly what CRM is and what the technology is not. Equally important is the ability to articulate — with no uncertainty — the business problems that your company is trying to solve.

Is your business poised to make a CRM purchase? Consider the following 10 tips to avoid getting lost in CRM jargon and devise actionable business objectives.

1. Understand the concept. There are many enterprises hunting for CRM solutions that do not fully understand the concept.

"It may sound crazy, but many of my clients have asked me in confidence ‘What does CRM stand for?'" said Brian Giamo, managing partner of ChannelEconomics.com in Evanston, Ill. "The CRM business is full of acronyms and buzzwords. I have found that often those on the client side, executives are too embarrassed to ask what those words and phrases mean."

Once you muster up the courage to ask the obvious, be sure you pin vendors down on the answers, said Kathy Sexton, chief marketing officer for Boston-based OrderMotion Inc ., which sells on-demand CRM and other business software. "If you don't understand the jargon, don't buy it. If the vendor cannot explain their functionality in plain English, they do not understand their own product. Don't buy it," she warned.

2. Visualize your ideal and work backward. Once you understand fundamental CRM concepts but before you talk to vendors, it is important for a corporation's top executives to sit down with IT representatives and brainstorm the ultimate system. Naturally, there will be compromises down the road, but why not demand your dream system in the initial stages?

Without an ideal system clearly in mind, organizations are likely to step into the quagmire of the current CRM marketplace, said Wes Trochlil, president of Effective Database Management Inc ., a Hamilton, Va.-based consulting firm. "You'll just confuse yourself with the myriad of choices available," he said, detailing some criteria that executives may want to consider in formulating a CRM ideal. "For example, if your ideal includes allowing your customers to go online to your Web site, track their orders, track their communications and essentially find a way to manage all of their interactions, then you need to find a CRM package that can do this," he stated.

3. Don't buy CRM when something less will do. By communicating with leaders from all parts of your organization about exactly what a new CRM system should do for your company, it will become clear whether CRM is really the technology that your company needs.

"CRM solutions should help manage business processes and solve real business needs. If you don't have workflow and business processes to worry about and only need to manage business relationships, you may be able to do that with a single contact-management software application," noted Dean Taylor, vice president of marketing and channel development at COMPLETExRM , a Salt Lake City-based firm that sells CRM solutions tailored to the SOA (service-oriented architecture) environment.

4. Be realistic and frame your objectives. Once your company has decided that CRM is the best way to solve standing business problems, communicate those problems to vendors and know what you can expect from the technology.

"CRM can give business leaders a defined business-process system that insures they can do the following: develop and deliver a branded customer experience; focus talent and related technology; and drive sales and marketing to meet specific objectives," said Gina Danner, CEO of Mail Print Inc ., a customer-management services firm. Danner added that customers can also reasonably expect a CRM system to help define, manage, and alter marketing and sales efforts in order to maximize productivity.

5. Size up vendors and beware of hidden fees. Once your quest for the ideal CRM system begins in earnest, push potential vendors on the real cost of adopting their particular solutions.

"There is too much marketing fluff out there. Customers should be cautious about network uptime, up-front fees, hidden fees and whether the vendor may be trying to sell product rather than solve business problems," said William Gast, CEO of Kyliptix Solutions Inc ., a CRM provider based in Irvine, Calif. Gast further suggested that CRM customers ask pointed questions. "What are the monthly fees? Are there setup fees? What are the training costs?" he said.

6. Expect to deal with several players. Getting to the real cost of a CRM system can be tough, especially since a deployment often necessitates participation from several players.

"There is a lot of work to be done to get your CRM applications to talk to and exchange information with other systems. Most of the time, a third-party consultant has to be hired to integrate your different systems, such as your accounting or ERP application. This can be expensive and time-consuming, depending on the state of your information and your other systems," warned Channel Economics' Giamo.

7. Realize that CRM is most effective in existing relationships. Corporations that view CRM as a way to capture customers may well be headed for disappointment , since the technology is better suited to managing business that's already in place.

"At the first customer interaction, CRM systems don't offer that much. The real value of these systems only starts once you establish a relationship with the customer," said Dave Stamm, president and CEO of Enkata Technologies Inc ., a San Mateo, Calif.-based CRM services company. "With these longer-term relationships, the customer starts to expect that no matter who they speak with at the CRM vendor company, she or he will know the details about how his own company works."

8. Formulate a way to measure CRM gains. Now that your company understands what it wants in terms of CRM gains and is comfortable that the pool of vendors vying for your business understand those needs, develop metrics that prove you are moving in the right direction.

"It all starts with understanding business objectives and then drilling down on each of those objectives to define measurable results," advised Greg Anderson, senior product director of FrontRange Solutions USA Inc ., a Dublin, Calif.-based provider of CRM applications. "During implementation, IT needs to first do a baseline so there is something to compare results to. Then, the IT staff needs to make sure to identify what information is needed to capture this data in order to measure the results," stated Anderson.

9. Once a CRM solution is in place, introduce the system slowly. After having spent a lot of money — not to mention a great deal of time talking to vendors and honing expectations — business leaders and IT staff are naturally eager to crank out returns. However, internal staff will need a little time to digest the changes that a CRM system brings about.

"Purchasers of CRM should start with a multiphase approach," said David Goldsmith, president of MetaMatrix Consulting Group LLC in Manlius, N.Y. "The most important is the first phase when users get used to the new technology. I recommend starting off simple with a collection of accurate contact information: name, address, phone and email, and the use of the software for all inbound and outbound calls and emails. This simple first start gets users comfortable with the new solution without overwhelming them with a completely new job activity."

10. Live happily ever after. The CRM deal is final, and employees are using the new system to its fullest extent. However, technical issues are bound to crop up. Organizations should know where to go for help.

"Remember that when you are dealing with a company that sells IT network equipment through an OEM [original equipment manufacturer] provider model, the first point of contact won't be with the vendor," said Enkata Technologies' Stamm. "It will be with the OEM provider. If the OEM can't answer the question, the issue will escalate to the original vendor as the second point of contact. By the time the question reaches this second level, the question is likely to be complex and perhaps even require a day or two to answer," he said. For these reasons, Stamm advises customers to seek out partners with strong knowledge- management system portfolios.

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