How to Select Your Perfect CRM Vendor

By Stan Baldwin
Updated: August 24, 2011

“Perfection”, especially in business service and software providers, is, at best, in the eye of the purchaser. However, pursuing perfection is almost always a good idea, and working hard to avoid an ill-informed decision is what separates the successful companies from the rest. Avoiding vendors or solutions that don't fit your business needs might be the first step toward finding that “perfect CRM vendor”.

Where to start the CRM vendor selection process? Take a hard look at what your Customer Relationship Management system is doing right now. From the very basic questions, such as what data and in what format are customer records kept, to how are customers kept informed about new products, services or industry developments, outline or diagram what is being done now. How does the sales staff use the current system? If the customer information is integrated with other business functions, how do they make use of it? What you are doing now and how your are doing it should fit comfortably into whichever new or expanded CRM solution you select.

Next is the assessment of the reasons you're probably looking for the “perfect” CRM vendor. Typically the goals are to 1) improve customer satisfaction and 2) increase revenue through more effective and more efficient use of customer data. Capabilities such as consistent access to the CRM system from any location, or being able to connect or involve any appropriate organization within your business to address a customer issue, might be desired enhancements.

More strategically, finding a vendor with the ability to support planned changes in target markets, products, services or distribution channels, might also drive the search. When the list of features has been assembled and prioritized it's time to make another list; one of the potential vendors.

The first cut of the potential vendor list is relatively easy, it could include every vendor not obviously inappropriate. Thanks to strong competition in CRM services, such a list would be impracticable, if not impossible to create. So broad selection criteria will be applied to narrow the field. This entire process will consume time and money you want to make sure is well-spent, and the final selection process will take the majority of both. A run-off between no more than five (I recommend three) potential vendors is where we want the earlier stages of the assessment process to lead.

Broad criteria to consider:
Experience in your industry (also over-all longevity of their business)
Support for desired Key Functions
Cost (all aspects, including setup, on-going, maintenance and modifications)

After working from published materials such as marketing brochures and spec sheets, choose the group you will send your prioritized “wish list” to. From the vendors which respond, further winnow the list to the ones your staff will contact for more detailed questioning. Always keeping your list of important needs at hand, chose the companies you will ask for demonstrations.

The experience of working with each of the short-list vendors to see how well their offerings match your needs will be more time well-invested. At the end of the process one vendor usually stands above the others. Though they are unlikely to be “perfect”, thanks to your rigorous efforts, the probability they will meet your needs will be high.

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