Selecting the Best CRM Solution and Vendor for Your Business

Updated: December 03, 2009

Jump-starting success starts with taking the right approach going into the selection process. When selecting a solution, one should never underestimate the importance of knowing what is needed, setting clear and reasonable expectations about required efforts and determining appropriate resources to ease change management efforts.

"Charge up" with a CRM steering/selection committee.

A vendor selection committee can be as small as two people or as big as 100, depending on the size or complexity of a CRM project. Complex projects where CRM will go across multiple functions, product lines, and geographies will require more participation with clearly defined roles. Make sure to represent upper management, management and end-users.

The initial goal of these teams is to lay out requirements and prepare to ask both obvious and tough questions of each solution provider to force red flags to be raised. If you do not have gas to drive, you will stall and may even break down. More aggressive vendors tend to bully unprepared prospects by providing answers like "XYZ Company is doing it so it must be the best." Simply put, be prepared and do not allow that to happen.

(A word to the wise: use seasoned drivers to mitigate mistakes. If the team does not have this experience, money is well spent on someone or a team that does.)

Drive requirements beyond the tools.

Knowing what is needed means having defined requirements. Requirements should go beyond tool requirements and it should be expected that these can and will change. If you do not know how to use a key to open the car door, how can you even drive? Well-thought-out requirements can be easily developed into an initial RFP (request for proposal) and project plan.

Regardless of the size of the organization, preliminary requirements should also include information about strategic needs, organizational requirements, change management considerations, timeframe and budget expectations, and technology infrastructure requirements. Below is an outline of these categories with examples to consider.

1. Strategic needs:

  • Priorities mapped to overall business goals - remember to include customer-focused strategies!
  • Goals for results and costs with baseline measurements done or planned to do at the beginning to measure ROI (return on investment) and TCO (total cost of ownership)
  • Data quality requirements

2. Organizational Requirements:

  • Resources, teams and roles, pre- and post-launch -consider cross-functional impact and include representation across departments, based on your launch audience.
  • Expectations about process management and tool administration.

3. Change Management Considerations:

  • "Top-down" communications - when execs say it, it's heard (and otherwise it may not be).
  • Training across organization hierarchy, business units and geographies.

4. Timeframe and Budget

  • Timeframe tied to delivery milestones based on approach
  • Timeframes tied to resources
  • Budgetary requirements to support non-technology costs before and after launch

5. Technology Infrastructure Requirements:

  • Do you have multiple systems that have customer data you will need to include?
  • Integration with other business systems (such as e-mailing tools)
  • Data security
  • System scalability

6. Other Functional Needs (usually left out):

  • Functional needs by business unit, product line, geography
  • Layout of current organizational structure/business units/departments
  • Itemize what functions are in place today should not be sacrificed

Make sure to give vendors hard deadlines and provide feedback when information is presented back, especially if there are informational gaps in their responses. Vendors who trip at this step in the process are more likely to trip up throughout the entire process. The trip ups, however, can be used as grounds for negotiations should a vendor who trips over this step, but has the right tool. Presenting this information in an organized, concise format with this level of detail will only help the selection process move more quickly and efficiently.

Know when to step on the brakes - or when to step on the gas.

The drive ahead can be long and bumpy. Apply the brakes when the overwhelming feeling starts to hit and reassess the journey. Step on the gas when decisions are made with confidence, buy-in and sign off. Apply the brakes when doubts arise that need to be verified. Take the time to verify and check in with outside resources to confirm what the vendors pitch.

Don't forget to make sure to plan with your staff and vendors for breaks, time zone differences and holidays. Vendors who cannot meet this planning requirement need not apply with your organization. The best-laid plans can be significantly disrupted if, for example, your professional services team or main vendor is out of reach. The same is true if team participants are located in a country that is out for a month-long holiday, or in multiple disparate time zones. A single missing person who is lined up to make key decisions can have severe repercussions.

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