Since the beginning of the year I have been going through a fair number of selection cycles with companies looking to either improve, redo or redesign their customer facing systems. Some of these have been your typical sales focused initiatives and others have been much more complex or integrated to multiple back end systems. As I have sat through these meetings in the board room on more than one occasion I have had people express frustration with the process of selecting and deploying a CRM. As I have finally had a chance to get a small breather I thought this would be a great time to give my analysis of the challenges in selecting a CRM platform and reaching a successful outcome.
The initial challenge in the process of working through a CRM selection is the lack of definition in the technologies that call themselves CRM and the level of knowledge of those researching the project both in terms of their own needs and the fragmented segmentation within this industry. A simple example is the difference between a contact management system and a CRM system. When you look at multiple offerings from one publisher and they both look very similar in their layout it is hard to understand that a contact manager is based on the foundation of people and most CRM platforms are developed around the concept of an organization.
The problem gets worse when you are dealing with multiple vendors that may only support one offering and their goal is for everything to fit within the technology they support. The company looking to find a solution then needs to try and understand what is and what is not a solid fit for their end goals (assuming they have even vetted their internal needs). In many cases we are being asked to show and explain how a solution will fit without a discovery session to try and help a customer understand themselves.
When you go through the process and you don’t get to do a complete analysis it is like being an architect and designing only one floor of a three story house without seeing the other blue prints or talking to the people that will live on the other floors of the house. It is not the best analogy in the world but managing any customer process for acquisition or retention doesn’t happen in a vacuum. This is frustrating for many customers because they come into the process thinking they are trying to address a few issues withing their sales or service teams.
Once the discovery is complete the it is reasonable for a prospect to want to see how several companies will solve their needs. This is where many companies have a problem with the process of finding software and vendors to show how they will meet the “anticipated” requirements. This is because the majority of solutions will address 80% to 90% of what customers need and the rest is either being solved through customization or 3rd party products. In order to show a proof of concept there may be some limited changes to the software but there needs to be a level of trust in the vendor’s credibility.
In an ideal world a customer could supply some of their data and then we could run through their processes and show the complete solution. This rarely happens but there are some things that customers can do to help with the anxiety of not being able to see a complete solution. First, be pragmatic, and try to get a reasonable sense that your needs can be met. Don’t take promises about upcoming features or a simple “Yes, we can do that!” Next, try and see how two vendors would address the same set of needs. I see so many times company executives trying to go through a process with four or five vendors. And lastly, talk to someone that has done a recent project with the vendor before you make a decision.
At the end of the day, whether vendors like it or not, there are a number of solutions that you can choose that will probably work for your organization. The selection process is as much about aligning with the culture of the consulting firm as it is the software they represent. If either side pushes too hard on the selection parameters or the process then you may end up with more questions than answers.