I get an average of a dozen e-mails a week from firms that are looking at various CRM offerings and are struggling with the challenge of how to pick the right solution. This task can seem overwhelming. With dozens of different classes of CRM tools (including opportunity management systems, configurators, marketing automation systems, call center applications and help desk systems) being brought to market by literally hundreds of different vendors, how do you decide who to go with?
To help answer that question, we surveyed 144 companies who had completed that task and asked them to share their experiences. Specifically, we asked them to give us the top three criteria they used when making their final product and vendor choices. The results of this survey are shown in the accompanying graph.
Based on past experience, I know all of the items in the graph are important. Let's take a closer look at what each of the items means.
* Ease of Use: It is fitting that the most commonly cited criteria focused on the end user and not the technology. Ultimately, your CRM project's success depends on whether or not your employees accept the new technology. If the tool is hard to use, or requires a lot of training, your users may balk at making the commitment to integrate it into their jobs. If this happens, the other criteria will cease to matter.
* Functionality Fit: Does the system solve the right problem for your organization? With hundreds of CRM options available, you should start by looking at the systems that offer the capabilities you need to deal with the marketing and sales challenges you currently face. Try not to succumb to techno-lust and be seduced by the sizzle of an application. Look instead for the meat. Ask yourself, "When the system is up and running how will things be better?" If you can't answer that question, the functionality is not meeting your business needs.
* Customizability: Since there are no definitive standards for sales and marketing, it is impossible for a CRM vendor to deliver 100 percent of what each customer wants. Realize that you are going to have to customize the tools you select in order to make them fit the way your company operates. How easy will that be?
* Price: Don't just consider the price of the software; take into account the total cost of ownership. A seemingly cheap software package that requires you to spend extra dollars on customization, system integration, training or support is not cheap at all. Take the time to understand the long-term level of financial commitment you are making when selecting a package.
* Ease of Implementation: You need to consider how easily you will be able to get an application up and running. A system that takes 12 months to implement is far less attractive than one that takes 90 days.
* Data Synchronization: Down the road, when access to wireless communications is ubiquitous, the issue of supporting remote users will be a lot less complex. But today, you need to consider how you will coordinate the activities of multiple untethered users accessing the same customer records. Make sure you feel comfortable that your CRM vendor's synchronization strategy fits your needs.
* Future Direction: Realize that you are making a long-term partner selection. Your CRM systems will become an integral part of your business operations. Make sure you feel comfortable that your vendor's future product enhancement plans are in line with your needs.
* System Architecture: Each vendor has its own idea of what the "right" infrastructure is on which to build a CRM application. Does that fit with your IT direction, and if not, are you willing to change to fit the vendor's model?
* References: While you cannot assume that just because a system has worked for another company it will work for you, you can gain a wealth of insight by talking to other users of a given application. Ask your vendor for a dozen names of customers who are 6 to 12 months ahead of you, and call every one of them. This is a great way to get free consulting, and it is all too often skipped in the evaluation process.
* Legacy Support: To be of maximum value, your CRM application will have to integrate with other systems inside and outside your organization. Is integration an easy task or not? How will your system talk to your ERP application? How will it integrate with your e-business plans? How will it share data with your channel partners? Make sure your vendor can answer these questions.
* Alliance Partners: Since no CRM application will meet all your sales and marketing needs, you may have to install applications from several vendors to get a complete CRM system. Check out who your vendors have formed alliances with and how deep these partnerships go. Also, as you may need outside help to implement your system, find out what system integrators, ASPs and training firms your vendor has formal relationships with. Strong partnerships can be a significant benefit to you.
Let me add one item of my own to the list- -trust. Any vendor you choose is going to have to make a number of commitments to you in order to make you feel comfortable it can meet your needs. Do you believe the vendor will deliver? Do a "gut-check." If you find your stomach churning because you have doubts about the vendor's ability to follow through, take the time to resolve the issues before you move forward.
You may think the task of implementing a CRM system is complex. It is. But it is also critical that you do the job right. CRM is no longer a matter of competitive edge, it is the standard for competitive survival. If you do not put the right tools and the right information in the hands of your people, they will not be able to perform as effectively as their CRM-empowered counterparts. Your customers and prospects will pick up on this very quickly, and they will choose to do business with a competitor who better services their needs.
Take the advice of companies who have gone before you. Invest the time and resources to consider each of the above items, and you will significantly increase the chances of success of your own CRM initiative. You cannot afford to get this wrong.