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CRM Is Not a Game of Chance
Carefully consider and prioritize the business-functional, technical-features, and user-friendliness/support requirements for your CRM system--then move into the CRM-software selection process.
For the rest of the November 2003 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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You may want your CRM software to do it all, but that may not be what you need. The requirements-analysis portion of the CRM software selection process is of great importance to the overall success of your CRM initiative. It's crucial to carefully consider and prioritize the business-functional, technical-features, and user-friendliness/support requirements for your CRM system. Then, and only then, are you ready to move into the CRM software selection process. UNDERSTAND CRM NEEDS Your CRM needs include business-function, technical-feature, and user-friendliness/support criteria. Business functions should be derived from interviews with key personnel who are experienced in the business function you wish to automate. For example, if you want to automate your sales team you should talk to the seasoned sales veterans who know your customers and know what it takes to win their business. The same applies for automating your customer service center, your marketing department, and your business-analytics functions. Simply stated, give your staff what they know they need to help them keep your customers happy and loyal. Don't force a system on them that they find little value in using. The feedback obtained from these interviews should be corroborated in a brainstorming session that brings key personnel together to discuss their needs in an open forum. This session will not only result in a requirements list you will use to drive your CRM software selection, it will also give the forum participants an opportunity to understand how their needs are interdependent in delivering critical information to each CRM user. Don't be surprised if your requirements list is long--this may well signal the results of successful interviews and brainstorming. Nevertheless, it is unfeasible and even unwise to try to deliver all defined business functionality during your first system release. Therefore, it is necessary to prioritize your business function needs to better manage the phased rollout of your CRM system. The next step is to review the prioritized business-functional needs in terms of their implication on business-process enhancements, as well as by the IT staff to determine what technical features are needed to support these requirements. If your prioritized business requirements imply reasonable business-process enhancements, be sure that the CRM software packages you consider are flexible enough to support your enhanced business processes.
Do not blindly accept a CRM software application's built-in business processes as a replacement for the need to develop these processes in-house first. CRM software should support, not replace, your need for business process enhancement. Your prioritized business functions also will need to fit within your existing or enhanced technical environment. You need to know that certain technical constraints may exist when selecting CRM software; for example, your company's groupware platform may be incompatible with a number of potential CRM software applications. To define which technical features should be in your CRM system:
  • Work with your IT department or an external CRM consultant to help define possible technical features that could be included in your CRM software.
  • Remember that technical features are required in your CRM system to facilitate the eventual implementation of your prioritized business-functional requirements. For example, if placing your company price lists online is a prioritized business function, you will want to make sure that the software you use has appropriate technical features that allow for easy updating of price lists.
  • Learn about technical features by reviewing existing CRM software. Whether you end up building or buying, review some of the packaged and hosted CRM software solutions to gain insight into the latest available CRM technical features.
  • Technical features should not be judged on technical wizardry, but on business value. The greatest values of technical features are their ability to help users feel comfortable with the system, to help users access and navigate the system, and to help make the system intuitive to the user.
  • User-friendliness/support requirements are critical, because many potential users of your CRM system may not be familiar with the software you select, with using CRM software in general, or even with using computer systems. Too many good CRM systems have failed because user support requirements were overlooked, so pay particular attention to these requirements. Look for systems that offer an uncluttered, logical graphical user interface, intuitive navigation, one-button data synchronization, an online self-service option and online training, a field-sensitive help function (versus a screen-sensitive one), and help desk assistance. Also consider a multilingual application. UNDERSTAND WHICH CRM APPLICATIONS BEST MEET YOUR NEEDS It is likely that several CRM software vendors will be able to support your CRM needs. The question is, which ones can best meet your CRM needs with as little customization as possible? Customization may require expensive writing of new code. This may not be the most cost-effective way to successfully realize your new CRM system. To address this issue, send a thorough, clear request for proposal (RFP) based on your prioritized business needs, technical features, and user-friendliness/support criteria to three to six vendors that are capable solution providers based on your CRM system requirements. Once your CRM team has reviewed and discussed the RFP responses, it is time to invite two or three of these vendors in to demonstrate their offering to the same personnel who were part of your CRM brainstorming exercise. The key to an effective demonstration is to make sure the vendors display the functions they claim to support in their RFP. Don't allow the vendor to default to predesigned PowerPoint presentations with a few "live" examples of their software demonstrated for effect. This biased approach will only serve to deliver an unbalanced exhibit of their application's true strengths and weaknesses. Follow a strict CRM software demonstration script and distribute this script to the vendors in advance so they can prepare to show you exactly what their application can and cannot do in meeting your prioritized needs within your specified technical environment. Barton Goldenberg is president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM and real-time enterprise consulting firm in Bethesda, MD. He is the author of CRM Automation, and the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation. Contact him at bgoldenberg@ismguide.com
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