How to Evaluate CRM Consultants

For every successful CRM implementation that benefited from outside consulting services, there's at least one other that's a tale of woe. What should your company do when contemplating a consulting engagement to maximize your chances for a successful project?

As a rough framework, CRM consulting falls into three broad, consecutive areas: (1) initial process work, (2) developing priorities and (3) implementation. While there are few fixed stars to guide by in the CRM universe, these three areas are fairly firm.

"Get your processes straight, then automate" is an idea that has become axiomatic by now. Automating broken processes only creates more problems and dissatisfaction faster. Then, assuming you have a reasonable fix on your processes, figure out which ones to automate and in what order. And finally, decide which software application best addresses these items and implement it.

This is not to say that firms don't do things out of order. One example is a consultant being brought in and told, "We've had Vantive in our customer service and support for a year and are now going to roll it out to sales and marketing." While having a consistent end-to-end solution is inherently attractive, predetermined packages may not always emphasize the functionality or utility in line with your sales priorities.

Other problems arise as well. If you are new to the game, how do you find a consultant? There are no central resources, but there are various possibilities. Even if you haven't already selected a package and are going to do things in order, you can contact CRM vendors and ask which consultants they're familiar with. Listen to consultants' conference presentations and read their journal articles to evaluate how much they really know. Talk to customers, prospects and suppliers and ask whether they've automated and, if so, which consultants they used. You should consider both smaller firms specializing in CRM as well as large systems integrators, including the firms of the so-called Big Five.

As you might imagine, not all consultants do all kinds of CRM-related work, and not all of them do them equally well. Ask them for specifics and for references. Also ask how the references they provide are similar to your initiative.

The Horse's Mouth
For finding and dealing with consultants, perhaps the best advice comes from the horses' mouths.

Liz Seckler of the CRM consulting firm, GettingThere, advises clients not to expect the moon from consultants. "Consultants can't fix all their [a client's] problems or make everything happen," says Seckler.

"If the VP of sales talks of support but isn't involved in and committed to the project, a consultant can't fill that void." Vague and unrealistic expectations are difficult for everyone. Instead, advises Seckler, you and your consultant should have an explicit mutual understanding of the project specifics, including roles and responsibilities.

You're talking about bringing in a key resource, maybe even a trusted advisor and guide. Picking one with whom you and your team feel some chemistry is important. Picking one who's familiar with the terrain you'll be crossing is critical. Listen for [actual] satisfied comments like, "She saved us from ourselves," and "Maybe we could've made it ourselves, but bringing these guys in was the smartest thing we ever did."

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