The Connection Between Online Dating and CRM Vendor Selection

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Whether you're an IT professional or in a line-of-business technology decision-making role, you've likely noticed a trend toward sexier CRM demos. Slick design elements and whizbang features built in a nonfunctional environment are designed to dazzle and perhaps mislead you.

Remember: If it looks too good to be true, chances are it is.

If you've spent any time in the online dating world (or know someone who has), you are likely familiar with the term "catfishing." Essentially, a person lures you by posting the most beautiful picture of himself or herself ever taken—often taken 20 years or 20 pounds prior—and you fall in love with the dream of that image. In worse cases, the picture is "borrowed" from a friend or even the Internet! Then the person adds some amazing qualities (tall, dark, handsome—but enough about my profile). You are hooked and set up a date, only to find that the person isn't quite who you had hoped.

How can this be avoided?

In dating, as with technology selection, due diligence is essential. Ask important questions (When and where was that picture taken?), find out if you have friends or colleagues in common, and do good old-fashioned homework: Google searches can uncover a lot of information about most people, not to mention photos.

Similarly, it's easy to be lured by false promises when purchasing new technology. The steps below will help ensure your success (in either selection process), are fairly simple, and are essentially the same whether you're looking for a mate or a CRM solution.

1. Don't just be a window shopper. It's fun to look at slick new tools and see what potential uses they could have for your company, but remember that the most beneficial use of your time is solving an actual business problem. Understanding your specific use cases and business needs for the technology ahead of time will help you avoid future headaches when the needed functionality isn't there. Focus on your must-haves, not the nice-to-haves, and always remember: If you are going to be the first doing it, chances are it won't work.

2. Don't let the magic fool you. During the demo, ask tough and important questions: Do all the features and functionality actually exist? How many people have already implemented them? Are they available as references? Where do the resources to do the implementation come from? What levels of company-provided and community-provided support exist? If the answer is "it's on the road map," chances are that these features are not going to be available when you need them. Even if they are there, there's no guarantee they will be released.

3. Phone a friend. Don't believe everything vendors tell you; they are selling you the dream. To prevent a nightmare, ask for customer references or at least to see the product in the wild where it is working—or not. A common practice these days? Take the "NASCAR slide" (all of a company's clients are listed) and pick two or three where you may have contacts. Go to LinkedIn and get to work—references are there for the asking.

4. Take it for a test drive. Just as with a new car, you need to look under the hood before committing to a solution. Ask for a sandbox and get your best people to try to build it/break it/learn it so that you can make a more informed decision. Proof of concepts and pilots also work—as long as you can get those done before you have to make a decision.

5. Understand what the future will bring. It's equally important to know what you are buying today and what you will get in the future. Also, how and when you will get it matters. Is it a seamless upgrade, or are your teams going to be up at all hours or on the vendor's schedule to do releases? How long are vendors' development cycles? Can you request custom features? Those are just a few critical questions to ask when selecting new CRM or any other technology.

At the end of the day, the technology you choose must enable success in your organization and provide a solid, measurable return on your investment. Don't be dazzled by a sexy demo (or retouched photos). Thorough research will go a long way in ensuring your longer-term success, both in dating and CRM vendor selection.

Esteban Kolsky is the principal and founder of ThinkJar, an advisory and research think tank focused on customer strategies. He has more than 25 years of experience in customer service and CRM consulting, research, and advisory services. He spent eight years at Gartner, and has assisted Fortune 500 and Global 2000 organizations in all aspects of their CRM deployments.

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