Here’s the Right Way To Audition CRM Software


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There is a right way and a wrong way to select CRM software, and most organizations do it wrong.

As a former senior CRM expert at a well-known software company, and now managing partner of a business process improvement company dedicated to optimizing CRM, I have for years watched expensive but inappropriate CRM technologies get shoehorned into instinctively resistant organizations.

For almost as long, I’ve heard “experts” blame failed CRM implementations on human factors, bad management or flawed business processes—anything but the technology itself.

They’re half right at best. The software usually is the problem. It’s not that the technology is faulty. It’s the way the technology is chosen. That can trip you up two ways:

  1. Buyers often select a CRM technology for the wrong reasons. Prior experience with other products from the same vendor, the influence of a vendor alliance, a persuasive sales rep or screaming-deal pricing can all drive the sale of a solution that turns out to be a poor fit.
  2. Many buyers run a traditional request-for-proposal process, reducing project requirements to a long list of bullets. Time and again I’ve seen the RFP strategy fail, because it reduces the decision process to a features-and-functions war. The winning vendor packages the most features at the lowest cost. That doesn’t necessarily result in the most appropriate solution.

Adopting the wrong technology is a major driver of CRM failure. Anyone who tells you differently is making excuses. Making the right choice, though, means assessing the right factors first. When my company assists clients with CRM technology choices, we steer them away from price incentives and RFPs and look instead at four main issues:

  1. Cross-functional process mapping.

    I think it’s nearly impossible for CRM software to generate enterprise value unless you first generate a top-level view of the business processes the software is meant to streamline. Most businesses are structured as vertical, functional departments, while most processes slash horizontally across multiple departments. It’s often challenging to get that view. But drawing that map—including actual use cases, so it’s more than theoretical—is invaluable to CRM software evaluation. You’ll quickly see the shortfalls in potential solutions—and, equally important, you’ll see which software features will be genuinely useful and which will be irrelevant in actual practice.

  2. The buyer’s data model.

    It’s imperative to understand what data elements and conventions the new CRM technology will be tasked with supporting and how they interrelate. Elements that may be basic to your workflow can confound some CRM systems. For example, most businesses sell either to consumers or other businesses. But some CRM solutions are optimized for B2B data, some for business-to-consumer and some for deftly dealing with either model. Why change your business to suit your new software? Better to pick software built to suit you.

  3. Open architecture.

    I hardly ever see a perfect, no-tweaks-necessary marriage between a client and a software package. Most commonly, a prescribed CRM application represents an “80-percent solution.” Achieving 100-percent effectiveness calls for custom development, configuring the application engine or integrating third-party applications. Unless the chosen solution platform is open to accommodating such tweaks, it will be perceived as perpetually inadequate.

  4. Licensed or hosted model?

    There are pros and cons to both models; both work. Making an informed choice depends on your circumstances. Licensed software usually takes longer to install and maintain, although that handicap can narrow in larger organizations with multiple integration points requiring onsite software. And while hosted applications are usually paid for from the operational budget, buying software licenses usually counts as a capital expense. When it comes to implementing upgrades or new versions, though, a hosted solution gets them online faster and with more convenience, which keeps an organization from getting sidetracked by software maintenance issues.

Basing informed choices on these four key criteria vastly improves the chances of a profitable CRM implementation.

By itself, the right CRM software hardly guarantees success. Alongside alignment with business strategy, definition of success metrics, conscientious process mapping, employee involvement and training and capturing the voices of customers, themselves, technology is actually a secondary element of solid CRM. But the proper technology is a necessary ingredient. Choose wisely.

Lance Kyle
Lance Kyle consults for organizations nationwide on improving performance of sales, marketing, and customer service teams. He founded Seattle-based Acetta in 2000 to enable midsize companies to better leverage enterprise technology solutions to enhance customer relationships. Kyle holds a bachelor of science in civil engineering from the University of Washington.


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