Have CRM Vendors Ever Heard of Customer-Centricity? (What I Learned When Buying CRM Software)


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If vendors are looking for the Holy Grail to increased sales, all they have to do is put themselves in the shoes of a prospective buyer. They might be surprised at what we have to wade through to try to purchase software. For starters, you can’t speak directly with a sales representative, you can’t get a straight answer on pricing and you have to put up with hearing all sorts of horror stories about the competition.

As an operations and marketing member of a start-up organization, I was recently tasked with lining up the technology to help us attain our goals of customer satisfaction in a real-time environment through an enterprise resource planning structure. I spent a few weeks narrowing down the selection field through Internet research and inquiries to both hosted and on-site vendors. I ended up with only six vendors who could handle all our requirements (because we wanted to duplicate-house our data on site).

Report card: How well did they sell?
Aplicor A+
  • Notes

  • The technology did not fit our needs, and the salesperson was kind enough to direct me to another CRM vendor that would be more fitting.
NetSuite C
  • Notes

  • Sales rep was very argumentative. When we asked for accounting “bucketing” (combining elements based on weight and size), we were told it “cannot be done.”
  • We have to provide them with tax tables and customized quote form.
Oncontact B
  • Notes

  • System navigation console looked good on first glance (functionality was not available for good RT usage), low price
  • There were lots of extra pricing tack-ons, such as the fact that each user who accesses the system in a mobile capacity must purchase Sybase SQL Anywhere or the client version of Microsoft SQL Server.
RightNow A-
  • Notes

  • Sales rep offered very consistent contact without being “pushy” or high pressure.
  • Feedback I gave the salesman after the first demo led to an adjustment in the graphical user interface.
  • It was our final choice for the CRM system that is still to be implemented.
  • The salesman has since left the company.
SalesLogix (Datex Corp.) A
  • Notes

  • Third-party vendor offered comfortable sales pitch, without being pushy and without pressure (though I wasn’t thrilled with the product)
  • Feedback I gave the salesman after the first demo led to an adjustment in the graphical user interface.
  • Went with Datex Corp.’s WMS solution.
Siebel Systems D+
  • Notes

  • Salesman is friendly but got a bit pushier as the process went on.
  • Salesman has since left the company.
  • Sales manager belittled us for our minimal IT department, saying the $90,000 price tag wasn’t worth the company’s time to configure an on-site-hosted data pipeline.

Yet, from there, it took me another two to three months to arrive at my final vendor selection. What struck me was not so much the difference between the actual CRM applications on offer (although some applications definitely stood out as more of a “fit” for our needs), as much as the un-customer-centric way the majority of them approached the initial sales process.

They say that forewarned is forearmed, so what follows is a brief description of what I had to go through in the hope that, if you’re a buyer, you might avoid some of the usual grief involved in a CRM purchase or if you’re a vendor, you might be inspired to change the way your company does business.

    Step 1. Try to speak with a sales rep

    With research dispensed with, the first step in the CRM shopping process is speaking to someone at a CRM organization about the product. Do not expect to do so immediately, or you will be sorely disappointed. Once you have inquired about a product, either through an online form or email or with a phone call, you must first deal with the “call screener.” This means spending five to 10 minutes explaining what exactly your company does, who you are, how to contact you and what you wish to accomplish with the selected CRM product.

Step 2. Repeat Step 1

Only after the call screener has deemed your inquiry acceptable will a salesperson who knows something about the CRM application call you back. Don’t get too excited. You will have to spend another five to 10 minutes reiterating everything you told the call screener.

This is very annoying and a waste of time to customers. If you’re providing a product to help make a company more customer-centric, why would you do this to your own customer before you even begin the sales process?

Step 3. Try to find out the price

Finding out what CRM technology will cost you is a lot like buying your first car. That end price is pretty much up to you, based on your ability to shop around at various dealers, gauge whether you are being overpriced and haggle for a “discounted” deal. What I discovered is, with the exception of some hosted CRM vendors, who actually list the cost-per-user breakdown on their web sites (though, the more robust the solution, the less likely it is that a hosted solution will divulge the price), the first cost quotes you receive are not actually the “true” price of the CRM application. You have to do your homework and haggle … a lot to find out how much the vendor is willing to sell you the product for. For customized solutions or integration, the vendors generally charge $250 an hour, which can add up to be several thousands of dollars on top of other CRM application costs, and that does not include the cost of standard “training” fees.

It boils down to the fact that consumers have to be in a “buyer beware” mode when dealing with a CRM vendor. Isn’t this the opposite of customer-focused?

Step 4. Try to find out the value

If you look closely enough, you will notice that all of the CRM vendors seem to banter around various “reports” and “white papers” that skew the end number statistics in their product’s favor. Just pop on over to any of the CRM vendor web sites and take your pick of a report. They all tout theirs as the best product, with the best satisfaction levels, the longest client retention and so on. I even had one CRM vendor give me a “hush-hush” report (including a non-disclosure agreement) on another vendor. That second vendor used the same tactic (minus the NDA) with a different report against the first vendor.

Step 5. Take a deep breath and hold your nose.

These types of tactics do not instill a great deal of trust in a vendor. It left me feeling that the vendor didn’t consider me intelligent enough to make an informed decision. It also made me feel that the vendor was not confident in the merits of its product alone.

Eventually, I chose Rightnow to provide us with a CRM solution that we will implement later in the year.

However, just so you know, although we have selected them, since we are at the seed-funding stage, our actual purchase and implementation won’t happen until later this year, hopefully, in July or August. I made all of the calls and reviewed all of the vendors while I was doing my budget forecasting due diligence. This way we would have a fair and reasonable expectation as to what the actual cost of the applications would turn out to be later and I could make sure the budget numbers were as accurate as possible.

Rightnow, is who I selected to go with for our CRM product. Though I admit, it worries me that the sales person I originally worked with is no longer with the company. Also, as I stated before, we selected Datexcorp to provide us with our WMS solution, so really, they were not too bad during the sales process, they just had to show a piece of junk product.

It ends up being just like a car dealership, you end up picking the deal that leaves you with the least bad taste in your mouth. Even though you know they shouldn’t, they still all end up tasting bad to one degree or another.

The bottom line? If you provide a CRM product sold under the high-flying banner (not to mention the high price tag) aimed at addressing customer relationships, you should do a quick check to find out if you, too, are failing to remain true to the main tenets of your market.

As the saying goes, “If it quacks like a duck, has feathers and waddles …” Well, you know the rest.

For the other side of the story, read You Can’t Be a Customer-Centric Vendor Without Spending Time With the Customer.

Bonnie Buchanan
Independence2, LLC
Bonnie L. Buchanan is operations and marketing member of Independence2, LLC, an Ohio-based start-up door hardware company. Over the past decade, she has been involved with three start-up companies in the fields of Internet advertising, RTM computer software and medical management.


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