"Don't evaluate CRM systems according to their functions, but how well they depict your business processes."

Catherine B. Crowden, Marketing Manager at BSI

New CRM evaluation paths

Most CRM projects fail due to poor usability and therefore low acceptance, because the solutions launched do not fully integrate in the existing peripheral systems and because the cooperation with vendors is not close enough. But how does one find the right CRM vendor? We find that solutions should not be evaluated according to their functions, but by how well and sustainably they can depict the competition-related business processes and important information in the software.

Prevent failure right from the start

Are you starting to deal with the issue of evaluating CRM systems? Or perhaps going through the process once again? Then you probably are well aware of the classical approach. But are long Excel lists with detailed functional requirements really a practical way to find the right CRM software and the appropriate vendor?

Entering multiple addresses for a person or company, a name and name supplement, depicting industry and rating fields, relationships and roles – those things should be standard in all CRM solutions today. Nevertheless, in most evaluations of CRM vendors, each detail of the solution is queried using exhaustive Excel lists. This leads to a lot of work for both purchaser and provider, without offering the certainty that the solution will be convincing in use. Hence, many CRM solutions fail, although on paper they meet all the functional requirements – but are ultimately unable to meet the company's challenges: business processes in the software are neither natural nor fluid, contain in part dramatic system breaks or are simply not user friendly.

Decision making funnel

Make your CRM evaluation effective and efficient:

1. Long list: Online demo

Create a long list with ten vendors and request a 90-minute online demo from them. Here you can quickly see whether your basic requirements are met – or why they are not; whether there are two rating fields, whether you can link multiple companies to one person. Ask the vendor to show you the specific functions and cross your checklist off.

From among these vendors choose the five to ten best and then make a Request for Proposal (RFP).

2. Request for Proposal (RFP): Invest in compiling good use cases

What really differentiates solutions? The relevant difference between CRM systems lies where the competition-relevant procedures are carried out: in the business processes. But also: which data can be displayed in the system and how (e.g. last complaints, dunning stop, next best product)? The correct and important questions must be asked there. Explain to the vendor your ten most important action fields, your use cases – without asking about functions of the software.

  • The sales representative must prepare for the customer visit as quickly as possible. He needs all relevant customer information, must be able to edit it offline and later feed it into the system.
  • Leads and customer information originate from different sources: manual entry, automatically generated by the system, marketing, customer service. These must be visible and evaluable in the system – for those in charge, for the lead generator and for management.
  • The customer service employee receives a call from a customer who would like to purchase a product. To assist the customer quickly and competently, the agent needs access to all the customer’s data, e.g. data from the ERP, daily information from the team leader, the customer’s open invoices and past complaints. It must also be possible to route the customer's issue to other departments or external partners (e.g. credit bureau).
  • The central marketing department would like to conduct a campaign for a new product. It would like to define the target group, but to have it checked personally by the customer representative. The customers to be written to should be individually addressed, on a first-name or family-name basis.

The vendor should describe how each use case will be implemented in its solution on around three pages, including screenshots to convey the look and feel. With such use cases, you can determine whether the product can support you with the solution to your challenges, as well as just how the software does this. In addition, you learn, more or less “in passing”, a great deal about the detailed functionality of the product offered. Finally – and this is enormously important: you recognize whether the vendor understands your situation and can recommend sustainable solutions, whether it really is committed to you and your solution. Choose the three best vendors and let them present an onsite demo to you. 

Oranges Auto
Purchase CRM software as you would a car: do not ask if the blinker operates up and down with a lever or whether the tachometer displays in km/h or if the warning light is placed two centimeters to the right of the navigation system. What you really want is a simple onboard computer, an easily adjusted seat for comfortable long drives and a visible warning if the tank is near empty. Where and how these matters are solved is of secondary importance – but they must be solved.

3. Short list: Onsite demo

Request an onsite demo from the three best vendors on your short list. In the process let them demonstrate your very specific use cases. Give the vendor a bit of time to prepare, and then request that the solution already be roughly configured to your action fields and demonstrates how your systems can be connected. This will provide you with a good sense of how the software could be in use in your company.

4. Proof of Concept (PoC): Have the approach and prototype tested by users

Carry out a Proof of Concept (PoC) with the best one or two vendors, but keep the costs to a minimum. Don’t settle for “we can do it”, but demand that the vendor shows you how it will meet your challenges in the product. The vendor should already implement real use cases in the software. Make technical links to your system by having the vendor connect interfaces in a prototype. And test these with your users.

Is the vendor close to you as a customer? Does it have that certain something? Is the chemistry right? Request that all important people be involved in the PoC – including those who will implement the project. You will be working together with them for one to two years. For the success of the project it is essential that the team harmonizes.

5. Decide and be happy.

Choose the right partner. Choose the one that best matches you, the one that delves into your needs, the one that specifies smartly together with you. But also remain open to the special features of the vendor’s product. Rather, dispense with some of your individual requirements to remain close to the standard product.

Require that the vendor’s employees work onsite on your premises. Your project staff and those of the vendor should be a team – for each his or her personal project. Shorter communication channels make it easy to clarify things, to better implement user and IT requirements and to continuously check intermediate steps and milestones. This leads to improved control, better software and to success.

Ultimately, you will decide for the vendor with the right chemistry – and become happy with its solution.

Fixed prices instead of time and expense

The costs should not be the primary criterion – but if there are two equal vendors, then it can be the decision-making basis. Request a fixed price in any case. Do not let vendors give you the run around with insufficient information as an excuse. The vendor knows your requirements and should offer you its best solution to meet them, with all connections, adaptations and expenses that it recommends – with its best, fixed price. The vendor should also advise you about the appropriate maintenance and release models so that you can count on a budget and the right service in the long term. All this should ensure that you can be happy about your choice of CRM for many years to come.