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CRM Selection Checklist and Process Guide

Choosing the proper CRM system is a challenging task. This article attempts to lay out a roadmap towards this goal.

STEP ONE in any CRM selection process is to develop a checklist of CRM Requirements.

Define Business Objectives

If you aren’t careful, the process of gathering requirements becomes tactical and not strategic. Obviously every feature costs money. So it pays off to initially determine what you are trying to accomplish as a business.

Not just Sales and Marketing

Often CRM is seen as a sales or marketing tool. At it’s heart though, CRM is a strategy and philosophy: We want our entire company to be customer-centric. Not just our sales force. We want our accounting and manufacturing to also be customer-centric.

So be clear from the very start as to whether you are implementing CRM as a strategy or simply as a sales and marketing software.

Process for Developing Requirements

Typically, it is recommended to get your staff together and develop a requirements list. Normally this takes place by department.

In the vast majority of cases, this will result in a wish list that is extremely long. Often the wish list is too long and must be pared down. Typically a ballpark estimate is requested, followed by in-depth needs analysis meetings. Often, department members view this as their golden opportunity to get all of the features they’ve ever desired. But this shoots the price upward – so the list must eventually be pared down. A good partner will tell you which of the desired features are (a) useful for immediate implementation (b) should be postponed for a future phase (c) probably won’t be needed at all for various reasons.

Bringing in CRM Professionals

Often the internal staff does not know how to really assess their own needs. It can prove very valuable to pull in a partner to figure out your needs. CRM Experts can point you in the right direction and keep you on track, so that your CRM implementation doesn’t take on a life of its own.

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I’ve read some articles that claim all needs and requirements should be assessed before searching for a partner. We don’t agree to this at all. Although it is good to perform due diligence ahead of time, a sense of humility can be very helpful regarding your own CRM knowledge and experience limitations.

Compare CRM Systems - whether online, onsite, SaaS, licensed or hosted

STEP TWO of every CRM software evaluation is to select the right CRM implementation partner; i.e. an evaluation of vendors.

We won’t bore you with the obvious details of due diligence. Instead, we offer a few “tricks of the trade” that will hopefully divide the sheep from the goats.

CRM Due Diligence

First, check out the partner’s website. If it looks simple and clear, then the odds are high that your future CRM design will also be simple. But if the site is convoluted and unclear, watch out!

Research the References and Rollouts

Secondly, research their references and past implementations. If possible, take a look at some previous database designs. This should give you a good feel for the clarity and simplicity they build in to their design. This is another fantastic indicator of what you can expect.

Most Important: The Focus should be on you rather than their CRM Software

Thirdly, make sure they are interested in your business and your business processes! Watch out if they are more interested in showing you their features and their product – in contrast to grasping your business and your priorities. Let them lead you through the meetings you have. Stop talking, and start listening to how they conduct the initial meetings. Are they asking good questions? Or are they making assumptions that they already understand your business and your processes? Are they taking the time to “get” you and your goals? How ever they treat you at the beginning will likely describe what you can expect for the entire term of the relationship. True CRM Experts will make sure that the focus is on you rather than their own “fantastic” software.

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In order to download our checklist of CRM vendor selection criteria, click here. This will empower you to be aware of the right issues and questions – and thus choose the proper CRM partner.

Compare CRM Systems - whether online, onsite, SaaS, licensed or hosted

STEP THREE of an evaluation of CRM and a successful implementation is to select the appropriate deployment model.

The Trend is toward CRM in the Cloud

It is clear that the global CRM market is becoming more and more focused on  Cloud CRM, aka On-line CRM.  In 2010 Cloud Computing became the number one CRM trend. Salesforce.com has been moving the marketplace in this direction for over 5 years. SugarCRM, a SaaS/Online CRM system, has become the dominant CRM in the world of open-source. And in 2010 Microsoft announced that their strategic direction will be Online CRM. Although they will continue to offer On-Premise CRM, the clearly defined strategic direction is Online CRM. More and more CRM Professionals are heading in this direction.

Pros of SaaS CRM

  1. No long rollout time-frame. The implementation is almost immediate - because typically the vendor configures and maintains the servers.
  2. No server (hardware) purchase or maintenance (staffing)  is required. Neither is server software licensing required.
  3. No software installation is required. There are two key exceptions: (1) a plug-in for integration with Microsoft Outlook (2) offline access via a synchronization database on the local machine.
  4. No software or server upgrade is required. Upgrades and improvements are typically automatically pushed out. This can normally be easily monitored and managed by the adminitrator.

Cons of SaaS/Online CRM

  1. You are normally locked into a monthly service contract
  2. In some instances, you are limited to a specific number of users
  3. Database size is limited at times
  4. Storage Size can be limited at times (with substantial price increases for extra storage requirements)
  5. Custom Entities can be limited at times (although 200 entities is probably more than enough)
  6. Custom Workflows can be limited (although 200 workflows is likely more than enough)
  7. Some systems charge more when users reside outside the US or Canada
  8. Some CRM solutions supported only the English language – and charge more for others

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Compare CRM Systems - whether online, onsite, SaaS, licensed or hosted

STEP FOUR in CRM evaluations is to select the proper CRM software system.

Pricing and CRM Costs

At the end of the day, it usually comes down to price. So why not start with this obvious point. Be careful though with the free versions, because over time you will surely want to upgrade. And if you aren’t happy with your CRM, you might be required to stick with a product that doesn’t really fit your needs.

CRM Features

It is an absolute priority to find a CRM product that matches the feature set that you require. Don’t compromise on this point.

Can I grow with this CRM system?

It is fairly easy to figure out your current needs.  But much more difficult to figure out what you will be needing in the future. We urge you to gather with your core team and develop a feature set for the future of your firm. And make sure that your CRM selection can handle those needs. If you need advice regarding how to best calculate your future needs, consult a CRM partner in your area.

User adoption

Although most CRM systems can handle the basic features, they all have different user interfaces. Do yourself and take the time to sign up for a demo where you can hands-on really play with the system. Some systems have very poor activity interfaces, which could hamper you if your business is activity driven. Some systems pop-up multiple screens while others involved long scrolling. Some systems have very flexible screen layouts, while others are locked into a grid. And if you require hundreds of fields on a screen, this could truly affect you.

CRM Support Plan

There are many variations of support plans – and not all are included in the price of the software. Make sure you are clear on this point before signing up.

CRM Mobile integration

Most systems offer some sort of mobile integration. Be sure to understand which phones are supported (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, etc…). Some systems place a variation of the software directly on your phone as an app. Others simply sync with your phone’s built in contact and calendar functionality. While there are more features in the app, it is often helpful to take advantage of the built in contact features – for simplification of making and receiving calls.

CRM Accounting integration

Most CRM implementations require integration with other systems such as accounting software.  Be aware of which systems easily sync or integrate with the accounting system you employ or plan on implementing in the future.

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Compare CRM Systems - whether online, onsite, SaaS, licensed or hosted

STEP FIVE in a management software evaluation is having an adoption-oriented CRM Implementation.

User Adoption is the Success Ingredient in CRM Projects

Keystone Strategy penned an excellent paper on the value of end-user productivity and usability in ERP software implementations. They note that an AMR Research study has shown that merely 15% of employees are licensed to use their company’s ERP software system and that 46% of the licensed users are not actually logging in and using the system. These results are absolutely astounding! It is shocking that such a costly investment can be virtually wasted by almost half of the targeted users.

Keystone also points to another study by Forrester, which concludes that “poorly designed user interfaces can profoundly affect the bottom line. The expenses associated with a bad UI, over the course of the application’s lifetime, may end up being many times the cost of the application itself.” Forrester also shows how a poor User Interface affects CRM usability and thus requires unusually high training times.

6 Categories of CRM Business Productivity

  1. Usability measures the user’s perception of  how easy the system is to use on a daily basis. This includes the user’s command of the application and the users employment (actual usage) of the system. High usability scores drive the adoption level of the system and thus the ROI. High scores also reveal how much users are willing to explore the application in order to discover hew functions and features – thus empowering the user to also receive more value from the system.
  2. Familiarity measures the user’s perception of how intuitive the system is. This includes the ease of learning the software, the intuitiveness of the application, and the user’s confort level with the application. User adoption is greatly improved when the system feels intuitive. The more familiar the screen and application, the higher the probability that the user will want to implement it. For example, since Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook and Powerpoint are the most commonly used business applications, the more that a CRM application integrates or functions like these MS Office products, the greater the probability of user adoption.
  3. Collaboration measures how the system helps users to better work with their co-workers. This includes the ease of collaboration with other users, the ease and efficiency of workflow within the system, and the ease of communication with outside partners such as suppliers, vendors and customers.
  4. Business Insight measures how well the CRM system empowers the user to extract the data quickly and easily in a user friendly format. This includes the ease of comprehensive reporting and dashboards, real-time access to data, and visibility across all users and all departments. This is often the main downfall of CRM systems.
  5. Flexibility measures how the user’s difficulty level of accomplishing uncommon or ad hoc tasks. This includes agility in handling unexpected issues, the ease of completing atypical or infrequent tasks, and ease of system adaptibility towards growing business requirements. This also includes the ability to customize the CRM business software for future requirements.
  6. Transactional Efficiency attempts to measure the user’s perception of how effectively they can perform day-to-day tasks. This includes the user’s effectiveness in being able to execute repetitive tasks, the efficiency of the GUI (graphical user interface), and the reliability and performance speed of the software system. Keystone has found that this is one of the weakest predictive factors in determining overall ROI and TCO of a CRM implementation.


Two Key Findings regarding CRM User Adoption

  1. User Adoption is frequently a secondary priority in CRM purchasing decisions – and should be highlighted much more. Consult a local CRM implementation partner for more specific direction on how to maximize user adoption in your rollout.
  2. User Adoption is not just a matter of improving the User Interface. It is related to multiple factors such as Usability, Familiarity, Collaboration, Flexibility, Business Insight and Transactional Efficiency.

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About the author

Cliff Ford Author: Cliff Ford. CRM Solution Comparison has provided CRM cloud software reviews and evaluations for several years. Our staff of CRM certified partners implements, tests and uses the various systems discussed within this blog. We have created a number of excellent CRM comparison and evaluation tools that we provide our readers. Google

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