Choosing a CRM isn’t just about aligning features or finding the sweet spot on pricing. When you onboard the right solution, CRM can be the defining difference in your sales, customer relationships, and even employee satisfaction.
To learn more about what needs to go into the CRM selection process, we recruited the insights of Paul Greenberg, Founder and Managing Principal at The 56 Group LLC, whose annual CRM Watch List is considered one of the most influential reports in the CRM market. We also brought in Ultima Media’s Managing Director Gavin Miller, who recently underwent a CRM selection project. You can replay our conversation with Paul and Gavin here or keep reading for the key takeaways:
CRM Features Shouldn’t Guide the Selection Process
In a recent Workbooks survey, we found that 62% of companies select CRM based on features and functions. That’s not the only reason, but it’s the number one quoted by respondents. And Greenberg shares that’s usually the wrong approach.
The survey also revealed that half of respondents had switched CRM solutions, and Greenberg believes that this number is high because so many people are making feature-based buying decisions.
“I’ve consulted with companies who base their operations around the features and functions of the CRM tool. In these cases, the company doesn’t understand why they bought the CRM in the first place. But when you buy technology and want it to last, you first need to decide what goals and outcomes you need to reach that this software can support.”
Prioritising Objectives Includes Thinking Long-Term
Making a list of goals and business objectives is a key first step in the process. But Greenberg shares that something that is usually left off this list is the long-term outlook for the company.
“It’s hard for many companies to project five years out because the world around us is changing dramatically fast. So I suggest projecting three years out based on your short-term objectives. In other words, if you achieve the success you want in Year 1, what will Years 2 and 3 look like? Is your company suited to achieve the next level? How will your CRM tool fit into those next steps?”
Once you gain context around short and long-term objectives, you can better prioritise your needs for a CRM tool. It’s still a process from here, Greenberg warns, but building this structure first will ultimately lead to better decision-making when you reach that point.
Conduct an Internal Audit of Existing Tools and Systems
During the CRM selection process, Miller weighed the possibility of building an in-house CRM solution rather than buying a pre-built tool. To help reach a conclusion, he first conducted an internal audit of the platforms, systems, tools, and processes that were already in place, as well as whether they had the resources in-house to pull off a CRM build. He wanted to know the role of each software they already had, how they worked, who was using them, and whether they could be optimised to produce different outcomes.
Costs also came into this conversation. Miller compared the costs of the existing toolkits with the costs of investing in a new CRM, then weighed those costs against things like functionality, processes, and the employee experience.
“Looking through the cost lens isn’t just about saving money. When you’re investing in better tools, like a CRM solution, you might end up paying more for it. But when you’re looking long-term, you might get a better ROI. Driving more revenue and building customer loyalty will ultimately lower your total costs.”
It’s Almost Always Better to Buy than Build
Having consulted with hundreds of companies on CRM projects, Greenberg has seen two in-house CRM solutions that he would rate as “Good.” And both were industry-specific.
He cautions that it’s almost always better to buy than to build, especially now that many CRM tools offer various layers of customisation to function. The reasons he shared are multifold.
“It takes longer to build a custom CRM product than most companies realise, even for the smallest of systems. And by the time you’re done building, it will usually be way bigger than you intended. It costs more to build in-house, it takes more labour time and resources, and rarely are custom-made solutions built to scale over time.”
Bring in a CRM Expert to Guide the Selection Process
It’s a fair assumption that most companies embarking on a new CRM journey do not have all of the expertise they need to go through the selection process. Greenberg sees high value in bringing in an expert or consultant to define the process and identify the right priorities and needs.
When you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s hard to know whether you’re on the right path or if something else should be taking priority. Hiring an expert brings confidence to the process, kind of like a second brain that asks the CRM ops-level questions you haven’t thought to ask.
“Something worth noting is that when you get down to the vendor selection part, many vendors have their own consultants or experts that can step up for you. Don’t rule them out because they typically have access to valuable resources that will benefit you.”
Whether you bring in a consultant in the early stages or wait to secure the expertise of a vendor, Greenberg reminds companies to include this in the total cost of the project. “When you’re sticking to a budget, any external resources are going to affect it.”
Consulting expertise is an added cost, but looking at your selection through value instead of cost, it can help you make the right decision the first time and avoid the high costs of starting this process all over again in a few years.
Know the Right Questions to Ask Vendors
When Miller and his team were shortlisting vendors, they sent out an RFI (instead of an RFP) that listed out their main objectives, goals, and desired outcomes. What they wanted from it was to get the vendor to participate in the discussion around how a CRM solution would fit into their ecosystem.
“We wanted to feel confident we were going with the right vendor, so instead of the traditional formulaic process, we wanted to have lots of discussions along the way. And once we drilled it down to two or three vendors, we started asking deeper questions to make sure they understood our market, our challenges, our people, and our business.”
Throughout this journey, there are a few key questions that Greenberg encourages companies to ask vendors:
Can you share some references? Keep in mind you’re going to get the best references they’ve got. But talking to references can help you learn more about what it’s like to work with the vendor and the quality of relationship they provide.
What is the culture of the company like? More important than features and functions is cultural fit. Greenberg suggests looking deeper into the vendor’s company culture to learn more about its employees, their satisfaction, and the interactions with the people you’re building this long-term relationship with.
How can your CRM help us achieve our specific outcomes? CRM tools can work in different ways for different purposes, and going by name recognition or features and functions alone doesn’t guarantee outcomes for your company.