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10 things you need in a CRM vendor proposal (and 3 you don't)

10 things you need in a CRM vendor proposal (and 3 you don't)

If you're doing a CRM system conversion, expansion, or initial implementation, there are some things you need to look for — and look out for — in a vendor proposal. We'll help you sort it out.

If a significant customer relationship management (CRM) system project is on your agenda, here are checklist items that you need to look out for in vendor proposals.

10 things a CRM proposal should include

1. A project plan focused on user adoption. As I've written before, a CRM system without active users and a rich set of data is just an empty shell. This is not a matter of training or even indoctrination. In the project plan, every delivery phase should be focused on things that will attract communities of users because the new features of that phase will inherently make their job easier. If the project plan does not include deep user involvement in the prototyping and refinement stages of each delivery, send the project plan back for revision.

2. Incremental delivery. As I've also written, CRM requirements tend to change more rapidly (and more radically) than other enterprise software. If your project doesn’t deliver something usable (at least by pilot users) in the first 9 months, at least one of the key requirements is likely to have changed before the project delivers — undermining the credibility of the system, the implementer and, most importantly, you — before the project is even partially done. The project should be delivering functionality and data incrementally, so the business users see the system becoming more valuable at least once a quarter. With a SaaS system, the project should be able to deliver something of value to the business at least every six weeks, almost no matter how big the project is. (However, don’t go nuts and demand incremental delivery on a weekly basis: that’s technically inefficient and politically unmanageable.)

Along with incremental delivery is adaptive, incremental pricing. Since there shouldn't be a big bang feature delivery, there shouldn't be any big bucks payments for the implementer. Remember, the fixed price isn't always right — one side or the other is going to lose big if you insist upon a monolithic fixed price. We recommend managing each delivery increment to a budget that's fixed at the start of the increment, notat the start of the project.

3. Domain knowledge. To be effective, CRM systems must be molded to the characteristics of your marketplace and the details of your business processes. If you see "cookie-cutter" thinking in the vendor's proposal, run for cover: they'll be delivering something that won't fit your business. The domain knowledge you need is both "vertical" (industry) and "horizontal" (business process), and you need to see it in the people actually working on your project — not just the vendor's principals.

4. References in your industry. "References" goes without saying — but you need proof that the vendor has domain knowledge and project successes in business environments similar to yours. Don't be overly picky — references are hard for the vendors to produce — but make sure there is the right depth in the vendor's team. Alwayssupplement the vendor-supplied (read: heavily curated and groomed) references with calls to friends you have working at your competitors.

5. Integration with marketing automation. CRM systems and marketing automation are close cousins. But they're only cousins. The best of breed in CRM systems have weak marketing automation features, and the reverse is also true. Unless your CRM project is focused only on customer support, the system will be incomplete if it isn’t tightly integrated with enterprise-scale e-mail blasters, advertising engines, social media monitors, landing page generators, registration systems, and event management/calendaring features. Make sure that your project uses only off-the-shelf adaptors for marketing automation, enterprise resource planning (ERP), order entry, delivery/fulfillment, and other related systems.

6. Integration with your email and phone systems. CRM is all about communicating with customers and collaborating with internal staff to win the deal and build customer satisfaction. So your CRM system needs to be integrated with the main channels of communication: e-mail and phone. Depending on your company’s scale, this means private branchexchange (PBX), auto-dialers, automatic call directors (ACD), interactive voice response(IVR), and any cloud telephony infrastructure. There's nothing wrong with third-party products here, but you want to make sure that appropriate inbound and outbound e-mails are logged for each 'touch" and that the system provides "screen pops" to inform anyone who has to take an inbound call from a customer or prospect.

7. Data quality, data conversion, appropriate history. Even in a "greenfield" CRM project, there's data to be converted and integrated from day one. Don't try to import more data than you really require, as the real cost of data preparation and integration can easily be $1 per record or more. In many CRM projects, getting your data really ready for prime time is the single most expensive part of the project! Don’t just look for data quality and deduping product citations; look for a description of the process they will use (and the amount of time they are going to need from your team). Watch out for vendors who use weasel-words to put all the risk of this in your lap. Also, watch out for project plans that indicate data migration doesn’t start until the project is more than half done — this can lead to engineering change orders (ECO) and unamusing re-work of system features.

8. Mobile (read: iPad/iPhone/Android/). In CRM, support for the road-warrior is moving rapidly into the “must have” column. Sales reps and field support teams are increasingly working on the go or at the customer site, and they need real-time access to customer history, order status, inventory information, documentation, and troubleshooting guides. Even if you have no requirement for this now, make sure that the technology you're buying can readily support popular devices for all the functions you're going to deploy.

9. Social media integration and omnichannel support. You don't have to be a Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, or Yelp! user yourself to know that consumers and professionals log on to social media networks by the millions every day. Whether it's Salesforce Chatter for internal collaboration or Reputation Defender for brand monitoring, your CRM project needs to as least have a strategy for integrating these customer touch points. And omnichannel isn't just for sales, it’s also for support. You cannot avoid this if you want to be a leader in your marketplace!

10. GDPR compliance is part of the project. Of course, you already know about personal confidential information (PCI), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act(HIPAA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act(FERPA), and whatever other alphabet-soup issues with which your industry needs to comply. But the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to nearly any business, even if you don’t do business in Europe. Why? Because the moment you get an email from anybody with a European passport, irrespective of where they live, you’re on the hook. And the penalties are amazingly severe. So it’s not enough for the vendor to claim you’ll be “GDPR enabled” (or whatever BS terminology they come up with): your project needs to deliver a system and a set of processes that are GDPR compliant from the day they are deployed. This is not simple.

And 3 things it shouldn't

1. Large requirements discovery phases at the beginning, with accompanying requirements tomes. These are practically guaranteed to be obsolete (or just plain wrong) the day they are published. In an area evolving as fast as CRM, these big documents can't possibly reflect the needs of the business 18 months from now.Instead, demand “mini discovery” at the beginning of each sprint, covering only the topics of the sprint delivery that will take place a month or two later.

2. Boil-the-ocean data history. Even a small business can have a million leads and tens of millions of prospect interactions. Trying to bring all this history into the new CRM system in a meaningful way can overwhelm your budget and schedule. See if you can get the initial project to focus on a year's worth of history, and bring in the rest later only if need be. Even for orders and contracts, there’s no excuse for having history longer than the seven-year statute of limitations.

3. Feature-itis. This will do absolutely no good in a CRM project. It will cost you dearly in funds and credibility. You'll clearly need architecture, and a clean way to integrate systems, but project success is about getting the users really into the system, not swamped with new things to learn. So direct the vendor to contract a serious case of user-itis.

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