A customer relationship management (CRM) solution tracks all interaction with the customer, be it via the Web, call center, email, postal mail, point of sale, or just a casual conversation. Evaluating a CRM vendor is one of the most important decisions a CIO has to make.
So how does one initiate the CRM vendor evaluation process? Preliminary research is a must to ensure that you pick the cream of the crop in the context of your organization’s needs. Here are some areas that merit attention during CRM vendor evaluation:
Consider the scope of your new CRM solution in the CRM vendor evaluation process and the expectations from it in the future. Given that different vendors have different strengths, choose an appropriate vendor depending upon the business function your CRM deployment addresses. To illustrate, a CRM product with a marketing component would have strong campaign management and email tracking systems.
Nowadays, CRM packages are equipped with templates to suit varying business requirements. Buying vertical- or function-specific templates may be more cost effective than customizing the tool later.
While procuring a CRM application, the real challenge is to keep an eye on expenses that accrue over and above the licensing fees. These include implementation fees and labor charges, as well as integration, training and support fees, which can be several times higher than the licensing fees. CRM vendor evaluation must factor this in and confirm the vendor’s claims by speaking with other organizations that have used the solution, preferably from the same vertical.
During the CRM vendor evaluation process, keep in mind that a good CRM solution helps an organization with customer prioritization. The selected CRM should have features for data quality best practices that help in reducing duplicate entries and achieving standardization. This facilitates accurate identification of valuable customers, enabling customer service executives to focus their attention appropriately.
For companies with global operations, CRM vendor evaluation would consider CRM solutions that support multiple languages, to cater to global customers.
If the organization is familiar with a particular vendor’s products, this might tip the scale in that vendor’s favor during the CRM vendor evaluation process. If employees are already using applications from a particular vendor, it might make sense to consider the same vendor for a CRM solution, in the interest of reducing costs of training and implementation.
Most large CRM vendors offer solutions that are highly scalable. But it all boils down to the nature and volume of data you need to store and where you need to store it. If you are a global company, CRM vendor evaluation should be based on how well the solution handles thousands of users on the same CRM instance.
For large organizations, business process automation in the CRM solution is important for reducing manual effort. Make sure your CRM vendor has workflow engines to create best practices for your business needs.
During CRM vendor evaluation, keep in mind that some vendors do not allow for customization on a massive scale. The more you modify, the more expensive it gets. In some cases, you are limited to the number of fields you can add or modify to suit your business requirements.
When opting for an on-demand suite, be aware that CRM vendors are not going to make customization easy. CRM vendors discourage extensive customization, as they realize it could be a hindrance to subsequent upgradation.
Migration is never easy, whether from a vendor or an application. During the CRM vendor evaluation process, migration capabilities of the product must be assessed. This is especially important with migration to cloud CRM.
Strong migration capabilities are also needed post mergers. The CRM vendor you pick must make it easy to extract existing application data and make it available in different formats to external applications.
Integration capabilities vary from vendor to vendor. While evaluating a CRM vendor, first evaluate your own environment and ask the vendors if they support your integration requirements. Ensure the CRM vendors provide support for:
- Document integration: Warranty information, complaints and other product-related information should be integrated and available on the same CRM application.
- Call center integration: The call center should be integrated with the CRM application. The customer’s account should be automatically opened based on caller-ID, when a customer calls.
- Social integration: With the rapid adoption of social CRM, a point to consider
during the CRM vendor evaluation would be the possibility of capturing information from popular
social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Though many CRM solutions do not have this capability
as yet, it could well be a differentiating factor in CRM vendor evaluation.
About the author: Yogesh Sharma is director of strategic information management at NexStrategy, Detroit, USA. His areas of expertise include CRM, data quality, data integration, master data management and business intelligence. Over the past 21 years, he has worked with PeopleSoft, Siebel, Oracle, Cap Gemini and Tata Consultancy Services, in various capacities.
(As told to Joyoti Mahanta)
This was first published in August 2011