Seven questions to help you select the ideal CRM implementation partner
Getting a CRM partner on board is as crucial as (if not more than) choosing your CRM solution. The impact of failed implementations manifests in your business processes, people, and data. When CRM projects fail, it has less to do with the CRM solution itself. The fault usually lies somewhere in the implementation.
Choosing a CRM partner is not as simple as settling with the lowest bidder, pointing them to their desk, and hoping for the best. When purchasing something of value, it is always best practice for you to exercise due diligence and find the best deal for your budget.
There are plenty of CRM consultants and freelance resources, all promising to bring value to your business. Come prepared with these seven guide questions to help you narrow down the field and choose the best CRM partner for your organisation.
How long has the CRM partner been actively working with our CRM solution?
Start your search for a CRM partner by considering these factors:
- The size of the organisation
- How long the organisation has existed
- What CRM system/s they specialise on
Most CRM consulting companies have a project manager who will be your initial (and frequent) point of contact, and these organisations will have either senior consultants who are adept in a specific CRM platform or junior that are locally or even remotely based. A large CRM consultancy may offer stability with such organisational structures, but they are not necessarily efficient. If you have to pass through some cumbersome hierarchy, things will take time to get done.
One of the top accounting firms whom I have helped with their CRM implementation had an internal project manager that had no knowledge whatsoever of Dynamics 365, and the technical resource is a part-timer who had no knowledge or even interest to know more about the business. From the get-go, I understood why the project had no traction. Sloppy decisions are made when you don't know what you don't know.
Dedicate a time to meet with the CRM consultants who are likely to join your project. This allows you to gauge their experience, probe their problem-solving skills, and evaluate their attitude towards your CRM project. It is important to know upfront who will work on the project so you can manage your expectations. A good CRM partner will not let you do all the asking, but they will have a keen interest to know more about your business and how they can help improve it.
You might get a team of CRM consultants that have adequate knowledge of your CRM but are not experienced. One warm body is not equal to another warm body, and having the same qualifications does not mean that they have similar skill levels or share the same industry experiences. This maymake or break your CRM implementation.
If you are looking to implement Microsoft Dynamics 365, seek a Solution Architect who is an Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) and preferably with Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) qualifications.
What project methodology do they follow?
Ask them to define what methodologies they follow, and the justification of those steps. Select a partner that makes realistic promises, not simply one that ticks off a checklist.
This is also where you need to check if they deliver business value, and not just technical expertise. Do your homework and check their client references or testimonials, or have a chat with their current or previous clients. Find out if they have deployed the same CRM solution to similarly structured organisations such as yours.
While a solution that worked for another business probably will not work for yours, however their experience will bring useful tips and strategies to the table.
Many years ago, when I was working in India, I was told that organisations need to implement CRM three times to get it right. The first two attempts teach the organisation what they need to know for the successful third attempt. Personally, I find this frightening. There are better ways of learning than completing a failed implementation. Imagine if we taught our children to cross the road by throwing them out into the traffic!!
Even the best CRM consultants have their fair share of failed implementations. Ask them what lessons they learnt from those experiences, and what they did differently to avoid making the same mistakes. The CRM partner should be on the same page with what business requirements you want to achieve, but should still able to pause and make sound recommendations on the solution design based on how you define your goals. As the technical experts, it should be their responsibility to act as a handbrake, not to keep agreeing to everything that the customer asks for.
What are their billing terms?
I find the “billable hours” and “blended rate” approach to be inefficient for CRM projects, for a good number of reasons.
CRM projects tend to stretch on longer than necessary, especially within large organisations that have to pass through levels of decisions, approvals, and feedback. This is why key business people involved in the CRM project should be onboard the CRM bus from the get-go - this keeps the clock ticking with fewer unproductive hours spent waiting.
If you are getting an outsourced team of CRM consultants with varied strengths and weaknesses, an experienced consultant that may complete his part of the project in 40 billable hours. However,this might not be the same for his junior colleagues that need extra time and resources to complete what is expected.
A CRM partner that costs more on paper but can walk their talk with minimal supervision in significantly lesser time is your best bet, as opposed to the lowest bidder who will end up taking much of your precious time in double-checking if they are doing the work according to what you asked for.
As an organisation, you want an efficient CRM implementation that meets all your project goals within the most reasonable timeline and cost, whereas the wrong partner will be aiming to render longer, unproductive hours in the hopes of exceeding their targets and gaining profit. Having mismatched aims will only exhaust you of your effort and money, and will get you nowhere near your project goals.
There are always trade-offs to decisions that we make – and CRM implementation is one decision that you do not want to scrimp on. Caveat emptor (buyer beware): you will get what you pay for!
Is the CRM consulting team based locally, and do they speak our language fluently?
Regardless of the CRM architecture you choose, the most obvious need of the project is constant communication between your internal implementation team and the CRM consulting team. Any misunderstanding somewhere along the way will spell distress to the project outcome.
The ideal CRM partner should be able to communicate well enough in your language so they understand and realise the project expectations. In this day and age of remote work and virtual meetings, communication is key.
Be mindful of time zone and cultural differences if you choose to hire consultants from overseas to work on your project. What seems to be a great deal on paper may have underlying factors that can create a strain on your collaboration.
Huge time zone gaps between you and the technical resource will leave a short window for communication – and each national or cultural holiday they spend away will count as a day further from project completion. Such arrangements will either prompt you to adjust your working hours to accommodate them, or they will agree to work within your time – but with matchsticks prying their eyes open!
Working with a locally-based consultant will give you more convenience as you collaborate within the same time zone, and meeting them in person will build a relationship based on trust and proper communication.
How far will the scope of support reach?
Any technical implementation, especially CRM, involves dealing with integrations and chunks of data. A responsible CRM partner will leave no loose ends, but should there be any instance of error or uncertainty, quick response and a solid line of support from them will keep your project afloat.
Keep in mind any future upgrades or integrations that will need their services. CRM evolves not only with updates and new technology but also with your organisation's evolution. No business will want to stay stagnant - organisational growth will also require your CRM to adapt to those changes.
Be wary of a “lock-in” before signing off on the contract. If things go awry with your chosen CRM partner and you opt to switch to a different CRM partner, either you will have to pay a hefty fee to break free from the liability, or the new CRM partner will have to learn “fancy techniques” that the previous CRM partner did – which may require extra costs on top of your bill. Either way, both routes will end up being costly, and will benefit them, but not you.
Will there be training (and who gets trained)?
When you go to a restaurant and order what looks nice from the menu, you don’t worry about whether you can cook the same dish at home or if you know how it is made. You simply trust that you will get what you ordered (that it looks and tastes as delicious as expected) and that the chef and his line cooks can prepare the food properly (that the food doesn’t make you sick).
For some reason, this logic doesn’t work with CRM projects. You might get your shiny new CRM system served on a silver platter, but how certain are you that all goals of the implementation are ticked off?
I had a client who learned this lesson big time: In the first iteration of the project, the client had no one onboard their team with the CRM knowledge and skills. The CRM project, which was supposed to take only 3 months, had instead taken 3 years. The first two years before I came on board to rescue the project had been wasted, and that’s because no one on the client’s side had the technical skills to realize that the offshore developers they hired to do the implementation had no idea about what they were doing.
If you do not have an understanding of your CRM, you set yourself prone to the rogues, charlatans, scoundrels, and swindlers of the industry – and it will be challenging to know where your business users excel or fall short. This study from MIT Sloan Management Review recognises it as “digital savviness”, and owning that understanding will empower you to make better, informed decisions with your CRM.
End-user training is important, but as important is training upward in the ranks, which makes all the more sense when you are in the position of influencing and deciding over these matters.
Does their organisational culture fit with ours?
CRM is not an IT project. Rather, it has to do more with people - within and outside your organisation.
The right CRM partner will work with you to ensure a successful implementation. With the right mindset towards customer success, and not primarily driven by profit or recognition, the right culture will permeate through their being and will show that their goals align with yours.
You want a business partner that you can effortlessly collaborate with - one that will contribute to boosting the productivity and morale of everyone involved in the project. The implementing partner should help you get the most out of your CRM investment, and not treat your project as a stepping stone to other opportunities. At the end of the day, the project is about making CRM useful, in a way that works best for your organisation.
If you found this article helpful, you will find value in my e-book “Five Fundamentals of a Foolproof CRM Implementation Strategy” which goes into detail with more of the fundamentals that you will need in every CRM implementation project. You can download it from here.
Published by Gill Walker