According to Gartner, CRM software became the largest software market in 2017 and keep growing steadily. As the market has grown in its appreciation for the importance and benefits of a corporate CRM solution, this has driven a number of consultancies to build out a CRM practice to get in on the action and take advantage of the uptick in demand for such services.
This leads to more choices for the buyer in the market which can be a good thing but does require a bit of a “road map” to navigate the various options in the marketplace to make sure you will select the right CRM consultant.
Here is a collection of things to think about when embarking on a partner for your CRM consulting needs.
Years in the Business of CRM Consulting
Because an experienced CRM consultant can better “translate” needs of users that worked with CRM systems in the past
CRM consulting is a crowded space with many firms jumping on the bandwagon of today’s most popular platforms like Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics 365.
Firms who have been around to witness the evolution of the CRM space have a great perspective on why tools have evolved to where they are today and have developed best practices and tips/tricks that only come from years of having specialized in a certain discipline.
Many companies considering a CRM solution have users with past experience using entry-level and low-cost contact management solutions like ACT, GoldMine, Maximizer and Telemagic.
While these tools weren’t great at everything, there were certain user experiences and features these new users really liked that they want emulated in the CRM system.
Having a consultant who has been around long enough to appreciate those nuances and offerings that have been around a while can be invaluable as you try to “translate” their needs into the new toolset.
Expertise with Multiple CRM Platforms
Because they can help you select the optimal CRM, not the one they know
Exposure and alignment to more than one CRM platform allows the consultant to align their interests with yours and removes bias.
The leaders in the CRM space reached that perch by being the best at what they do, but often times they aren’t the best in everything but in most things.
With that said, having exposure to multiple tools and platforms can provide a more well-rounded- perspective eliminating blind spots and past patterns of thought that often keep developers from thinking of new and better ways to solve problems.
CRM Product Development Experience
Because companies with own CRM products will have a better understanding of user needs
Any experience building commercially available product on top of a CRM platform can be invaluable.
The rigor, documentation, quality control and testing that is necessary when building a product that is to be sold, deployed, and supported across a large audience of unique users creates a discipline and perspective that few firms possess that focus solely on consulting services.
Finding a firm that has experience in delivering both product and professional services on top of and integrated with CRM platforms can lead to a more solid solution for your custom project.
Specialties / Industry Focus
Because they already have solutions to typical business challenges and talk your language
When at all possible, seek companies that have worked in your industry and to the extent you can find one who has “specialized” in that industry, your ability to get into “next level” discussions is maximized where greater value can be delivered instead being relegated to “teaching” the consulting firm about your business basics.
Every business is unique so make sure a consultancy takes time to learn your business and asks detailed questions about your current situation and expectations.
Because you want to meet deadlines and work with a consultancy that treats you as a priority
Don’t fall into the trap that the largest firm is necessarily the best fit for your CRM project.
While one firm can “through bodies” at a project, be weary of quality control issues and excessive burn rates on consulting hours.
Pay attention to how they communicate with you, how fast they reply to your emails, their level of engagement during calls or meetings.
You want to make sure you’ll be treated as a priority.
Good freelance CRM Consultants and small CRM consultancies will be, most probably busy, so make sure to have enough time for your research and don’t forget to ask them when could they start working on your project.
Pay attention to the complexity of your project and make sure the make-up of the consulting team is appropriate for the objectives of the CRM project.
Lower complexity projects can leverage multi-faceted consultants who possess enough skill to be the project manager, business analyst and developer leading to significant efficiencies and cost savings.
Larger and more complex projects may require that you have specialists within a certain task type and would likely fail if a “jack of all trades consultant” were to take on those projects.
CRM Implementation Approach
Because you want to make sure a CRM consultant can meet your needs
Not all CRM implementations require or need to follow the same approach or methodology.
Make sure your partner has the ability to flex based on your business requirements, culture and the speed at which you want to travel.
“As Is” Approach
Simple “As Is” Approach – the beauty of selecting a CRM platform specific to your industry is the ability to streamline the deployment by not having to build out features and functionality specific to your business.
Instead, you can focus on data transformation and training. This can greatly reduce the costs of implementation and speed up the time to value of the investment.
Proof of Concept Approach
While there is value in a well-defined scope in advance of a project, there are certain occasions where the vision of the project is a bit elusive and the idea of sitting in a conference room whiteboarding session capturing requirements just isn’t a fit.
Entering into an iterative “proof of concept” engagement can take the obscurity and academic nature of requirements gathering and turn it into a visible, tangible and interactive model that engages the audience and spurs creativity and process flow that sometimes is difficult, if not impossible, to generate absent these types of visuals.
Structured Agile Approach
For projects with more complexity that are larger in scale with hundreds if not thousands of users across multiple business lines, integration needs between systems, and custom development, a bit more rigor may be necessary to control the variables such as timelines, budget, and scope.
This approach will likely require dedicated project management and business analyst skillsets to navigate the early stages of requirements gathering that dictate the success or failure of a project of size.
Use of Offshore Resources
As collaboration tools have continued to mature making it easier than ever to communicate via voice, interactive video and screen sharing, the technology community has evolved into a true global marketplace.
Some firms in the United States have invested in building out offices in other countries to gain access to more plentiful talent pools and provide more cost-effective solutions for their customers.
Don’t seek the least expensive CRM consultant
The first lesson we learned the hard way…make sure that you are not unduly influenced by low-cost providers; as the saying goes “you often get what you pay for”.
Any cost savings you might have been promised either get consumed by extra hours being needed to complete the project or significant quality of delivery issues.
Some firms offer a “blended delivery model” where the customer-facing roles of a project manager, business analyst, and solution architect are resourced locally and then leverage the development capacity they have in an office located in another country to bring in the cost compression.
While not the least expensive, there are material savings with this model while maintaining the “feel” of a State-side experience.
Pay attention to time zone differences
The reality is, projects simply go better when you have interactive dialog and communications with those performing the work.
IT Outsourcing firms that have their offices in countries with minimal overlap in the United States can put an unnecessary strain on a project and compromise timelines and delivery quality.
Make sure you understand each other
While English is widely spoken in most countries today, you want to make sure the firm you engage with can provide evidence of some sort of English proficiency in both oral and written forms for the resources you are to engage with on the project.
Details can and will get “lost in translation” if you do not make this a priority.
Before Looking for CRM Consultancies
Do your homework and be ready to explain what you miss with your current CRM system, what challenges are you looking to accomplish.
Step 1. Identify Decision Makers
Identify decision-makers from every department.
If you have multiple offices, then from every office. It is really important because quite usually they will work differently and will face different challenges.
Step 2. Document Requirements
It’s better to formulate the requirements as soon as possible. Make sure you’ll take into account your future plans before even selecting a CRM system.
E.g., right now you might not do email outreach from your CRM system and you don’t need lead scoring.
But the time flies, your marketing team will start generating more leads and your sales team will need to prioritize them. Not all CRM systems will have this functionality or even smooth integrations with the tools you might need in the future.
It might be quite costly in the future to accommodate this request or you might need even to change your CRM software.
That’s why devote enough time to formulate your needs, including your future growth.
Every good CRM Consultant will help you with formulating detailed requirements (and should!).
Ideally, you should select a CRM consultant that has already solved the same challenges multiple times.
So you should have a list of top challenges you are going to accomplish with the help of the future CRM software.
Seek for a CRM consultant that has relevant experience and can come up with different solutions to your needs.
Step 3. Formulate CRM Consultancy Requirements
Now when you have a better understanding of your needs, make a list of must to have and nice to have requirements for your future CRM Consultant.
Need help selecting a CRM software first? Look for consultancies that work with multiple CRMs so they won’t sell you the one they know, but will help you select the best fit.
Do you need custom functionality? Look for partners with their own CRM apps or at least multiple successful case studies where they built custom software.
Do you plan to solve non-trivial tasks? Make sure to ask CRM consultants if they have relevant experience.
Do you need someone local to work on your project? Think if your firm is ready to work with local agencies only or you will consider consultancies from other cities/states/countries.
Step 4. Create a list of CRM consultancies to contact
Whenever I need to select a vendor, I always check not only their websites but their social media presence.
Usually, I start with LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network with nearly 660+ million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
Here you can quickly see team members of the company and even their skillset. Sure, not all people have LinkedIn profiles, but still, it is a good start.
Below is a screenshot of the Ascendix Technologies LinkedIn profile. As you can see, we have around 100 employees and are located in Dallas, TX.
Company Profile on LinkedIn
When you shortlisted CRM consultants, prepare your questions.
Questions to Ask your Future CRM Consultant
To help you successfully select a CRM consultant, here is a list of questions you can ask:
- How long have you been in CRM consulting business?
- Do you have expertise in my industry? Could you share case studies/portfolio/references?
- How have you solved X challenge? (it might help you get new ideas for your future implementation)
- What is your average project size (in terms of money, users deployed, data migrated)?
- What CRM platforms have you worked with? Do you have an affiliation with a particular CRM vendor?
- Do you have a custom CRM apps development experience?
- How do you work? What will you need from us? What will be our responsibilities?
- Who will work on our project? Can you share CVs? (while the company might be in business for years, you want to make sure you work with experienced professionals)
- When can you start working on our project?
- What is your pricing? What is the average cost of the project like ours?
- Do you provide training and support for our users? What is your SLA (Service Level Agreement)?
- How do you control quality and timelines?
- Can I review your typical Agreement? (Make sure to check their and your responsibilities, liability, payment terms)
About Ascendix Technologies
Since 1996, we have been helping companies select, implement, customize and adopt CRM software. Contact us to discuss your CRM strategy and how we can help!
“No longer can organizations throw technology at their sales teams, expecting that it will address their needs,” says Adnan Zijadic, senior principal analyst in Gartner’s Sales practice. “Sales leaders must work alongside application and IT leaders to assess the costs, risks, and benefits of emerging and established sales technologies before deciding to adopt.”
Having 24 years of CRM consulting experience, Wes has been on multiple advisory boards for CRM applications over the years including Salesforce, Dynamics 365 and no less than 10 other CRM platforms.