Buying a CRM: Topics that will make CRM Vendors uncomfortable discussing and help you make the right decision in the process
Selecting the right CRM platform for your business is a critical decision, and one that most every company would agree; you won’t want to make more than once, at least not for a couple of years. Implementing a CRM into your business takes time, effort, commitment, resources and most importantly money, so at the end of the day it’s in your best interest to educate yourself when evaluating the right vendor for your long term CRM needs. Implementing the wrong CRM will bring unnecessary expense, create new challenges for your team and a host of new bad habits. There are hundreds of types of CRMs on the market today, the question is; which one is right for you?
You’re really the only person that can answer that question, but there are some useful criteria that you should consider to help you decide on a CRM vendor that will increase your ROI and provide you with a lasting solution that can grow your business and equally important grow with your business.
Once you narrow down your selection of CRM vendors who immediately meet your most pressing needs, these are 5 useful discussion points you should engage in that will help you shape your final decision.
Right now you’re most likely shopping for your immediate needs, but what about your growth? Adding users licenses, extending solution requirements, or integrating with third-party applications are essential considerations that shouldn’t be overlooked, regardless of your CRM solution. Understanding the full breadth of your CRM’s capabilities, and the costs associated with your growing pains should be a fundamental criteria in your buying process, because regardless of the solution you choose, you should expect one time costs and efforts associated with setup and implementation. These are costs you don’t want to have to repeat because you’ve quickly outgrown your CRM and need to get into a new one sooner than later. When determining your growth needs it’s a good idea to segment your priorities from the must haves and nice to haves. If the CRM vendor cannot provide a complete solution ask for their suggestions for the vendor(s) who they recommend as compatible integration points with their software. Although there may not be an immediate need for third-party integration you should still consider including the price of the solution in your overall costs if you anticipate the need to include those capabilities at a later point, to make sure you are comparing apples to apples when pricing out your CRM options.
- How far can your CRM vendor take your business without adding additional costs?
- How flexible is your CRM vendor when it comes to application integration or APIs?
- What kind of customization is required for your specific needs?
- What are the additional costs associated with your growth expectation (i.e. adding users, etc.)
- Are there pricing breaks or discounts for volume licensing?
Are you sure you know how much this is going to cost you? Sounds easy, but there are enough CRM vendors out there who have muddied the waters when it comes to pricing. Beware of complicated pricing models, they’re complicated for a reason. You need to understand what all of your costs are upfront. Your monthly subscription rates are obvious, but what are the costs for services like implementation, training, support, integration, customization and so on. In many cases to win your business implementation services are often reduced or downplayed by CRM vendors that require total subscriptions paid in advance. Once they have your subscription dollars paid in full (number of users X monthly subscription X 12) they could care less what your experience is with their product and will be ready to swipe your credit card when you need any of the other aforementioned services. They know there is a 50/50 chance you’ll renew for another term, and for most vendors like Salesforce.com and Sugar CRM, that’s a good enough statistic form them, especially when there isn’t any effort required on their part to keep you as a customer if you depend on their product daily. Know what those costs are upfront and always be prepared to pay them, even if all may not apply.
If a vendor is eliminating implementation services from their pricing proposal to you, their not doing it to save you money, they’re doing it to win your business in a bid situation. Requiring these services after you begin using their software could increase your implementation costs significantly.
Understanding all the costs will give you a better perspective when comparing vendors. Be sure to get an itemized list of all costs and potential costs.
- When it comes to implementation services statistics will validate that companies who engage their CRM vendors for these services have a higher success rate in adoption and overall ROI with the CRM subscription. If you’re committing to term agreements and/or prepaying for a 12-month period, then start right, implement based on your vendor’s recommendation – they know something you don’t; their product and their customers’ experiences with and without implementation services. Customers who opt to follow implementation plans have a higher ROI on their CRM than those who attempt to do it themselves.
- Ask about pricing increases. All too often CRM vendors tend to increase their subscription plans with existing customers that force them to pony up or shop elsewhere. Salesforce.com is notorious for drastically increasing their subscription prices after year 1, especially on low cost incentive plans that were solely introduced to lure their customer in. Shopping for a new CRM one year after you purchased and implemented your existing CRM is a process nobody wants to engage in and something that could have been avoided had the buyer familiarized himself with the long term cost. If you want to maintain your pricing get it in writing. If the vendor won’t do that for you, then you know the answer.
- Make sure you are pricing apples to apples. Comparing services for services will give you the most accurate and honest pricing. If a service appears on one vendor’s estimate (and was and justly explained) ask your other vendors why they don’t include a similar line item in their pricing, and what the cost would be for the same service if not included. Remember, once you sign a 12-month agreement or pay for 12-months in advance, you’re stuck. So get familiar (and comfortable) with all the potential costs, even if you never use them.
If you’re looking at budget software then expect budget results.
Make sure that every CRM vendor can provide you with pricing and information for the following services and costs:
- Total cost of user subscriptions and if they’re required upfront or can they be paid monthly?
- Standard Implementation services, including costs, requirements and duration.
- Training services. What kind of training options are available and what are their costs?
- Customer Support. What kind of support plans do they offer and what are the benefits?
- Customization services. What can you do and what you will need the vendor to do?
- Third-party integration. What’s available now and what are typical costs associated with integrating to third-party applications?
- What are some of their pricing differentiators compared to the other vendors you are considering?
Support and Customer Service
What happens after the sale? Moving forward you’ll have questions about the features and functions as well as practical questions that help you understand how the CRM can be used in real-life scenarios, above and beyond your standard tech support services. Who’s going to be answering those questions? How qualified is the support team above and beyond tech related questions? Will you have a dedicated account manager who can assist you or are you calling and 800 tech support number each time and have to explain your problem from scratch when asking for an update? What kind of experience can you expect after the sale? The kind of customer services and support offered for your CRM will play an integral part in your adoption process and overall success, so know what’s available.
Get an understanding of your vendor’s support process upfront.
- Are there different support plans? If so what are the benefits and cost for each? What does basic support cover?
- What are their hours of operations for customer service? Will timezones be a contributing factor to your response time?
- Who will be supporting you? Is it a dedicated account manager or will each of your cases be assigned to general tech support?
- What are the response times? Every issue is different and may have unique resolutions, but what are the general response times from opening a new support case to resolving the issue?
Before you’re ready to buy you should always ask for references from existing customers to help you understand someone else’s overall experience with the vendor, from the buying process through implementation and after sales service. While it’s ideal to compare yourself to an customers with exact needs, within the same industry as you, it’s not always relevant, necessary or possible. What does matter is comparing yourself to existing customers that have similar requirements or challenges. That can include number of users, offices, and usability needs. Though implementation and setup are a one time service, existing customers with integration needs will provide tremendous insight as to whether or not the vendor was capable of meeting their customization requirements and doing it on budget. You can always research customer experiences online, but nothing is more insightful than calling existing customers with a list of questions you’ve prepared in advance.
Here are some questions you can ask your vendor’s references.
- What was your previous process or solution, prior to selecting the CRM vendor?
- Who else did you evaluate and why did you choose this vendor over the others?
- How long have they been a customer? In terms of annual agreements have they renewed before and/or do they intend to renew?
- What was the implementation experience like? How long did it take? How much effort did they have to commit to? Were there any additional costs incurred?
- Were there ever any price increases? if so, were they expected?
- Was the product easy to adopt? How much time did it take for users to become comfortable with using it? Was it difficult to learn?
- Did the implementation stay on budget?
- Are there any corners that you cut to save money that you regret?
- Has the vendor continued to provide you with quality service after the sale that your expect?
- Did you have to integrate with any third-party applications?
- What kind of customization did you elect to do, if any?
- In what ways do you use the vendor’s product?
Price (Get ALL the numbers)
When searching for the solution that is right for your business, try not to shop on price alone. Sure there needs to be a threshold for your CRM costs, but before you worry about price, focus on solving the problems your organization is suffering from. As with everything in life, you get what you pay for and when it comes to economy products, CRM is no exception. Buying a CRM is much like buying a car in the respect that it has a term life cycle. If you need a minivan for your household of 7 and buy a Mini Coop to cut corners you’re making a costly mistake that you will continue to pay for in both hard and soft costs for quite a while. It’s important that you understand your full range of needs (immediate and long-term), but be sure to first find a CRM solution that will solve the immediate problems and challenges your business is facing, with the ability to address long term requirements. If you cannot solve the most essential problems with a new CRM, then you’re paying money to create new problems, like in the Mini Coop example. Set honest expectations; it’s rare that you’ll find an affordable all in one CRM that will accomplish everything you want, but make sure it does the basics and does them well. Remember, you’re trying to improve your business processes, not trade existing dysfunctional workflows and problems for new obstacles and challenges of equivalent or greater proportion. If you’re looking at budget software (low cost CRMs) then expect budget results and it won’t be long before you’re back on the market again for a richer product.
When it comes to price, make it a consideration, not a distraction. Bottom line, be an educated buyer.