There is so much focus on sales processes and selling that I thought it would be nice to take a break and look at the sales cycle from the buyer’s perspective instead. Buying a CRM system (or other BPM system) can be a confusing and often frustrating task. So many options, too many promises, and no guarantees.

As a potential customer, you have the power; you control the selling process and it is up to you to ensure that you cut through the marketing and sales pitches and gain enough tangible information to make the best decision for your company. As buying a CRM system is not an everyday task, it is important to understand what to expect and what to demand from the selling/buying process.

Buying a CRM System: What to Expect; What to Demand

Rule number 1: Be prepared before kicking off the buying process. I recommend completing a Gap Analysis first, for without one you cannot be sure you even need a CRM system — let alone set up a criteria for buying one. In a previous blog, Use Gap Analysis to Understand Where You Are; Chart a Path to Where You Want to Be, I discussed NEHANET’s approach and the different stages involved in completing a Gap analysis. The final phase as described in the blog is the transition phase from Gap analysis to the buying process. The results of the gap analysis will provide you with the following:

  • Prioritized list of processes you need to transform to reach your desired destination
  • Detailed list of changes that need to be implemented to transform each individual process
  • Potential options for implementing those changes. (ranging from changing internal reporting structures to introducing new processes, such as a sales process to implementing a CRM system etc.)

The bottom line is: before entering the buying process for a CRM system, make sure you need one and understand the details of what you need to achieve for each and every business process involved.

Being armed with this information makes the CRM buying process much simpler and the probability of a successful implementation much greater.

As you enter the buying process, below are key steps to ensure happen: *(note: intentionally not considering costs here)

  • Narrow down your list of potential CRM vendors. Start with your top priorities, from your prioritized list of processes you need to transform and work your way down through the list. For example, if run-rate forecasting is your top priority, eliminate any CRM that does not provide a good solution for run-rate forecasting. If it is call center management, eliminate vendors based on that criteria etc. You should try to leave this step with no more than 3 – 5 vendors remaining.
    ** Note: At this point, you can create an RFP or evaluation plan to share with the remaining vendors on your list, so there is transparency as to what you require as the buyer. The following steps as a minimum should be included in that document.
  • Map your requirements, details of required changes to transform each individual process, to the capabilities of the CRM systems you are evaluating. Actually, the CRM vendor should do this for you at no cost to you — just provide them your detailed requirements from the gap analysis.
  • Next, grade each CRM vs. your requirements. This can be done by identifying the gaps between what the CRM provides and what you require for each process. You may also take this a step further by evaluating third party solutions for the CRM to fill these gaps. Ideally after this step, you will have narrowed in on one or maybe two potential solutions.
  • Now it is time to test drive the actual CRM System. Up until this point, the evaluation has been on paper only, which I think is critical to complete prior to using the system. It is too easy to get hooked on the bells and whistles and lose sight of the key reasons for needing the system. The “test drive” can typically be done using a demo system or a free trial subscription. The key aspects to evaluate are usability and performance. Ideally, you’d like to be able to do this with a subset of your own data, however this can be difficult without incurring some cost.
  • After completion, as a minimum, of steps 1 – 4, you are ready to enter the buying phase where your keen negotiating skills will rule. The key consideration for a CRM buying perspective is completing a statement of work. Most software development and/or customization today is done on a time and materials basis and it is in your best interest to define the details of what needs to be completed, by when and at what costs. This is beneficial to you and the CRM vendor or third party integrator, as you are protected against runaway costs and the vendor or integrator is protected from continually changing requirements.

As always the devil is in the details. Take the time to prepare and drive the buying process so that you end up with the optimal solution for your company.

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