What is a CRM Scorecard (and do I need one)?

Thumbnail image of a CRM scorecard in a spreadsheetWhatever you call it–scorecard, report card, feature matrix–there are certainly lots of variations on the theme. The underlying idea is to provide a method of comparing, apples-to-apples, two or more software solutions.

For the purposes of this post, we will define a CRM scorecard as a catalog of important factors to be measured.

In terms of the evaluation of CRM solutions, my experience has proven that the only effective scorecard is a custom CRM scorecard. Why? Because your company’s workflows, business rules, and priorities are different than others.

A truly effective CRM scorecard focuses on measuring what is most important to you, regardless of what the vendors want to show you. A custom CRM scorecard can be an important tool in helping you to navigate the crowded CRM landscape and make the right decision for you business… the first time around.

Taking Back Control of the Buying Process

Each vendor’s sales team is generally trained (read: required) to present what I will call a “canned” demonstration. That is to say, a demonstration of what the their corporate marketing department has determined to be the most impressive, differentiating, and latest features/functions. For the vendor, this makes the sales process very efficient and scalable, allowing the vendor to convey a consistent message and sell on a unified value proposition.

But, you are the buyer, and a vendor’s sales process may not necessarily speak directly to your needs. You are making an important decision about a product and a partner. Thus, it is imperative you uncover both what doesn’t work, what may not be perfect, and what other customers wish would be improved.

These things, of course, are NOT included in any canned demonstration put together by their marketing department. Even so, discovering these critical pieces of information is the #1 reason to develop a customized CRM Scorecard.

Seeing Through Feature Parity

When you start researching CRM solutions, you’ll notice fairly quickly that most seem to offer a similar set of features. We call this “feature parity.” So, if each vendor’s solutions provide similar features, why not select one simply based on price?

Well, right about now, if the little voice inside your head is saying, “something doesn’t smell right here; there must be more to it,” you’re right! All of the major CRM vendors have worked very hard to build a good set of core features into their solutions (e.g. Contacts, Accounts, Opportunities, Activities, etc.). That’s the trouble. Should you ask any of them (or, heaven forbid, publish a RFP), their responses will generally be the same: “Check the box. Yes, we have that”. Unfortunately, that really doesn’t help you select the best-fit CRM for your business, does it?

The average CRM salesperson is very anxious to “check the box”, but you, the buyer, have to look much deeper. You are obligated to determine not only what functionality is present, but HOW it aligns with your user’s sophistication and your company’s business processes and business rules.

This is where the CRM selection team earns its keep. These little gems that can have far reaching impact on everything, from user adoption and integration with your other systems. A customized CRM Scorecard can help you sleuth out these details.

Crafting an Effective Scorecard

Building an effective scorecard starts with deciding on how you intend to utilize the scorecard in your decision making. I like to talk to my clients up-front to get a lay of the land as to the decision-making chain. Many times, this informs the decision as to whether to use forensic or directional scoring.

Forensic scoring requires scoring of each individual item on the scorecard and applying a weighted value to get a final decimal score. If we are ultimately going to be making a recommendation to a CEO or a Board, who has not participated in the evaluation process, we’ll need need to provide some backup (along with an ROI) in our final recommendation. In this case, a forensic scorecard can be our friend. While executives aren’t likely to study the scorecard in its entirety, its presence alone can deliver that all important confidence that a comprehensive review has taken place and a consensus has been reached.

If the selection team is going to be a small group and includes some of the decision makers, we may go with the more relaxed directional scoring method. Directional scoring is a less intense and less granular method of getting a pulse or “direction” on the team’s evaluation of a given CRM solution’s capabilities.

While the vendor is still required to demonstrate everything on the scorecard, it may be difficult to score dozens of individual factors during a demo. Instead, we can build the scorecard in such a way that the user may score larger groups of functionality (such as: Opportunity Management), rather than on each individual feature/function.

In either scenario, I like to include Use Cases for each item on the scorecard. For example, if you are in the healthcare industry, you’d probably prefer a CRM demonstration on tracking and reporting engagement history in terms of Patients, Providers, Donors, and Brokers (rather than how to manage a sales team and their deals using terms like Accounts, Contacts, and Opportunities).

Many customers (and vendors) have thanked me for taking this extra step, as it has really improved their ability to evaluate the features being demonstrated. It’s always best to for users to see a solution serving their business rules and exercised in their own company’s terms.

Scorecard Use Case

Additional Benefits of a Custom CRM Scorecard

We are all human and, as such, we are susceptible to all sorts of factors influencing our opinions. Scorecards are also good at neutralizing non-functional factors that otherwise may unduly color a user’s evaluation of a CRM solution’s capabilities. With a CRM scorecard, you can reduce the impact of:

  • An in-person demonstrations vs. a remote one
  • Difficulty in understanding the accent of the presenter
  • Flashy graphics and impressive statistics in the a slide deck
  • Big name dropping, in terms of current customer roster

It is not unusual to find yourself facing the challenge of uniting competing factions in order to move your CRM initiative forward. While neither is necessarily right or wrong, these camps can emerge out of philosophical differences, such as: Microsoft vs. Salesforce, open source vs. commercial software, and the age-old best-of-breed software vs. all-in-one.

This philosophical stalemate can be difficult to break through (without hurt feelings or leaving scars). A scorecard has no perspective, no ideology–a score is just a score. I’ve often seen a custom CRM scorecard act as a perfectly effective mediator in these situations.

The Many Flavors of Scorecards

A functional scorecard is not the end-all. No buying decision should be made based on functionality alone. Most of the time, we also build out a technical scorecard and, of course, a non-functional scorecard to evaluate the vendor’s position in the market, CRM road map, breadth of ecosystem, onboarding and training, total cost of ownership, etc.

Since the business users are the drivers, we always begin any evaluation with gathering their business requirements first and use that to determine the short-list of vendors for demonstration.

Using a Custom Scorecard

A scorecard can help get the Selection Team on the same page by structuring their evaluations such that you can easily extract their relative belief (without any emotion) in how well the given solution can meet the needs of their team. This is accomplished by using a simple scoring scheme of 0-3 (see below).

CRM Scorecard Rankings

Of course, the scorecard is only a tool, and its usefulness is dependent on the vendors demonstrating their CRM solution the the best possible manner so the users can properly evaluate and score what they’ve seen. Therefore, we always review the custom CRM scorecard with the vendor’s team in advance of the demonstration. It is imperative that those giving the demonstration fully understand each line item on the scorecard.

I allocate a two-hour block with each vendor. That time can be used to review the scorecard in detail, as well as to deliver logos, product images, sample customer data (cleansed), and other items to help them build out a demonstration that will be familiar and meaningful to the users. While they sometimes balk (because giving a canned demo is soooo much easier), in the end, it’s a win-win for everyone.


Keep in mind that that people tend remember the last “bright and shiny object” presented to them. This is one reason why vendors are always maneuvering to be last on the schedule of demonstrations. A CRM scorecard can help you avoid this sort of pitfall from impacting your decision-making process.

While it will take some energy to craft a customized CRM scorecard for your organization, the cost of that effort pales in comparison to selecting a CRM solution that fails to meet your user’s wants and needs.

A CRM scorecards can help you take a measure of control back in the buying process.Consider building a scorecard yourself or enlisting a business analyst to help you if any of these are important to you:

  • Identifying critical differences between CRM solutions
  • Discovering what may not quite work as advertised
  • Providing justification for your recommendation
  • Ensuring the vendors demonstrate what is important to you
  • Seeing the CRM solution exercised with your business rules and in your terms
  • Resolving differing opinions about the best CRM solution.

About the Author

Daryn Reif

Daryn Reif is practice manager and co-founder of CRM Switch, a boutique consulting firm that offers unbiased, vendor-neutral, independent advice in choosing the best CRM and Marketing Automation software.

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