The CRM Buying Process: A Step-Based Approach

At CRM Switch, we are long-time proponents of “slowing the CRM buying process to speed it up.”

Traditional CRM buying processes, which include rounding up vendors early on for demonstrations, can often have the unintended effect of slowing down the buying process or causing the process to grind to a halt altogether. With increasing CRM vendor parity, traditional approaches to buying CRM can end up compounding confusion rather than resolving confusion.

So, how exactly can the CRM buying process be sped up? One approach is to take a series of low-cost, low-risk steps, each leading to a better definition of the next step in the buying process and, therefore, to much more predictable and easier-to-control costs.

By breaking the process down into smaller components, the ironic effect can be an acceleration of the overall process.

Speed of CRM Buying Process

This step-based approach to buying CRM can lead to other benefits, such as uncovering previously unidentified business process automation needs earlier in the buying process.

Pre-CRM Vendor Selection

Project Scoping

Scoping out a potential CRM project is a relatively short exercise. The duration depends on the complexity of the organization and the number of potential issues to be solved. Once a scope of work is defined, a CRM services company can provide a more refined estimate of what it will take to interview key stakeholders, examine existing systems and then document the detailed functional specifications for a CRM implementation.

Business Process Mapping

Mapping out business processes is useful for determining CRM project focus. This can be accomplished with visual tools such as flowcharts and swim lane diagrams. This exercise will ultimately help prospective CRM vendors to understand what desired business results to focus on in their presentations. This step will also serve to document some high-level requirements.

Documentation of Detailed Functional Specifications

Gathering requirements and documenting detailed functional specifications for a CRM system (sometimes called a blueprint) can range from several days to a few weeks, depending on how many departments will be involved in the initial CRM implementation.

Once these specifications are developed, a more precise estimate of services costs for the initial CRM implementation can be provided by a CRM services provider. This step needs to occur sooner or later, so it’s not squandered time or money if it happens earlier in the overall sequence of events — provided that a CRM system is ultimately selected.

Preparation for Vendor Presentations

Before presenting their solution, the sales team for any CRM vendor doing their job properly will want to understand more about your organization, your business processes, and your buying process.

The results of earlier steps can be used to provide much better information to vendor sales teams compared to conducting these demonstrations up front.

A vendor scorecard, which allows for assessing the ability of each vendor to address specific functional requirements — or the relative ease with which a vendor can meet each requirement — can be useful. It’s important, however, that the scorecard is not simply a feature checklist.

CRM Vendor Selection

Vendor Presentations

Vendor presentations can occur before or after detailed functional specifications are developed. There can be some product dependencies regarding how easy or difficult it may be to deliver certain requirements. However, the more specific information that each vendor has regarding functional requirements, the more laser-focused their presentation can be.

Vendor Selection

Once vendors have presented their offerings in a way that specifically addresses solutions to the purchasing company’s business issues, it will be more clear which vendor will represent the company’s best long-term direction.

If a disciplined buying process has been closely followed, the selection process should happen smoothly and quickly.  If a buying process has not been followed, the proverbial “analysis paralysis” could set in, and it could be months or years before a vendor is selected.

Service Provider Selection

The point at which a service provider enters the process can vary considerably. A service provider may have already been involved in the early steps. Sometimes, a service provider isn’t brought in until after a CRM vendor has been selected. If the up-front steps suggested above have been skipped, these must now occur. If they had been skipped, it’s possible that it took much longer to get to this stage than it would have had these steps not been bypassed.

CRM Implementation

The Initial Implementation

Often referred to as “Phase I,” the initial CRM implementation normally addresses the highest priority business needs. This initial phase can be completed in a reasonable amount of time, and the returns on a CRM investment can start much earlier than a “boil the ocean” implementation.

Post Implementation Adjustments

After the Phase I implementation, it’s inevitable that some adjustments will need to be made. End users, managers, and administrators will need some time to get into the mode of the new system.

Additional Phases

Once Phase I has gone through its entire cycle, looking ahead to the next phase makes sense. If the person or team that was originally involved in championing a new CRM system can demonstrate some early wins, it’s easier to get budgetary approval for additional phases.

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