Selecting a CRM partner 1

Here’s what we’ve learnt from the most successful clients


In January 2011, there was a sea change in the CRM world in the UK, when Microsoft launched its software online. What we now know as Microsoft Dynamics has made sophisticated CRM readily available to and remarkably affordable for SMBs. There are even fixed-price fast track packages to get you up and running with your priority processes, usually contact management, but there’s so much more you can do if you lay the right foundations from the outset. CRM might be more readily available, but it is not an off-the-shelf commodity – choose your partner with care.


Of course, there are other applications on the market, and they too will probably tick some boxes on specification and will say ‘Me too’ on the Microsoft Office integrations however, the depth of what users require in practice is often overlooked.  Therefore, it makes sense to shop around for the right solution for your business. Ideally, it’s something you will only need to do once, and your chosen solution will grow with you. So, it’s important to undertake a solution that has a variety of modules that can be simply added when the time comes for your business.

A key thing to remember is that you are in the market for two things here:

  • Software licences and
  • An implementation and support Partner.

You will be investing time and money in a long-term relationship with a Partner:  marry in haste, repent at leisure, as the saying goes.

Once you’ve decided to put a toe in the CRM water, you aren’t going to be short of suitors; and on the surface, the sales rep will seem on the ball but this may be just because they will be using a CRM system themselves.  But it’s one thing to see a demo, another to imagine it within the context of the specific complexities of your business. You can ask a lot of questions, and tick a lot of boxes, but what you will really rely on in the future, is the Partners ability to solve problems and grab opportunities that you haven’t even thought of yet. So, it follows that the first thing you need to do is qualify the Partner – are they a good match for you, your business and your team?

Overleaf are some questions you can ask to get a real feel not just for whether the software is right for you, but also if the Partner is going to step up to the plate to “understand your business” and “tailor their solutions for you”.  They all say they will, don’t they? Asking these questions should help you gauge whether they can deliver or, if they are just reading from a script.


Timescales & Expectations


First let’s set the scene. What is CRM software? It’s probably not what you think any more.  As its name suggests, this genre was originally designed to help businesses build and maintain relationships with new and existing customers.

Today, however, CRM software has evolved from simple contact management systems into a robust tool that lets you manage financials, sales, projects, service, marketing and manufacturing/logistics, all in one easily accessible solution. The difference between CRM (customer relationship management) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) is being eroded. End to end integration between all aspects of your business, whatever the size, is a realistic prospect, but it means sharing your innermost thinking with an external organisation that you must be able to trust implicitly. Above all, be sure to do it at your own pace, not theirs. CRM is a long journey, so listen to your Partner’s advice around phasing and ability to match your pace. If the Partner is trying to make a quick sale, they may not be considering your long-term vision.

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In our experience, most businesses reach the decision to invest in CRM because they are nearing a watershed: the business is changing and/or growing, or maybe it just needs to punch above its weight to compete? So, CRM is typically bought at an exciting, challenging and maybe even high-risk time for the business.  There can be a sense of urgency, but do not be tempted to let the tail wag the dog!  

Remember, it is your business, not the software, that needs to stay in the spotlight. You have an opportunity to enable your staff to unlock their talents and shine, not be bogged down with the admin. You can give managers and team leaders a window to what is going on, so they can make better business decisions.  If the Partner spends more time talking about the software than your business and your people, alarm bells might start ringing in your head.

In short, you want to hear about the benefits for your business, not a long list of technical features cut and pasted from a manual.


Questions to qualify your Partner


What exactly does future proof really mean?


Microsoft Dynamics is winning the lion’s share of new CRM business for SMBs and we all know that Microsoft isn’t going to go bust – it’s future proof. It, and indeed other software providers, will continue to debug and improve their offer: that is only to be expected. It’s not their future you need to focus on, it’s yours.

However, there’s another side to future proofing. CRM selection should be a thorough and time-consuming process, so ideally you only want to do it once. Add to this the expensive costs of a Data Migration and/or Integration with 3rd Party systems – it’s important to find a solution that will encourage your business to grow into different verticals.

So ask partners ‘what makes their solution is proof for your future plans’ and ask for real examples of unusual configurations they have developed for individual clients.

After all, it is unlikely that you will know exactly what additional functionality, applications and reporting you may need next year – after all you can expect good use of CRM to lead to open brand new business opportunities.  It would be frustrating to have selected a glitzy new CRM that only supports Sales if you’re presented with an opportunity to provide ongoing support which provides irresistible recurring revenues.

Examples of recent requests we have had are a requirement to create tenders in custom formats, retrospective integration with DocuSign, e-billing new clients using their chosen trading hubs, support ERP processes such as manufacturing, logistics and projects, or just the need to use and report on unique data types.

It’s equally important to know about the immediate future. Check that relatively minor changes to reports to satisfy new customers or reflect changes in the business processes, can be set up easily by your team in real time. Does your Partner offer ongoing support that includes training and configurations?

The past is important too:  any solution you purchase should import and store your legacy data you have, and then to allow you to access and interrogate it. Ask the question about all your records, not just the easy stuff that’s already on a spreadsheet or in Outlook.  Bear in mind any industry-compliance requires you to retain records for a specified time. A demand for e-disclosure is the worst-case scenario and it’s no joke if you cannot get at the data. Get the structure right at the outset.


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What does support mean for me?


Licence subscriptions can be the least expensive element in a CRM project. Planning and implementation are the biggest investment and your partner should help you maximise your return.

So be clear at the outset and ask what level of competency you can expect to have in the business at the end of the initial implementation, and define your training and ongoing needs accordingly. The balance between initial implementation and ongoing support will depend upon your CRM roadmap, the speed with which you decide to roll it out and the staff resources and skills you have. Can your partner look at the bigger picture and shape a realistic and affordable plan that will empower your users but also be approved by the Finance department?


Just how easy is it to interrogate data?


Partners will promise you insight – you will hear that word a lot! Ask for a definition: it should mean giving you the information you want and can use, not just pretty reports that are no different to what your competitors have.


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Well-structured and managed data underpins better decision making; but only if it shows relevant information at the right time, or flags up when things go wrong.

If you cannot easily monitor the success of the business decisions you make and new processes you put in place, then all you are buying is a clever way of writing historical reports!

Yes, there are some useful standard reports …. but in our experience, every business is unique. Ensure your partner uses a knowledge transfer approach when it comes to building, changing and interrogating your reports.


How will the product perform on the road?


Remote or mobile workers are often customer facing, people like service engineers or sales professionals. So naturally, you should check that mobile access is included within your licence cost, but don’t just accept a list of features.

Tell the partner what your people actually do in the field and ask them how CRM can add extra value and make their job easier. Signed job sheets? Instant invoicing integrated with financials? Capturing photographs?  Off-line access to appropriate client data?

In short, ask how they will fit mobile CRM into your practices – not vice versa. Many mobile applications are out of the box? We know by now that one size doesn’t fit all, so Can your partner customise the mobile experience to your needs?


Can the CRM work alongside other business applications?


Many companies use Outlook, SharePoint/OneDrive (for document storage), Office 365 or Professional (Word, Excel etc) and any CRM should integrate (without additional charge) to these standard business solutions. As highlighted earlier, the Office Integrations are often a question quickly answered and brushed over but our experience tells us that user adoption more than trebles if a new CRM can be accessed completely within the Outlook browser. Why? Because users like their comfort zone and users are used to using Outlook/Word/Excel.

Also, ask about integration to your existing accounts and financials packages: if the answer isn’t a simple Yes, you could have a rocky road ahead. Of course, you may well want to migrate to the new CRM providers financial package, but your partner should discuss the pro’s and con’s of doing this as a phased approach. There’s no right way, just the best way for your team.


What not to ask… well not yet.


How much will it cost?


The entry of giants like Microsoft into the SMB market for CRM has created healthy price competition. There will probably only be a few £s between the solutions licence fees – but that’s the tip of the iceberg. Implementation, support and training costs will depend on your needs.  You will also need to factor in the total cost of ownership: how much disruption to business as usual is all this going to cause? How many (wo)man hours are your staff going to have to spend before they are fully up to speed. You cannot do any of this before you have an initial plan in place.

Couple the right software with the right partner, it will be a good plan and costs will be minimised. You’ll have a system that your staff love you for and that will underpin your future growth.




So, we’ve established that the partner is just as important as the software. The key software requirements should be flexibility in supporting your processes from day 1 and with the ability to change in the future, integrations with familiar software such as outlook, easy manipulation of data to provide insight to make correct business decisions and availability to add further modules to support new verticals and business needs.


As for the partner, they should show more interest in your business than a listed demo, offer ongoing training and support to enhance your CRM journey and offer insight into phasing and planning options to provide the best return on investment and the least possible business disruption.

CRM is a long and winding road, so make sure your software and partner is ready to grow with you as a business.

Selecting your CRM – White Paper TCM project

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