Three Key Questions to Ask Your CRM Vendor

By Geoffrey James

CRM is big business. In fact, ERP software – once the revenue giant of the corporate software world – has been displaced by CRM as the big money generator for software vendors. Because all that money is coming out of your pockets you’ll want to be certain you get the best value. That’s why you need to focus on implementation costs, which are by far the greatest percentage of the overall CRM budget. To help you focus on where your money’s going to go, here are three key questions to ask your vendor before you purchase a system.

1. How will the vendor implement the application for your company?
Most CRM vendors that provide comprehensive suites of products employ the services of third-party CRM implementation companies to work with customers on individual installations. If you’ll be relying on a third party, ask how the vendor ensures the quality of the implementation company and the type of certification and length of training required to become a vendor implementation partner. Find out whether the implementation partners actually use the CRM software for their own front-office operations. If not, ask why not? If the vendor’s own technical staff will be doing the implementation, ask how many individuals are dedicated to implementation efforts and their qualifications. You also might want to know if the vendor provides a rapid implementation option and, if so, if it is appropriate for your business situation.

2. How does the vendor support its software?
Many vendors provide support services as part of some form of maintenance agreement. Ask what types of support are offered with the maintenance agreement, such as phone support, Web-based self service and onsite support. Some vendors offer a-la-carte support programs such as pay per incident or per-support interaction. Does the vendor have a guaranteed response time? Ask if the support services are passed on from the vendor to the third-party implementation partner. If the support services are outsourced to a third-party company, find out about the certification programs the vendor has to teach, train and certify third-party partner personnel,

3. What is included in the maintenance agreement?
Maintenance agreements vary greatly in cost and complexity. Get specifics on what exactly is provided by the agreement, the timeframe of the agreement and whether the vendor or the vendor’s implementation or service partner provides the required service and support. Ask the vendor how upgrades and updates will be made available – via download or reseller. Will you have access to a dedicated technician or group of technicians whether by phone, email or Website? Can the vendor guarantee a specific turnaround time for problem resolution? What resources does the vendor devote to the offered support or service options?

The above is adapted from information provided by CRM consultant Barton Goldenberg, president of ISM, Inc., an independent firm founded in 1985 that focuses on CRM research, market analysis and consulting. Mr. Goldenberg, who has helped numerous companies select and implement successful CRM systems, can be contacted at 301-656-8448 or through www.ismguide.com.