Four Key Questions to Ask Your CRM Vendor

By Geoffrey James

Stand-alone CRM applications are becoming increasingly rare. Today most CRM software includes technology that helps integrate other applications, such as corporate financial systems, HR systems and so forth, into the overall CRM application. Here are some questions about integration that you should ask prospective CRM vendors from noted CRM consultant Barton Goldenberg.

1. What portal technology will you be using? Portal technologies allow members of a sales team to configure their main screen to optimize access to needed applications and information. For example, some users might need lead management, forecasting or customer service functionality on their front screen while others, such as those in sales support, might find that information unnecessary. One of the key strengths of portal technology is the ability to easily and effectively integrate multiple software applications. Will the portal be propriety to the CRM vendor? Or will it be a more application-agnostic portal that blends well with other applications?

2. What back-end integration technology will you be using? There are a variety of ways to integrate the data that lies behind the CRM application with the rest of the data in the corporate environment. For example, the Microsoft .NET platform offers a cost-effective way to integrate CRM applications with relevant internal applications, such as ERP or legacy, or external ones, such as supply chain management or third-party information. Can the CRM software package integrate with software based on Microsoft’s new .NET platform? Can the CRM software package also integrate with new mobile technologies, new e-learning platforms and new e-customer self-service applications? These issues are important because mobile technologies mean cost-effective access to needed information from any device, any time; e-learning platforms mean cost-effective, life-long training at all levels; and e-customer self-service applications help drive down the cost of servicing the growing number of e-customers.

3. Is source code included with the product? Vendors increasingly are providing toolkits that allow customers to make changes to the software without using third-party implementation consultants. Much of the underlying code is programmed into reusable objects. Nevertheless, the ability to customize the CRM system without the help of vendor technicians or third-party consultants may be limited by the lack of provided source code. If the vendor does not provide the source code, you need to know why not. What happens if the vendor goes out of business? Do you get source code to ensure the continued functioning of your system? Pay close attention to the fine print about what is and is not provided.

4. What are the metrics for the overall implementation? More and more executives are demanding evidence that a CRM system delivers on the promises espoused by CRM system proponents. Therefore it is increasingly important to devise metrics for the CRM system in the form of a CRM business case, if only to ensure the CRM system is sufficiently funded and supported over the course of the project. The CRM business case typically determines baselines and sets the measurements for CRM project goals. These metrics must be defined, documented and measured on a regular basis. Does the vendor have experience building such business cases? What help can the vendor provide you when you are explaining the business case to your company’s top management?

The above is adapted from information provided by CRM consultant and expert Barton Goldenberg, who has helped numerous companies select and implement successful CRM systems. He can be contacted at 301-656-8448 or through www.ismguide.com.