Selecting a CRM partner – 7 ways to screw up

Choosing a CRM Implementation partner isn’t quite the same as choosing a wife or a husband but it might, in the short term feel like a decision that’s as important. We made some fundamental mistakes here and it cost us big time, not just in terms of money, but also in time, confidence in the system, and strategic momentum… All things that matter and all things in short supply when you start a project like this.

The reasons we screwed this up come down to:

  1. Focusing too much on personality not process;
  2. Not doing our homework in terms of the depth of experience of the partner;
  3. Relying on a soft set of requirements (exactly what we tell our customers not to do!);
  4. Accepting a lack of documentation;
  5. Allowing an ‘agile’ approach to mean ‘we’ll make it up as we go’;
  6. Not screaming loudly enough or early enough when the wheels came off;
  7. Not testing with enough rigour.

The lessons I learned on this are:

Trust no-one… Don’t engage your partner until you’ve spoken to at least 2 of their customers in depth and face to face. Make them tell you what went badly as well as what went well and ask them to help you by giving you advice on how to manage the partner.

Find your partner by referral… You know loads of people and one of them will have been through this. If you go to a partner through someone you know there are two wins. One that the partner won’t want to let your contact down so will engage with you properly and two you’ll have done your first reference check before you even start.

Demand answers… Ask them how many customers they have like you and wait for the answer before you proceed. Answers like ‘plenty’, ‘lots’, or ‘ah sure every customer is different’ should have your bullshit radar ringing like a fire alarm.

Meet the team before you commit… Chances are the folks you meet at sales time won’t be the people you talk to late of Saturday night when you’ve just rolled an update. Insist on meeting that person and looking into their eyes to see if you can see fear… Hopefully you’ll see scars of experience that tell you they’ve been there before.

Insist on process… These companies are professional services companies who, let’s be honest, get screwed by the software providers who tantalise them with skinny commissions and rewards for doing the job they should do themselves. As a result they have to be efficient and the only way to do this is through process and that means documentation. Have a look at it before you commit. Small things are important here. If you ask for their processes and it takes a week to get it be worried, even it’s fantastic when it arrives. They’ve just written it for you and will bin it as soon as they get your purchase order!

Watch how they take notes… When you get into the project there will be a day (maybe 3) when you sit in a stuffy room with your consultant and walk through your requirements in detail. If they don’t take copious (and I mean copious) notes raise a red flag immediately. I guarantee you they’ll forget everything you discussed with them…. Let’s face it, you would!

Hope they insist on sign off… Part of their process should be that you have to sign things off at various stages of the project. This always feels alike a pain in the ass but if you don’t do it you’ll end up fighting with the partner later on, either because what they have delivered is poor (well you have signed it off in testing…. Did you not test it?) or not what you want (well we delivered what we wrote in the functional spec). You have to be fair to the partner at the end of the day so spend the time and only sign off when you’re happy.

We’ve got a great partner with us these days and it shows. Nothing comes cheap in this space (even for me and I am miserable when it comes to spending money) but if you get it right it’s worth the investment.

Next up… resourcing the project on the inside (this could be the most important bit!)

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