CRM Vendor Proposals: 10 Items You Need Most

If you're doing a CRM system conversion, expansion, or just an initial implementation, what do you need to look for -- and look out for -- in a vendor proposal? Here's some expert advice.

If a significant CRM system project is on your agenda in this new fiscal year, here are checklist items that you need to look out for in vendor proposals.

10 Things You Want:

1. A project plan focused on user adoption. As I've written endlessly in this column, a CRM system without active users and a rich set of data is just an empty shell. This is not a matter of training or even indoctrination. In the project plan, every delivery phase should be focused on things that will attract communities of users because the new features will inherently make their job easier.

2. Incremental delivery. As I've also written here, CRM requirements tend to change more rapidly (and more radically) than other enterprise software. The project should be delivering functionality and data incrementally, so the business users see the system becoming more valuable at least once a quarter. With a SaaS system, the project should be able to deliver something of value to the business at least every six weeks, almost no matter how big the project is.

3. Adaptive pricing. Since there shouldn't be a big bang feature delivery, there shouldn't be any big bucks payments. As noted here, the fixed price isn't always right — one side or the other is going to lose big if you insist upon a monolithic fixed price. We recommend managing each delivery increment to a budget that's fixed at the start of the increment, not the start of the project.

4. Domain knowledge. To be effective, CRM systems must be molded to the characteristics of your marketplace and the details of your business processes. If you see "cookie-cutter" thinking in the vendor's proposal, run for cover: they'll be delivering something that won't fit your business. The domain knowledge you need is both "vertical" (industry) and "horizontal" (business process), and you need to see it in the people actually bid for your project — not just the vendor's principals.

5. References in your industry. "References" goes without saying — but you need proof of the vendor's domain knowledge and project successes in business environments like yours. Don't be overly picky — references are hard for the vendors to produce — but make sure there is the right depth in the vendor's team.

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