Full disclosure: I was a card-carrying marketing guy for 20 years. So when I see the effects of reality distortion in my clients' purchase decisions, I know \n\nwhereof I speak.There's an old saying that people buy things because of how they think they will feel after the purchase. Sounds ridiculous, but it drives plenty of IT purchase cycles. Unfortunately, by the time the technology has \n\nactually been deployed, many of the assumptions and conclusions of the purchase cycle have been invalidated by changing business needs, by the product \n\nattributes, or both. Buyer's remorse is real, but it can be avoided in CRM projects.All Marketers are LiarsIn Seth Godin's book, he wrote that marketers don't actually lie \u2014 they merely provide information that lets the customer believe whatever they \n\nwant. If that's true, the source of the reality distortion field isn't the vendor, it's the buyer. So don't let yourself be deluded.The first source of delusion is the fascination with features. Of course, that's what the vendor is going to emphasize and demo. In a sales cycle, \n\namazing stories will be told, believed, and extrapolated upon. Features make it easy to do comparative checklists that make the purchasing department \n\nhappy. Problem is, CRM features are essentially useless if they users don't like them. Since a CRM system is worth only as much as the scope and \n\nvalidity of the data it contains, a CRM without active users is an empty shell that can have no business impact...irrespective of the purported features.Instead of features, focus on usability. It's hard to quantify, so it's hard to compare. It's not even as exciting as a 5-year TCO analysis. But usability \n\nand speed of adoption will be the core determinant of CRM system's success over time. Here are some things to evaluate closely:\u2022 Is the system as easy to access, with essentially equal performance, from all your office locations and road-warrior destinations? Don't forget to \n\ninclude VPN and SSO issues here.\u2022 Is the user interface equally drivable from an XVGA laptop screen and an iPhone\/BlackBerry, as well as a WXGA desktop screen? Do the \n\npages require you to scroll endlessly, or do they have a good tabbing system?\u2022 How many pages does it take to enter a hot prospect or a new order? Count the number of mouse-clicks and keyboard entries. (Note: this \n\ncan be at least as much an issue of system configuration as it is of UI design.)\u2022 If you've got several different user types, how much can the system be customized for their needs? De-clutter is everything, particularly in \n\nsales.\u2022 If you've got a call center, what percentage of standard operations can be done without requiring use of the mouse? Is it easy to integrate the \n\nCRM with your phone system, to have screen-pops, and create context-sensitive scripts? Is there a view that lets the user see most of the customer \n\nrelationship history all on one screen?The second source of delusion is the collection of beliefs about what users (and executives) will do. In the heat of a sales cycle, there are suppositions \n\nabout how often something will be needed, or how much time someone will be willing to spend on a common task. This leads to overestimating the \n\nimportance of some items, and underestimating the cost of (or resistance to) some activities or processes. In some cases, change management is simply \n\nassumed away. This leads to bad politics on top of confused priorities. There is nothing with more leverage than vetting requirements, identifying the ones that can be left until later (especially if "later" slips into \n\n"never").The solution here is to get some reality into the picture. Have an outsider do confidential interviews of users and executives to find out where the hot \n\nbuttons and booby-traps are. This is best done individually, in private (not in the group-think of focus groups), with questions designed to discover \n\nunrealistic assumptions. Here are some things to watch for:\n\n\u2022 Will a given report or dashboard actually change a business decision?\n\u2022 If the report were working but was based on 3% bad data, would it be useless? What about 8% bad data?\n\u2022 How much of her own time would an executive be willing to spend each week to get some feature or analysis? If she's not willing to do it, who else \n\ncan?\n\u2022 How much housekeeping by users is really required for good system operation? Gauge the number of minutes per day that users will spend on \n\nadministrivia. It better be about zero. (In one recent customer engagement, a CRM system was generating thousands of internal administrative tickets a \n\nmonth before the system was used by 20% of the employees. Yikes!)The Large Print Giveth, and the Small Print Taketh AwayTaking my wisdom from Tom Waits: When you choose a CRM system, you don't know about all its "small print" issues. You also don't know how the \n\nusers will adopt the system, or where they'll perceive value.So it really pays to do some introspection on the "soft issues" surrounding the CRM direction, because they'll be the basis for several hard realities a \n\nyear or so later.David Taber is the author of the new Prentice Hall book, "Salesforce.com Secrets of Success" and is the CEO of SalesLogistix, a \n\ncertified Salesforce.com consultancy focused on business process improvement through use of CRM systems. SalesLogistix clients are in North America, \n\nEurope, Israel, and India, and David has over 25 years experience in high tech, including 10 years at the VP level or above. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.