This brief set of questions is designed to help you evaluate the suitability of a Salesforce.com consultancy. Since client requirements vary, there's no single "correct" set of answers to these questions. Instead, score the vendors on how closely they fit your organizational profile and current needs.\n\n\nThe good news here is that almost all of these questions can be generalized to fit most CRM platforms or cloud services and applications. For brevity's sake, we're leaving that as an exercise for the student here.\n\n\nBefore we get to the questions, though, there's one key issue to address, which I'll call Topic #0: Are you looking for a consultant or just a contractor? The difference is huge. A contractor will do what you ask, but will typically do only what you ask. A real consultant will be advising you, telling you what should be done\u2014and then doing it alongside you.\n\n\nPredictions: 5 Cloud Computing Trends That Will Be Big in 2013\n\n\nOn to the questions. Each group is followed by explanatory text and things to watch out for in candidates' responses.\n\nSalesforce.com Consultant Team Capabilities\n\nA consultant firm's background matters little if the people who will actually staff your project are inexperienced. Be sure to ask the following questions :\n\nAre they certified SFDC consultants?\nDo they have MBAs or more than 10 years of non-consulting business experience?\nAre they Salesforce MVPs?\n\nConsultants love to play the bait-and-switch game. A proposal will be full of wondrous tales of experience and achievement at the firm, but no promises will be made about the individuals who will actually be on site for your project. Evaluate the specific individuals who will be involved. Generalized expertise at the firm doesn't do you much good.\n\nSalesforce.com Consultant Team Experience\n\nYou also need people on your project who have been down this road before.\n\nHow many projects have they done that are nearly identical to yours?\nHow many projects have they done that are similar to yours?\nHow many projects have they delivered overall?\nHow many clients have they had that are of a similar scale to your company, whether it's Fortune 100 or SMB?\nHow does the team provide best practices on Salesforce\u2014written communication, for example, or spoken reviews, or user-group leads?\nHow does the team provide best practices on your business processes? Does it have business experience in your field?\n\nThis is where a consultants' expertise can set it apart from mere contractors. What you want here is valuable insight into what competitors are doing, as well as best practice across your industry. Why? Because you don't know what you don't know.\n\n\nAnalysis: Salesforce.com's Complexity Brings CIOs, Partners Together\n\n\nWhen evaluating a consultants' domain knowledge, don't be too narrow in interpreting "your" industry. Partial credit should be given for related businesses. That said, don't overvalue experience that's too far afield.\n\nSalesforce.com Consultant Client References\n\nMake sure your potential consultant has good references.\n\nHow many client references did the consultant offer?\nHow many clients did they claim are referencable?\nWhat is the firm's customer satisfaction ranking in the Salesforce.com App Exchange?\n\nOf course, references from clients in closely related industries are king. Ask around to get past the perfectly groomed references the vendor provides. Check discussion boards, user groups and other social media outlets to find out what the buzz is on the consultants, both as individuals and as a firm.\n\nSalesforce.com Consultant Vendor Focus and Depth\n\nIt probably goes without saying, but you want a consultant who knows Salesforce.\n\nWhat percentage of the vendor's revenues are Salesforce projects?\nHow long has the firm had a dedicated Salesforce practice?\nHow many Salesforce systems has it deployed?\nHow long has it had an Salesforce practice dedicated to your vertical industry?\n\nThere are a lot of poseurs out there advertising legions of certified consultants. Take those claims with a grain of salt. Look deeper into how serious the vendor is about its Salesforce practice. Some very large consultancies have, in fact, surprisingly small practices truly dedicated to Salesforce.\n\nSalesforce.com Consultant Project Design\n\nFinally, you need to make sure a consultant won't let your project fall through the cracks.\n\nTo what degree will the project depend on custom code?\nTo what degree will the project use offshore resources? (It's cheaper, but caveat emptor.)\nDo you know exactly who will be staffing your project? Will the vendor guarantee this?\nWill the vendor subcontract part of the work to unnamed third parties?\n\nWe all love to code. Heck, I can barely stop myself. But deeply custom code should be avoided if you can. It's expensive (both initially and with ongoing maintenance), and every module of custom code further limits the flexibility of your application over time. Since one of the towering strengths of Salesforce is its platform flexibility, too much code is a seriously bad thing.\n\n\nBenioff: Salesforce.com Retooling Marketing Message Around 'Customer Companies'\n\n\nAnd we all know the offshoring drill by now. There's no question that it's cheaper, but that's only in the narrow, hourly rate sense. For agile cloud projects, proximity and frequent contact with your users is critical to success and low cost. Offshore resources are both harder to manage and less productive than those on site, and few offshore teams really know how to succeed with agile sprints.\n\n\nComing back to Topic #0, that's the rub. Offshoring can work fine for contractors. With consultants , well, it just isn't very likely that those inexpensive offshore resources will be able to provide you valuable advice about best practices in your industry.\n\n\nDavid Taber is the author of the new Prentice Hall book, "Salesforce.com Secrets of Success" and is the CEO of SalesLogistix, a certified Salesforce.com consultancy focused on business process improvement through use of CRM systems. SalesLogistix clients are in North America, Europe, Israel and India. Taber has more than 25 years of experience in high tech, including 10 years at the VP level or above.\n\n\nFollow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.