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Karen Schwartz Choosing the Right CRM Consultant

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 By Karen Schwartz

Selecting The Right Implementation Partner Factors Heavily Toward Project Success

Unless you’re in a very exclusive minority, upgrading or implementing any type of customer relationship management (CRM) software system is not a do-it-yourself exercise. Instead, most organizations choose to focus their in-house talent on efforts related to their core business, and rely on outside experts for the application and technology specific areas.

So let’s assume that going it alone is not the best idea. How do you choose the right CRM consultant? After all, almost anyone can hang out a shingle advertising expertise in CRM software consulting.

The first step in choosing the right CRM consultant has nothing to do with the consultant at all; instead, it involves doing your own strategic planning. That means knowing your implementation or upgrade path alternatives, the most likely software installation scenario, the goals of the business over the near and long term, the goals of the software implementation or upgrade, the alignment between CRM software and CRM strategy, the budget for the project and the budget amount that can allocated for consulting. And get specific, a PowerPoint deck with summary bullet points won’t do. Instead, most veteran project leaders will create a project charter which shares the strategic reasons for a change in software and then dives into the criteria which will be measured to evaluate project success. From there, put everything into a Request for Proposal (RFP) document, specifying your users experience, technical experience, your upgrade path and industry considerations. Also decide on the parameters for the consulting services contract—such as the scope of services desired and the type of preferred agreement, such as time & materials, fixed price (for fixed scope) or possibly cost/plus.

Even if you don’t plan to issue an RFP, this exercise will put everything into perspective, defining a quantifiable project scope and making sure that everyone on the internal project team is on the same page.

With your project charter document in hand, it’s time to look for a professional services CRM consultant who can deliver. That’s easier said than done, because CRM consultants have different strengths and skill sets. Some are more technical, and some more strategic. Some have better business process skills, and some are better at change management or hand-holding. Some may share your corporate vision or understand your corporate culture better than others.

CRM consultants come in many forms. Global and enterprise companies often first consider the Big 4 (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers) or large system integrators such as Accenture, CapGemini, HP/EDS or IBM. These consultancies offer globally dispersed resources, deep technical skills and a suite of ancillary consulting practices such as business process re-engineering or change management. These consultancies are particularly well suited for implementing CRM software at multiple sites or where the implementation involves significant complexity. Small and midsize business (SMB) companies instead normally look to mid-tier system integrators, CRM specialty firms (often called boutiques) and CRM software product Value Added Resellers (VARs). This class of CRM consultants doesn’t offer the same scale, however, generally provides more senior level practitioners and a more intimate customer relationship.

All of these things matter—a lot. But it’s probably best to start with a good match of technical skills, focusing on consultants that are proven experts in the CRM software product and technology you use (even to the point of being certified in that technology, and with extensive experience in your industry). Don’t take anything for granted—check consultant references thoroughly.

And don’t think that bigger is always better—that’s not always the case. If the consultant seems like a good fit, don’t take off points for smaller operations. The same goes for cost; just because a consultant charges premium prices doesn’t mean it offers superior service. Be open-minded when it comes to variables like these and really explore what differences in size or price bring to your engagement.

Once you have narrowed the field down to a consultant short list, it’s time to focus on the “soft” skills that can make or break a project—verifying compatibility and a shared mindset. That’s harder; it involves really getting to know the candidates and the way they do things. It’s essential to spend enough time with them to verify there is a cultural fit. Some consultants tend to be head strong and assertive. Maybe that’s good if your team needs leadership and direction – or perhaps that would alienate your team further challenging teamwork and user adoption. Each company culture is unique and alignment with your professional services provider is important. Cultural fit may mean making a visit to the finalists’ offices. See their business analysts and technical advisors in action. Check out the company’s persona, and talk to the people who will be working on your account. And ask questions, like these:

  • Have you worked on similar accounts? How many and what were the results?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of a watershed versus a phased implementation approach?
  • What do you consider the greatest risk areas to be? How do we best mitigate these risks?
  • Based on your experience with these types of projects, what surprises are we likely to encounter?
  • What certifications do your analysts and consultants have?
  • How much experience do the consultants who will be working on our account have?
  • How will your consultants promote knowledge transfer to our staff during the project?
  • What happens if we find out we aren’t a good match a few months into the engagement?
  • Have you ever been fired by a client? Why?
  • Have you ever “fired” a client? Why?
  • How are you different than other CRM consultancies and why should we hire you?
  • What do you bring to the table that your competitors do not?
  • How will you demonstrate our Return on Investment (ROI) in clear, measurable terms?

Lastly, its all important to remember that the consulting organization is only as strong as the consultants assigned to your project. Get resumes in advance and meet the proposed consultants to verify they have the skills, experience and cultural alignment to drive your implementation or upgrade project to success. If you have done your due diligence, you should feel confident that you have identified a good match and made a sound decision that will contribute to a predictable outcome. End

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Its all important to remember that the consulting organization is only as strong as the consultants assigned to your project. Get resumes in advance and meet the proposed consultants to verify they have the skills, experience and cultural alignment to drive your implementation or upgrade project to success.


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