The Experienced Consumer
Companies that have become successful with CRM software have a uniquely different approach to the evaluation and selection process. I call these the experienced consumer. The experienced consumer has most likely purchased software before and knows that mistakes can be costly.
Creates a Requirements Document
Before seeking a solution they will engage their internal staff and document their specific requirements, so that everyone has a clear picture of what business challenges they are trying to address. The requirements are often the result of a deep understanding of their internal infrastructure.
To create a requirements document, ask your team the following questions…
- Where are we today with regard to business process automation?
- Where do we want and need to be?
- How are we going to get there? What steps are required?
- What resources or assistance will we need?
Requests Information from select Vendors
The next thing they do is send the requirements document to a pre-selected list of vendors as a request for information or RFI. These are not detailed requirements that you often see in a request for proposal or RFP. Many requirements have nothing to do with features and functions. This is simply a request for information that focuses on learning more about the vendor and their value proposition or what they provide to their customers.
Listed below are some common questions the experienced consumer may ask.
- How long has the company been in business?
- How many installations have you done in our industry?
- Is this a comprehensive solution that can support growth (people and transactions)?
- Describe your hosting service? Where is our data stored and managed?
- What level of support services do you offer (i.e. training, customization, system integration)?
- Who does the training and customization? Your company or a third party?
- Who are your top two competitors?
- How often do you release product updates or enhancements?
- What happens if I choose to terminate the service? How do I get my data back?
This initial document enables the experienced buyer to control the evaluation process and it cleverly allows the vendor to remove themselves from further evaluation based on their response to the request for information. Once again there is no discussion or evaluation of features, functions or price at this time. The experienced consumer knows that if the vendor cannot satisfy their initial business objectives listed above the functionality they offer is irrelevant. This is a complete reversal of how the checklist consumers and commodity buyers approach the evaluation process. The checklist consumer may not ask these questions while the commodity consumer believes they already have all the answers.
Plans for Training and Services
The experienced consumer also knows that they can’t fix everything, and that there is no perfect solution designed specifically for their business. While they will certainly pay attention to the industry leaders during the evaluation and selection process, they are more concerned in fostering a rewarding business relationship with a company that closely matches the unique functional requirements of their industry and the value added support services they may require.
The experienced consumer is keenly aware that they will have to make a resource commitment with regard to the implementation, utilization and internal support of any solution they select. They understand that the CRM software won’t run their business – their people will. They recognize that they may need assistance from the solution provider in certain areas such as marketing campaign management or the creation of a structured sales methodology. These support services and best practices may be critical to their success and not every vendor, regardless of size or leadership position, may offer them.
Experienced consumers are not looking for anything free and while they will pay attention to the overall cost of the solution, saving a few dollars is not the top priority for these businesses.
Looks at ‘nuts and bolts’ not ‘bells and whistles’
The next step in the process is for the experienced consumer to engage the vendors and learn about the product’s features and functions that address their specific business or service oriented requirements. With their request for information met, they are doing this with the knowledge that they have already narrowed down their decision to the vendors that have a strong track record for delivering exceptional value to similar businesses. This approach is more about finding the right vendor or business partner first, then digging into their product’s features and functions.
Some will then deploy a checklist approach, particularly if they have narrowed their process to two vendors. What they are looking for here is not a feature and function comparison, but instead if one vendor or product is more mature or experienced in a specific area than the other. Here’s an example. Let’s say you are in the construction industry. You have narrowed your decision to two great vendors with excellent products but one of the firms has more experience in your industry than the other. In fact, this particular company has integrated their product to one of the more popular accounting or ERP systems in the construction industry. This is not critical to you at this time, but it may be in the future and this may be just enough value add to select them.
What I have learned from my interaction in several hundred CRM sales processes is that companies that have adapted to this approach have a higher degree of success with the implementation and utilization of CRM than those that do not. While there are no specific analytics to confirm this, my firm Commence Corporation has experienced this within our own customer base. I plan to write about this in a future article. I hope this one provided some value to those considering a CRM solution for their business.
About the Author:
Larry Caretsky is the President of Commence Corporation, a leading provider of online CRM software for small to mid-sized enterprises. Caretsky is the author of numerous white papers on the subject of CRM and is considered an expert in the industry. His articles and the free eBook “Smart Practices that Pay: Leveraging Information to Achieve Selling Results“ are available for download from the company’s website at www.commence.com.