So far in this series on choosing the right client relationship management (CRM) system, we've discussed getting started and identifying potential suppliers

    In this final article, we'll discuss the evaluation and shortlisting process.

    Once you’ve received all the proposals, the next task is, of course, to evaluate them.

    Ideally, you will have your evaluation team all lined up to do the work required, that is, scoring and judging the relative merits of each proposal.

    However, at this stage it’s worth double-checking your evaluation team is both large and diverse, and whether it includes people from different areas of the business.

    Each person doing the evaluation should try to read and score each proposal without being influenced by anyone else, to retain as much diversity of thought as possible.

    Only once all the scorers have completed their evaluation should their scores and views be added up and a ranking be produced.

    But this shouldn't be the end of the process. All the scorers should then review the scores as a group to discuss differences of opinion and ensure common understanding. The overall scores can then be moderated.

    The scorers then need to come to an agreement over the suppliers to be shortlisted to go through to the next stage, the presentation and demonstration stage - also known as the ‘beauty parade'.

    The beauty parade process

    The value of the beauty parade will be determined by the quality of your planning and the instructions given to shortlisted suppliers.

    Be very specific about what you want the suppliers to present and demonstrate on the day. Create and issue a clear agenda as well as detailed instructions about what ground the shortlisted suppliers should cover.

    You might even want to create some fictitious case studies for each supplier to use in their software demos so you can compare different systems on a like-for-like basis.

    Ensure you allocate enough time for each supplier to present their proposal as well as they possibly can, and make sure the room you use has all the right equipment and enough space to feel comfortable.

    You may want to consider seeing each supplier on a different day. Sitting through software demos can be quite tiring, and it is all too easy to mix up different capabilities of different systems if the demos follow one another in quick succession.

    By seeing each supplier on a separate day, you could, for example, devote the morning to the presentation and demo and use the afternoon to score and reflect on what was presented while it's still fresh in everyone’s mind.

    Once all the shortlisted suppliers have been seen a final choice has to be made.

    A numerical score based on the facts will be useful, but don't overlook the intuitive thoughts of the key decision makers.

    Ultimately, this is a decision that will impact the business for many years to come so it must be right. Ideally there will be unanimous agreement about the final decision but differences can arise, so it is important to allow plenty of time for discussion and debate.

    Then, having made a final choice of supplier it is then simply a question of letting them know and getting started.

    Letting others down gently

    Having selected your preferred supplier you do of course need to let the other vendors know that they have not been successful.

    However, you should remember you probably won’t sign a contract with your preferred supplier for some while, until you have negotiated all of the finer details.

    Until you have signed a contract you might want to keep in contact with some of the other potential suppliers, especially the one that came second in your evaluation.

    It’s not unheard of for preferred suppliers to become less 'preferred' once the real works starts. Over time, it will become clear whether the relationship is actually going to work. 

    For example, does their software really meet your expectations? Is it as simple to configure and deploy as they led you to believe? Do you and your chosen firm actually get on with each other?

    Even after the most thorough of selection processes, mistakes can still be made. It is better to 'change horses' before you complete the deal. 

    So even when you've appointed a preferred supplier, don’t be afraid to keep one or two other suppliers warm, just in case you have a last minute change of heart.

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