Choosing a new client relationship management (CRM) system is a critical business decision. 

    The idea is your chosen system will underpin your business for many years to come. Get it right and your business will take off. But get it wrong, and it could all end up in a mass of frustration. So how should you go about making such an important decision?

    Here we set out how to create the right approach to choosing a CRM, including where to start, how to design and run an effective selection process and how to ensure you remain focused throughout.

    Where to start

    The starting point is, of course, deciding what it is you want. While this sounds obvious, creating a clear and concise description of what you really need from a new CRM, rather than what you want, isn’t as simple as it sounds.

    All too often, firms start from a position of knowing what it is they don't want the system to do, rather than knowing what they need it to do.

    They may well be frustrated with their existing technology, or manual processes, but they don’t always take the time to really think through what their business will need over the coming years.

    One way of getting greater clarity is to run what's called a 'visioning workshop'. This is where you get key staff together from across the business to agree a common understanding of where the business is heading, and then identify what types of technology will most likely be required.

    For example, if the business is moving towards serving more cash-rich, time-poor, tech-savvy clients then there might well be a need for more digital capabilities.

    Similarly, if the plan is to grow the business with more staff working off-site then remote working capabilities will clearly be a prime consideration.

    It's worth going beyond simple functionality. For example, think about the kind of relationship you want to have with your chosen CRM supplier.

    Do you want to take a 'hands-on' approach to configuring, running and upgrading the software yourself? Or do you just want to switch it on and use it?

    The more you can define what you want the system to do and how you want the overall user experience to feel, the more likely you are to end up with the right CRM for your business. It's helpful to keep a record of your deliberations and conclusions as they will prove invaluable point throughout your selection process.

    You can, of course, run this kind of visioning workshop yourself but it is often useful to engage a third-party to facilitate the session for you.

    This will enable you and your staff to participate fully in the session without having to worry about running the process. It should also provide a source of challenge and market expertise to help broaden the thinking during this critical stage of the selection process. 

    Create a plan

    While it's important to take time to consider your needs properly, it is also important you don’t drift into 'analysis paralysis' where you dwell on every detail of every possible option.

    As such your next step should be to create a plan, allocating sensible amounts of time and resource to the key stages of the selection process. The key stages you might want to consider planning for are:

    CRM table 1aCRM table 1b

    Defining what you need

    Functionality is essential, but it's not the only requirement. 

    You'll also want to consider and define requirements across these areas:

    CRMtable2aCRMtable2b

    The evaluation process

    A common approach is to adopt a rigorous numbered scoring system with different weightings being applied to recognise the requirements are more important to your business.

    This lends itself to producing clear-cut winners, but some caution and common sense should be overlaid as well. Some things to consider: 

    • When scoring proposals based on each requirement, try using a system where there are an even number of possible outcomes, for example, scoring from one to four where one is ‘poor’ and four is ‘good’. This makes it harder for staff scoring the proposals to 'sit on the fence'.
    • Keep the scoring system simple - complex system are unlikely to be followed closely. 
    • Include some elements that score the competing proposals in the round. It's also worth making sure you give these broader system attributes enough weighting.
    • Identify and recognise staff biases, such as:
      • Some staff will be more generous at scoring than others - you may need to moderate their scores to keep things consistent.
      • Some staff will (probably unwittingly) “even things up” when they are scoring, that is, if they've scored a supplier badly in one area then they may try to find another area to give an overly positive score.
      • Some staff may favour or dislike one supplier because of previous connections and experiences. Such experiences and contacts shouldn't be ignored, but there should also be a recognition that this could skew scoring. 

    Consider getting more staff involved if possible; two heads are always better than one, and three heads are better than two. 

    It's worth emphasising as well you shouldn't completely ignore the intuitive judgements. As humans we’re generally good at assimilating lots of complex information very quickly and then applying our previous experience to come to a decision.

    Start the discussion

    Add a comment