I get a lot of inquiries asking me to name the best CRM professional services providers (PSPs). Business and IT managers worry about the cost and risk of failure when engaging consultants and systems integrators to improve the performance of their mission-critical customer-facing business processes.

Organizations entrust PSPs with important tasks – not just "screwing in software.” In a survey of 119 companies I did a few years ago: nearly 28% used PSPs to help develop their strategic vision for CRM, 42% used PSPs for defining business objectives for CRM, 44% for aligning business processes with the CRM strategy, and 56% to define the conceptual design for CRM technology solutions. PSPs were used by 60% of enterprises to establish detailed design requirements and by 64% to implement CRM solutions.

However, there are huge risks to working productively with CRM consulting or systems integration providers. In the same study, I found that four out of 10 would not recommend their CRM PSP to others after the work was completed.

I recommend that you use 12 evaluation criteria to increase your odds of success. How well does your CRM PSP stack up against these standards?

  1. Demonstrable knowledge of the technical characteristics of CRM applications. This is the most important of the 12 criteria. Business and IT executives expect their PSP to bring an expert understanding of the specific CRM applications and related technologies to the projects they are engaged to support.
  2. Demonstrable knowledge of the requirements of the industry. Organizations expect their CRM PSP to have a deep knowledge of the business challenges in their industry and insight into unique sector characteristics and to be familiar with industry jargon and culture.
  3. Demonstrable knowledge of business processes. Similarly, organizations expect knowledge of industry-specific processes within the scope of the CRM initiative.
  4. Easy to do business with. The companies I surveyed indicated that the second most important of the 12 evaluation criteria is the ability of the CRM PSP to work collaboratively with the client.
  5. Ability to lower the total cost of ownership (TCO). Buyers are looking for leadership with respect to lowering the costs of implementation and support for CRM technology solutions.
  6. Ability to adhere to agreed-upon budget. In addition to seeking to lower overall CRM TCO, it is highly important that CRM PSPs adhere to the agreed-upon budget for their role in the project.
  7. Ability to adhere to agreed-upon schedule. Returns from investments in CRM initiatives do not begin to flow until new capabilities are implemented within the enterprise. Therefore, adhering to the agreed-upon schedule for deliverables is highly important to business and IT executives.
  8. Ability to provide new solution ideas and insights. Enterprises expect PSPs to be proactive in suggesting new ideas and solutions while they are engaged in the working relationship.
  9. Provide good value for investment in services to implement CRM. Buyers expect the value delivered by a CRM PSP to be commensurate with the investment required to engage its services. This is the third-most-important criterion of the 12 that I tested and is of very high importance to decision-makers.
  10. Achieve business results that meet, or exceed, expectations. Buyers expect their PSP to play a significant role in delivering the business results anticipated from CRM initiatives and want results-oriented performance metrics to be used to track the success of projects undertaken. In particular, buyers are increasingly demanding that CRM PSPs demonstrate that they have “done it before” through client references and case studies.
  11. Help realize value from CRM strategies and technologies quickly. The faster that new processes and technologies are implemented, the sooner value will be realized from the resources invested.
  12. Improve productivity of end users. Widespread user adoption is central to realizing value from CRM technologies. Business and IT executives look to their PSP partners for help in getting users to become productive quickly.