I have been working on evaluating a range of vendors for the CRM Wave which will be published in March. What I am seeing is that core CRM capabilities are very, very commoditized. Just about every vendor can check the box on core SFA and marketing automation features. There's a bit more difference if you look at customer service capabilities over social, digital and self service channels but all evaluated vendors handle core case management adequately. So what does this mean to the buyer who is looking for a CRM?

  • Choose a solution that is right-sized for your business. Some CRM vendors target the complex, global enterprise. These solutions are typically heavyweight and replete with features that are often customized to meet specific business requirements. Other CRM vendors target small to midsize organizations with a breath, but not necessarily a depth of capabilties. For smaller organizations too many features are often an overkill for organizations with lightweight needs, so make sure you understand the target user of the CRMs under evaluation.
  • Find a vertical edition. CRM vendors are increasingly offering vertical editions of their solution. Some vendors have lightweight industry-specific templates, while others offer very deep, out-of-the box processes flows and data models for your industry, which include standard connectors to back-end systems. You can find just about any type of verticalized CRM, from the industry stalwarts for financial services, telecom, life sciences, utilities to solutions that target nonprofits, higher education, real estate brokers, construction, government services, and even restaurants, yoga studios and vetererinarians.
  • Dig deep into user experiences. Our research finds that 58% of employees interface directly or indirectly with customers. Many organizations don't have the luxury of deeply configuring or customizing CRM user experiences. Make sure the user experiences that come "out-of'the-box" from your CRM vendor are consumer-grade; that they work on the devices and platforms that your team use; and that they don't impede your productivity in any way.  Good usability goes a long way to help combat the “hate factor” plaguing many CRM deployments. 
  • Assess overall costs. Don't only look at license costs. Understand the total cost of ownership including implementation, integration, configuration, customization costs, as well as ongoing maintenance costs. Make sure you do an apples-to-apples comparison between vendor proposals.

So, how do you go about choosing the right CRM? Don't focus solely on an RFP process. They are time consuming, and vendors often heavily influence their outcome. Spend your time validating that the CRM can support your business processes in their entirety with little customization. Kick the wheels of a short list of CRMs by doing proof of concepts in a sandbox environment, and don't forget to check vendor references.