CRM TCO

We here at Edgewater have had a surprising number of customer conversations recently about skyrocketing CRM costs associated with a very popular hosted CRM package (that shall remain nameless).  In many cases, the conversation goes…

“The CRM initiative was driven by the business (which is great), and initial costs were palatable.  One or two years down the road: deep discounts are a thing of the past and the seat count has doubled or tripled.  Looking to the future all that can be seen is increasing cost; and there are not a lot of options for containing those costs.”

 An obvious question comes up – Can you justify these costs for a CRM platform?  CRM has tremendous benefits of course if it’s really leveraged, but does the annual cost of admission have to be so high?

Our answer is no.  You do have other platform options.  Quite frankly, the best CRM solutions are very similar in look and feel, are very configurable, and have almost identical capabilities.  We’re helping lots of customers adopt MS Dynamics CRM which we’ve found to be a very strong solution.  And it’s a lot less expensive.

Some good news: if you’re in this situation, you’ve probably got a really good understanding of what can make CRM successful at your organization.  And in most cases it has very little to do with the software.  Maybe there are things you’d do a little differently if you could go back.  Maybe a shift is an opportunity. 

If you’re thinking about easing that annual renewal burden but are concerned about how to go about it, here are some things to consider.

Configuration

By now you know that using the web based configuration/admin interface is relatively simple.  You spent time up to now understanding how CRM should work, what your custom objects look like, how they interact.  That’s the hard part.  And you’ve probably learned some things along the way.  If you could do it over again, you’d x, y, and z.  As opposed to looking for a tool that will port your existing configuration, spend a few days building out your configuration and fixing your mistakes with a new tool.  It can be quite painless.

Data

You’ll need to convert of course.  But the good news is that you should (hopefully) have all of that data in one place (your CRM solution).  Your initial adoption may have (should have in most cases) involved getting customer data out of multiple systems which is tough.  The great news is that you probably don’t have to do that again.  And there are low cost options for loading it into a less expensive solution.

Adoption

One of the biggest problems with any CRM implementation is low user adoption.  So if you’re facing high renewal costs – that actually good news!  And what would rolling to a lower cost solution look like?  Pretty simple actually, it’s not like client/server days.  Rolling a new web application out is as simple as sending a URL.  And rolling an outlook-integrated client is a pretty simple effort if that’s your preference.  Everyone needs to use email after all.  You’ll also be surprised at how quickly your users will adapt to a new tool – again, the best CRM products are very similar.

Reporting and Integration

You may have also spent quite a bit of time with reporting and integration.  These things are obviously extremely important to successful adoption.  So it might seem like a mountain of work – but think about where you spent a good deal of your time.  Data field identification and mapping.  If you’ve got a good set of requirements, start with that document, add another column to your mapping tables (and make sure you don’t change your requirements).  You can start right with implementation.

If the TCO for that very popular hosted CRM package has got you reeling, why not look at other options?  It’s not going to be any less expensive next year.  Now you know what it takes to make CRM successful.  You can leverage the good work you recently completed to get yourself on a more affordable platform.  Focus on configuration, data, adoption, reporting, and integration when planning your re-platform.  There’s no need to start from square one.  Next year at renewal time, you’ll be in a whole lot better situation.

Of course, it would have been nice to do a complete TCO analysis in the first place.  But that effort probably didn’t make your budget last year. J

Fast Track Your Enterprise CRM Selection

CRM systems, in one form or another, have been around for as long as selling has.  And, to tell you the truth, they haven’t changed much over the past decade or so.  Technologies and vendors may come and go, but leads, accounts, contacts, pipelines, and so on are constants.  That’s the way sales works after all.  What this means is that vendors already have their required functions, features and application layout identified.  So they can spend the bulk of their time slickening their technology; figuring out ways of streamlining the sales process for salespeople; and providing relevant information for executives. 

So, if we assume that most vendors have the features, why do so many CRM software selection processes begin with matrices of 1000 matrixor so features, when we all know that a vendor in the running has what we need?  And if something like pie charts vs. bar graphs makes the list as “high”, you’re left with your eye on something other than the ball, the scales are tipped to pet features, and you’re left trying to pry Act! or Excel contact lists (or whatever) out of your sales-peoples’ hands and they say big brother’s cramping their style.  6 months down the road you’re trying to explain why adoption is such a challenge.  Was the wrong software selected?  Many wise analysts then say:

“it’s got nothing to do with the software, it’s…lack of executive support; or poorly defined business processes; or looking back vs. looking forward; or not tying use to compensation”.

Of course, these things have left many a CRM project DOA, but picking the right software does matter.  If you focus on a technical fit for what you’re trying to accomplish as opposed to consensus building with overwhelming weighted matrices, you can get rid of lots of noise and make a good decision.  Here are things to weigh heavily, in order of importance:

Think Vendor Before Software

There are literally thousands of CRM vendors, but in the enterprise space they can be whittled down fast.  (These folks, Gartner,  and others provide lots of insight).  If you’re an SAP or Oracle Applications Shop (that includes Siebel), the playing field is NOT level (see Be Realistic… and Integration… and Data Conversion… below).  Save yourself some time and focus on implementing your CRM module effectively.  Those camps aside, if you go with a small or middle market vendor, or one that’s losing market share, you run risks of:

  • your developers not being able to Google sample code (if you don’t think this is important, ask your developers),
  • poor support,
  • bad/incomplete documentation, or
  • (not least of all) poor perception of quality/or importance of the initiative from your sales force.

Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics CRM are almost always left standing.  It’s hard to justify the exclusion of market leading Salesforce.com (unless you’re in the process of getting rid of it because it’s too expensive), and Microsoft is gaining ground because everyone out there has at least half the Microsoft infrastructure stack in place already (an unfair advantage, but one that shouldn’t really be overlooked).

Selecting an established, top software vendor that tracks with your IT strategy can help your implementation team tremendously and as such reduces your overall risk.

Integration Is Huge

OK, so back to “what you’re trying to accomplish”.  You’ve probably been involved in at least one “360 degrees of the customer” project.  That’s because it’s what everyone needs.  Not least of all sales.  Having the whole picture in one place provides incredible benefits and efficiencies.  So often “integration” is a line item buried in the technical section of a selection matrix that’s covered as an afterthought by techies once the real decision makers have left the room. 

The reality is that the ability to leverage all of the data you have about your customers IS competitive advantage.  And CRM software alone won’t provide that since all the information you need will probably not live in your CRM system.  You won’t regret putting a good amount of early, detailed, thought into how integration could work with each vendor’s solution:

  • What data will not/can not be in CRM
  • do salespeople need it
  •  if so how and where will they see it
  • how much data are we talking about
  • is real-time access required
  • what are performance requirements
  • what changes will be required to my integration architecture to provide this access
  • what programming languages/techniques will we need to know to provide this information

Odds on you’ll spend well over half of your time and money developing and testing integration code when you get into the project even though this will likely represent only a fraction of the functionality.  But those little snippets can make a game-changing difference (e.g. this customer that you’ve called 18 times over the last 5 months and is just about to place a monster order hasn’t paid their bill since last July – they should probably be on another contact list. OR, this customer that has always needed our stuff and was almost broke was just bought by Sun, which was just bought by Oracle and they could probably use about two and a half bajillion of our widgets asap). 

Detailed thinking about how the integration will work with a CRM technology can lead you to the right software and hosting option.

Be Realistic About Your Technology Competency

So maybe you’ve got it down to Salesforce.com and Dynamics CRM.  They’re comparable products, market leaders, they look good, and the sales team could go either way.  But the technologies that can be used to customize and integrate these solutions are quite different.  It’s a good idea to take stock of your technical skills to make sure you understand what development and support will look like.  On the upside, both technologies provide Web service interfaces which provide a good level of interoperability with other systems and a broad range of tools.  From that point forward, however, it’s a good idea to consider your internal development skills. 

Dynamics CRM developers will spend a good amount of time using Microsoft Visual Studio with either C# or VB using a Web service API.  Within the administrative UI, quite a bit of JavaScript is used, iFrames are pervasive, and a good amount of custom code may be implemented with CRM Plug-ins which can be a bit quirky until you get used to them.  The Salesforce (SFDC) model has support for a broad range of programming languages in addition to C# and VB.  Developers have a choice of online or an Eclipse-based tool with which to develop.  SFDC has a relatively mature cloud development model relying on their Apex programming language (similar to C# and Java) which does have an associated learning curve.  Of course, both tools are Web-based and as such require developers to have HTML and JavaScript (JScript) skills. 

So, if you have MS developers and go with MS CRM you’ll have an easier curve and you’ll probably find that your developers are comfortable and productive quicker.  If your developers are a curious bunch that tends to sink their teeth into new things and have a demonstrated ability to produce as they learn, they’ll like SFDC.

In the realm of mature, best of breed CRM packages, it’s impossible to say that one is the best in all situations and for all organizations, but you can pick the one that’s best for you.  Being realistic about your technology competency can drive you in that direction.

Don’t Underestimate Data Conversion

Data conversion effort and approaches seem to consistently get under-sold and under-thought.  If you’ve boiled it down to either MS Dynamics or SFDC, you’ll probably find that the online conversion tools will not work for you in real world scenarios, which will leave you with Scribe on the MS side and the APEX data loader for SFDC, which are comparable products.  Starting early and getting a solid idea of what you’re up against (in terms of complexity and performance) will pay off big, especially if you’re able to do some strawman testing as part of the software selection/evaluation process.  Performance for each of these conversion tools will not come close to approaching performance of loading data with straight SQL– an option that’s only available to the best of my knowledge with the MS on-premise tool.  

So just consider, for example, that if you’ve got 2 million records and early testing on comparable hardware to your production system is indicating .5 seconds per customer record with a tool like Scribe or Apex DL, you’re looking at 12 days for a one time conversion.  Compare that to a similar load using SQL and you’ll see that this can be very significant.  Another thing to remember, you’ll have to load data more than once: you should account for associated entities like opportunities and orders, mistakes, updated/delta data, multiple environments, failures due to inconsistent data, mapping issues, network and hardware failures, lack of disk space, etc.., 

If you give data conversion a good deal of detailed thought early on, you can significantly reduce downstream risks by understanding technology options, planning the project effectively, and synchronizing conversion milestones with other efforts.

Be Creative With The Feature Comparison

Of course, the process of feature comparison is important.  But software can be weak in surprising areas; and limitations can be hard or impossible to uncover when reviewing feature matrices.  A better approach, and one that can help those involved in the selection process visualize strengths and weaknesses, is to create demonstration scenarios that focus on business processes and usage patterns that are unique to your business.  SFDC and MS Dynamics are both very easy to customize and demonstrate, and both offer online versions for demonstration purposes.  Investing a few days early on to identify, configure, and review CRM use cases specific to your business is well worth the effort.

Focusing your efforts on demonstrating software as opposed to creating detailed matrixes can help your users visualize the future state and can underscore software weaknesses that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious.

Narrowing your CRM software search early to top players can save lots of time, keep momentum up, and set you up with technology that you can sink your teeth into.  Whereas going through the motions – that is, letting a weighted matrix make the decision for you – can result in skewed priorities, lack of clear focus, and could result in you and your company struggling with mismatched technology.  Detailed technical thought during the selection process takes time and effort but can ensure that you get on and stay on the right CRM track for your organization.