To make sure their CRM projects are successful, nearly all businesses implementing quality CRM software, whether hosted or on-premise, will work with a CRM business partner.

The rewards for getting it right can be substantial: deployed correctly, a CRM system will improve processes and deliver significant benefits throughout your organisation. So, from very early on in your project, one of the most important steps is choosing the right CRM business partner to work with.

CRM software delivers benefits in both the short and the long-term. Choosing the right business partner is not just about making the implementation process as smooth as possible; it's also setting up a productive professional working relationship that should last well into the future - from initial project scoping through deployment, training, support and future upgrades.

So to ensure you get the very best from your investment you need to work with the right people. Having to change business partners once your business has embarked on its CRM project will be more than just inconvenient: it will take up time, resources, cause delays and add to your overall project costs.

What to do first

There are various ways of finding CRM business partners - internet searches probably being the most popular, as well as exhibitions, publications, directories, consultants, word-of-mouth and so on. Many people contact main CRM product manufacturers, such as Microsoft or Sage, who will recommend business partners to you based on the type of project you are undertaking.

Once you've shortlisted a selection of potential CRM business partners, the next step is to make some basic checks on each. These typically include looking at their credit rating, length of time in business, how many staff they have, technical qualifications, accreditations, making sure you've followed up references and had their terms and conditions checked by your legal advisors. Personal recommendations are always valuable, so it's worth talking to colleagues or professional networks.

After you've done the initial ground work, here are a few more factors to consider which will help you choose the right CRM business partner:

Are they independent?

Independent CRM specialists will be able to give you unbiased advice based on comprehensive knowledge, experience and understanding of the features, benefits and possible pitfalls of a variety of different CRM systems.

If you have already decided on a particular CRM software product, then this is less important, although resellers and business partners which purely focus on one product can sometimes become blinkered. Independent CRM specialists will be able to provide an unbiased point of view, high levels of product knowledge and insightful product comparisons.

Whether your business partner is independent or not, don't forget supplier accreditations. For example if you are looking at Sage CRM, make sure you work with a fully accredited Sage Business Partner. Or for example if you're looking at Microsoft Dynamics CRM and you're an educational establishment, it's obviously best to work with a Microsoft Authorised Education Reseller. 

Similarly if you're an ISO9001 certified organisation, or need assurances that the business partner uses effective quality management procedures, you'll probably be looking to work with an ISO9001 certified CRM reseller.

Can they show that they fully understand your business?

The fundamental purpose of a CRM system is to improve your business processes. Your business partner will not be able to do this unless they gain a full understanding of your organisation, the way you work, your aims, culture and objectives. So a good CRM business partner will ask insightful, sensible and sometimes probing or difficult questions about your business, your processes and what you're trying to achieve.

They will also be able to clearly relate this back to you, your staff and colleagues in ways which demonstrate their understanding.

It is of course important that your CRM business partner has strong technical skills. And the more complex the project, the more important these skills become.

However, just as important as technical and developer knowledge is that your business partner understands your unique business processes and can transform these into effective workflow within your CRM application. One of the key deciding factors when choosing a CRM business partner should be that they can clearly show they understand your business inside out.

Do they communicate effectively?

Good communication, both written and verbal, is one of the key factors in ensuring the success of CRM projects. So make sure the business partner you choose is good at communicating with you and your staff. They need to keep in touch frequently and regularly, formally and informally, and be good at explaining ideas, concepts, progress, what they are doing, what they've done and why.

Do they have a formal CRM project methodology?

Working to a CRM project methodology makes each stage of the CRM project process transparent and helps significantly towards ensuring the success of your project. It will minimise the costs associated with the project, reduce the risks involved and helps your organisation achieve maximum user adoption.

Good CRM business partners will use a formal, defined CRM project methodology, with project structure, roles, responsibilities, milestones and much more included. They will be able to demonstrate how they will apply their project methodology to your organisation, how it will work and what input you and your staff will need to provide.

Do they have experience of your business sector?

Working with a business partner that has a solid, proven knowledge of your industry sector, or similar sectors, is more likely to get you an effectively deployed, smoothly implemented CRM solution that meets your business requirements. As well as asking for references, it's also worth asking for business partner CRM Case Studies, testimonials and reference sites you can visit.

Do they have adequate resources?

Your CRM business partner will not only need to have enough resources to commit to your project during implementation, but also to respond to your changing requirements in the future. Once your CRM system is live, you need to ensure it can continue to evolve and change in line with your business as it grows and develops. Most modern business environments are dynamic and can change quite rapidly.

So you need to choose a CRM business partner with the flexibility and a broad range of skills and resources so that they can adapt your CRM system as and when it's needed.

What support services do they offer?

Once your CRM system is up and running, a good business partner should offer a selection of CRM support options suit the way you work, your in-house skills and budget.

If you need telephone support, you need to make sure they're available the same hours as your business needs them to be. Also check the support structure, the number of dedicated support staff they have, their skills and experience, the types of support available (e.g. telephone, self-service CRM support, on-site, remote intervention) and what the support agreements cover - is it just software or hardware and IT infrastructure as well?

Make sure you check the minimum or guaranteed service levels, response and resolution times, and that there are different options available so you can choose the right support level for your business.

All good CRM business partners strive to provide a high quality and effective service. Choosing the right CRM business partner is probably the most important decision of your project, so take your time to make sure you get it right.

For more information about the products and services TSG can provide as your CRM, ERP or IT solutions business partner, please contact us.