Selecting the Ideal CRM Consulting Partner

12 September, 2017 | Salesforce

Implementation and consulting partners, like CRMs, come in all shapes and sizes. Although you may have hired an external IT consultant to help in your evaluation, an implementation partner is typically aligned with a specific CRM platform so their role isn't to offer impartial advice, but to show you how their approach can combine with the prospective CRM to deliver a system that achieves your business objectives. Think of the CRM as raw building materials, and the partner as the architect and builder.

Your Account Executive will connect you with a consulting partner they feel will work best with you. Although, you're welcome to research and engage with any consulting partner you wish, however, due to the time involved we wouldn't recommend going through a full pre-sales process with more than two consulting partners.

As with CRMs, consulting partners tend to fall into a few broad categories. Which category makes sense depends on the nature of your project, the skills and capacity in your project team and of course, your budget.

Freelance consultant

An experienced and certified "hired gun," who will work as part of your project team. Typically a generalist who can both design and build the system. Ideal for technically savvy teams with well-defined requirements.

Typical project investment: $10,000 - $50,000


Plus

Minus

If they’re a “unicorn,” they’ll have a blend of business analysis, solution architecture, technical development and change management skills

More likely, they’ll be stronger in some areas and weaker in others with potentially critical gaps in their knowledge

They’re typically onsite and dedicated for the length of the project

After the project, they’re on to the next one and typically don’t have the capacity to manage ongoing system iterations

They’ll become an integral part of your project team

They’ll require strong direction on what you want, usually asking for requirements versus crafting solutions to solve business challenges

 

Package-based consultancy (bottom tier)

Usually specialising in a high-volume templated implementations with a base package plus a menu of additional options. Ideal for businesses with simple requirements on tight budgets.

Typical project investment: $5,000 - $15,000

Plus

Minus

Simple to understand packages

Not designed for unique requirements

Affordable, fixed rate engagements

Often light on consulting time, with most of the development work outsourced offshore

Technical development shop (mid tier)

Typically engaged in challenging projects involving custom integration or bespoke development. Good for businesses with complex, well-defined requirements looking for strong coding skills to bring them to life.

Typical project investment: $20,000 - $100,000

Plus

Minus

A multidisciplinary team with deep technical resources

They often don’t connect their development to user experience and commercial outcomes. Your project team will need to help them bridge this gap

Can make the CRM do exactly what you want it to do

Often developers will opt for working with custom code versus declarative configuration. This can make the system harder for future admins to work with over time

 

Consulting shop (mid tier)

They typically blend business and IT consulting and some incorporate digital marketing into their practice. They're great at crafting systems that solve business challenges. Ideal for businesses who need guidance on best practice, user and customer experience, and business process improvement as part of the implementation.

Typical project investment: $20,000 - $100,000

Plus

Minus

They lead you through the process and don’t expect you to know exactly what you need.

They can make assumptions about your business so it’s important not to blindly follow. Make sure you sense check their recommendations

They’re typically strong on building systems with configuration versus custom code. This makes the system scalable and easy to work with for future system admins

Some are not as strong on custom development, meaning there may be limitations in their ability to deliver complex integrations and bespoke system functionality.

 

Enterprise consulting firm (top tier)

These firms typically work with large enterprises on complex projects that involve hundreds or even thousands of users. They come fully-equipped with business analysts, functional and technical consultants, developers, project managers and client relationship managers.

Typical project investment: $100,000+

Plus

Minus

They’ve invested in building teams with deep knowledge across the CRM platform

They call in the cavalry. Assembling a full team of specialists doesn’t come cheap

They’ve got the expertise and scale to pull off large digital transformation projects

Often smaller businesses can get a comparable solution for a more economical investment with the right mid tier consulting partner

 

What to look for in a consulting partner

Do they "get it"?

Do they have an innate understanding of your business problems and how to solve them with CRM? During their discovery, they shouldn't simply be asking questions about what you want, but suggesting solutions that you feel will work for your users, customers and drive the commercial outcomes you're seeking. You know your business, so trust your intuition here.

Are they certified?

 Most CRMs have full certification programmes with different technical, functional and specialist qualifications across their platform. These aren't easy to achieve and often have regular maintenance exams required to keep your certification. Having these demonstrates they possess the technical skills and understanding of best practice, to do the job.

Have they completed comparable projects?

Having project experience in your industry is preferable, but not always possible (especially if you work in a more niche industry). If the consultant hasn't got deep industry context, make sure they have at least completed projects that tackle similar use cases. For example, sales reps selling on the road, customer helpdesk for B2B or B2C, selling complex solutions with long sales cycles, automating contract and renewal processes, qualification of high volumes of inbound leads etc.

Can they whiteboard it?

Following their initial discovery, your prospective consultant should be able to clearly present their high-level solution design back to your project team with a diagram on the whiteboard. Take note of whether they're explaining the intricacies and improvements of the process they're proposing as they go. Can they relate these to outcomes for your end users, customers and how they tie in with your business objectives?

Who specifically will they be putting on your project and why?

Prior to sign off, you'll likely be dealing with the consultant who handles what the industry calls "pre-sales." This person is responsible for designing and pricing the high level solution, however they may not be the consultant responsible for actually delivering the project. This is fine as pre-sales and project delivery have different skills, but you'll want to learn more about the consultants being assigned to your project. Ask for a bios on each to make sure they have the certifications, industry context and technical experience to deliver the solution you need.

How are they pricing their engagement?

There are many ways of pricing a project, including fixed rate, paid scoping engagement and time and materials to name a few. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with the proposed pricing model. Get clarity on when the final bill will be sent, what happens if requirements arise that are out of scope and what time is allocated to system iterations and refinements. It's also worth reading their terms. This is a significant investment so make sure you're know what you're agreeing to.

What's their project delivery process?

There are different IT project delivery methodologies. The most common being a linear "waterfall" process, versus an iterative "agile" process. This subject will be dealt with later in the guide (on page _____) , but make sure they provide you with documentation of the process end to end. It should be clear who is responsible for delivering what. For example, who is formatting the customer data prior to import? Who is testing the system? Who is training the users? Is it the consulting partner or your project team?

How will they support the system rollout?

Once the system is built, what has your perspective partner recommended as the roll out and change management process? Who will demo the system to the users? How will users be trained? How will feedback for system iterations be collated and executed? Make sure that this has been covered and that your project team are confident they can deliver what's being asked of them.

Can they provide the level of post-project support you'll need?

After the users are trained and you're up and running, are they able to provide the level of ongoing support you'll likely need? Options here can involve everything from "here are the keys, start driving," right the way through to managed services with regular system reviews and iteration cycles. You may not know what you'll need post-deployment at this stage, but it's good to know what options are available to you.

Do they have customer references?

Comparable customers who are willing to share their experience working with the consulting partner, is a good way of assessing your potential partner's trustworthiness and ability to execute.

Do you get on with them?

These relationships tend to go on for years, not months. Provided your initial project is successful, consulting partners often become a long-term strategic partner. They'll be working on further-phase projects, giving guidance on newly-released features that your business can leverage, helping manage the iteration cycle to continuously improve your CRM's performance. So make sure they're the kind of people you enjoy working with. If the idea of speaking to them two years down the track is likely to make your head spin, keep searching.

Action: Write down the specific questions you need answered and score each consulting partner in these categories out of 10. You can also weight these categories based on your business priorities for a more bespoke scoring model.