We receive a lot of requests from customers asking us to help them evaluate whether Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics CRM would fit their company best. Having witnessed a lot of customer evaluations of CRM systems, we think there’s lot of room for improvement and implementing best practices. Most companies evaluate a CRM system once every 4-5 years. Unfortunately this infrequent buying cycles means that buyers can’t develop the same CRM software perspective as a company like Sonoma Partners, where we constantly conduct CRM software evaluations.
I would estimate that the typical CRM buyer spends their time as follows when evaluating a system:
- 50% of their effort is spent comparing functionality between the systems
- 40% of their effort is spent comparing costs between the systems
- 10% of their effort is spent evaluating the partner who will actually perform the implementation
This breakdown seems reasonable on the surface but we have some major concerns with this approach.
Functional Evaluation Risks
Customers love to dive deep on system features and really get into the nitty gritty to evaluate how the different systems work. Unfortunately, this feature evaluation only compares the two vendors at a specific point in time. Considering both Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Salesforce release more than 3 updates per year with hundreds of new features per release and assuming a 5-year investment horizon…each vendor will add 5,000+ new features during the system lifecycle. This is why it seems nuts to us to make a CRM platform decision based on detailed features as they exist today.
Another risk to diving deep on CRM features for your evaluation is that you might not be comparing the right features. Prospects ask us to evaluate features based on what they think they need, but we frequently find out 2 months later when we’re actually in the middle of the project that they actually need something totally different than what they thought they needed during the CRM platform evaluation process. In these scenarios I can’t help but wonder if they knew then what they know now, who knows if they would have made the same CRM platform decision?
Cost Evaluation Risks
When comparing CRM systems, it seems to make good sense that the customer want to know the total cost of ownership for the system. Lots of factors play into these calculations such as hard costs like the software subscription, implementation costs, software support and potentially new hardware. Other softer costs exist too, including ongoing internal staff support and business interruption costs.
Calculating the hard costs associated with the software doesn’t usually cause a problem for customers. Unfortunately estimating the implementation costs isn’t quite so simple. Nothing strikes more fear into an implementation partner’s heart than to hear a customer say, “We need a detailed 2-year cost estimate based off this one page requirements document”! On one hand, consultants like us want to make sure we leave enough buffer to cover any unexpected surprises, but on the other hand we need to keep our estimate competitive.
Most competent implementation partners will struggle will provide detailed and accurate implementation estimates based off of documentation provided by the customer. I would encourage customers to really question the accuracy of any implementation estimate if the partner bid off a requirements document, and they haven’t been able to engage in person with your CRM project team.
Implementation Partner Risks
At the very end of the CRM decision making process, the customer then turns their attention to the implementation partner. Remember the breakdown of percentages we discussed earlier? We firmly believe that 90% of a CRM project’s success or failure depends on the implementation team. Both Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM have hundreds of thousands of satisfied customers, and millions of happy users worldwide. If your CRM project fails, very rarely should the technology receive the blame. Instead customers should hold themselves and their implementation partner accountable.
Please note that while the implementation partner may carry a great brand name the actual project gets executed by a specific team of people (not the entire company). We witness many cases where customers received not-so-great resources from a highly ranked or regarded implementation partner. Make sure you know which people from the implementation partner will be working on your project because you might pick different CRM implementation partners based on the assigned team.
If we had it our way, customers would conduct CRM software evaluations much differently. In our ideal world, customers would spend less time worrying about detailed features and spend more time evaluating the implementation partner and the actual project team to make sure there’s a strong track record and good personality match.