Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

CRM Software RFPs - When Good Ideas Go Wrong

Today’s guest blogger is Jacob Cynamon-Murphy, a Sales Engineer at Sonoma Partners.

Customer: “I want to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your software, your service, and your strategy are going to work for my business.”

Vendor: “Yes. Yes. Yes!"

Although this conversation is purely fictionalized, a RFP process often looks a lot like this.

  • Step One: A customer produces a giant Excel spreadsheet with hundreds (or thousands!) of requirements.
  • Step Two: The customer sends the RFP to a bunch of different CRM vendors
  • Step Three: The customer asks these vendors to rate each line item in the spreadsheet with information such as:
    • Included as "out-of-the-box" capability
    • Supplemental or 3rd party extensions, with separate license     
    • Supported through nominal application configuration    
    • Customization of application is required               
    • Function/Capability planned in imminent future release               
    • Function/Capability not currently available          

From an outsider’s perspective, this seems to make enough sense. “Hey, once we have all our requirements scored and rated we can make a great decision!” Unfortunately, I am sorry to report that we frequently see a lot of time, energy and effort wasted by customers on RFP…and the probability of selecting the right CRM platform doesn’t increase just because you issued an RFP.

In an effort to help customers improve RFPs, I’ve put together a list of three key areas where things can (and usually do) go wrong during the RFP process.

Requirements Mismatch

Sometimes this goes well - the procurement department, the selection committee, or the RFP consultant does a phenomenal job understanding the pressing business needs and opportunities and translates them into a concise requirements list that can be responded to with ease. 

More often than not, the RFP has 2x or 3x the number of questions necessary to understand the problem space. The result?  Additional time expended by the vendors attempting to respond AND the procurement/selection committee in reviewing those responses. Another issue is that the Excel list of requirements rarely prioritizes which features are the most important. This feature prioritization could have a huge impact on design decisions (which later impact time and budget).

I have also seen RFPs that were clearly boilerplate, including a number of elements that didn't apply to the project under proposal.  For the RFP to be meaningful and valuable, it must align with the organization's true needs. 

True story - on a technical survey for an RFP I completed in 2013, there was a line item for COBOL support; when pressed on this, the RFP consultant (whom the organization was paying a lot of money to advise them on their CRM selection) admitted that there was no actual need for COBOL support.

Too Many Vendors


We have received RFPs where the customer invited over a DOZEN vendors to respond. Analysts like Gartner and Forrester do the heavy lifting so you don't have to - picking up a research report for the area you are trying to address will give you the top names in the space. Check out the Gartner Magic Quadrants and the Forrester Wave Reports to get started.

You don't need to engage a consultant or spend countless man-hours researching different platforms to find the top CRM players in your space (hint: it’s Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM).  If you tell a vendor that you have submitted the RFP to more than a handful of competitors, the likelihood that they'll respond drops significantly. 

There's an old rumor that the Ivy League universities compare applicant lists and drop candidates who apply to too many because they assume the applicant isn't interested in the unique value of the individual universities. Sending your RFP to a dozen vendors feels a bit like that.

Restricted Access to the Business

I have responded to many RFPs over the last few years.  Usually, the RFP process drags on and takes much longer than the customer originally anticipated.  Finding a great RFP consultant might aid in keeping the process on track, but even that can only help so much.  RFPs take a lot of time and don't always yield a better result. Therefore two things I recommend for all customers is that they:

  • Organize a CRM selection committee
  • Make sure the selection committee spends enough time meeting with each vendor face-to-face

These meetings will help you determine which vendor has the best functional capabilities and ultimately, who would have the best rapport with the customer’s project team.  These two tactics are much likely to result in a more effective vendor match than dragging your way through an RFP.

Please don’t take these suggestions the wrong way – RFPs still make sense in some scenarios. However, when you are at an organization where time itself is money, you’ll get to the same results faster by taking the best pieces of an RFP process – a selection committee, guided discovery of key requirements, and interviews with the most-recommended vendors – and avoiding the dreck.


Topics: CRM Platform Selection

Six Questions to Ask Before You Sign Your CRM Contract

ContractsCongratulations, future CRM owner! You’ve successfully navigated the rough waters of CRM vendor evaluations and you selected either Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics CRM for your organization’s CRM platform. We know this process may have been more in-depth or taken longer than you expected. Bravo for getting this far! 

Before you put the pen to paper and sign the dotted line, here are 6 questions you should ask and have answers to, before signing the CRM contract.

How Do I Pay?
Has your CRM vendor gone over the specifics of your payment plan? Many times we see CRM prices quoted as per-user per-month, but most CRM vendors only offer an annual contract with upfront payment.

Understanding your payment responsibilities before signing the contract avoids any ambiguity that could arise down the road. If you’ve made a special deal with your sales rep make sure this is written down and understood by all parties involved.

How Do I Add?
If you have agreed to a yearly payment plan it’s important that you understand how future changes to your contract work. Is there an additional cost to adding users mid-contract? What will be my per-user price to add more users to the system? What process do you have to go through to add these new users?

Having a clear understanding of how to adjust your contract mid-agreement will save you from a headache in 6 or 8 months.

How Do I Subtract?
You also should understand the ins and outs of downsizing your existing contract. Can you transfer licenses from old employees to new employees? Can you downsize the number of users you have a few months into your agreement? Remember that super sweet pricing discount you negotiated at contract signing? Please remember that later because most CRM vendors won’t let you reduce the number of user licenses you have…that’s the tradeoff you have to take for discounted pricing.

Updating your agreement shouldn’t be a point of frustration. Take the necessary steps to future-proof your contract by asking your CRM vendor these questions before you sign.

How Do I Get Help?
During the sales process, your rep has been very hands-on. They have had you on speed-dial and are always available to walk you through any questions that you have. Once you sign the contract, mostly likely your primary point of contact will change to someone better armed to help you when real issues and questions come to the forefront. Before you sign your CRM contract, make sure you have a defined plan of attack for working through any problems that may surface. You should know who you’re going to call, what’s the response time (service level agreement), and how you’ll be charged for additional help.

How Do I Store Data?
It’s important that you (and your users) know the specifics about the storage space that is included in your contract. Ask your CRM sales rep what repercussions you face if your limits are exceeded during your engagement and what your options are to avoid those repercussions. You should also have firm prices from the CRM vendor on how much they'll charge you to add more storage if you need it.

What Are My Limits?
Most cloud-based CRM systems include API limits and governors to make sure customers don’t cause system wide performance problems. CRM vendors rarely make API limit exceptions for individual customers, so you need to make sure your system stays under the cap. Therefore ask for the complete list of API limits and ask any follow up questions before signing the contract.

Having the answers to these 6 questions before you sign your CRM software contract will save you from frustrating conversations after deployment. If you need help figuring out your unique decision-making process and software selection, we’re here to help

Topics: CRM Platform Selection

The Ten Most Important CRM Evaluation Criteria eBook

We know that selecting a CRM platform can be a “make or break” decision for you and your business. Pick right, and you will see big benefits such as increased sales, better reporting and more efficiency. Pick wrong, and you will waste a lot of time, energy and money on a CRM system that no one wants to use. The stakes couldn’t be much higher when choosing the best CRM platform for your business. To make matters worse if you’re like most buyers, you will probably only conduct one or two CRM selections in your entire career…so no pressure.

As a company that has conducted hundreds of CRM software evaluations over the past 10+ years, we have seen customers try all sorts of different tactics to try and make the best decision possible. Through our observations we have gained a pretty good idea of what works well to help make a CRM decision, and we also know which tactics might lead to problems down the road. With these experiences fresh in our mind (and wearing the scars from the not-so-great processes!), we created this eBook to share our candid feedback and best practices on how you should conduct a CRM platform selection.

Use this free eBook to help you shape your consideration and navigate your CRM software selection and purchase.

Topics: CRM Platform Selection

Throw Everything You Know About Gathering CRM Requirements Out The Window

I asked a potential client during a recent meeting to describe his method for gathering requirements for his upcoming CRM project. While thumbing through the list of must-haves he gave me, he told me about his round-the-world trip. In order to compile the list of requirements, he flew across several continents to ask members of his sales team: What do you want?

“If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

Believe it or not, asking a sales team member what they want is the traditional approach to gathering requirements for CRM systems. If you’re adopting the traditional approach I hate to tell you, you’re doing it all wrong.

When it comes to gathering requirements you can’t ask people what they want, you need to witness what they need. Holding a 60-minute meeting in a conference room isn’t going to give you the meaningful insight you need to build an application that saves your end users time and your company money. If you want to build a CRM application that will ensure user adoption you need to buckle your seat belt and go along for the ride.

The Ultimate Question: Will Our Sales Staff Use It?

RidealongIT and sales professionals know that many CRM systems fail due to poor end user adoption. Therefore if you are making the investment and taking the time to invest in a CRM system…everyone should be laser focused on how to make sure you can achieve high end user adoption. The best way to plan for a high adoption rate is to gather requirements by observing your end users in the field while they conduct their day-to-day tasks.

Decision makers need to put themselves in their sales staff’s shoes (or let Sonoma Partners take the walk for you) and pay attention to their day-to-day activities. The best way to gain insight into these activities is to play the role of the silent observer and spend some time watching. 

What types of things should you be looking for?

  • What are all the various systems and tools the users leverage?
  • What are the data inputs and outputs of each system?
  • Do they have any external files (Excel spreadsheets, Word documents) that they pull out to “really” do their job?
  • What is their hardware situation? How often are they using mobile devices vs desktop/laptops?
  • How often do they connect via wireless versus hard wire?
  • Which web browser are they using?

Really understanding how your sales staff actually gets their job done (instead of how they say they do!) will help you build a CRM system that connects technology with your business process. 

Beware of the Conference Room

Nothing says failure like a plan made in a conference room. It’s easy to hold a brainstorming session and ask attendees to bring a comprehensive list of requirements that they would like to see included in the mobile app.

Unfortunately, what usually comes out of these sessions are unnecessary requests for more: more integrated systems, more data fields, more information, more complexity. We see it often and refer to it as the over-engineering scenario. Clients get tied up thinking about capabilities they may one day want rather than what they need today. What is the result of over-engineering your CRM system? Opportunity, account and contact forms with 150+ data fields each…and none of these data fields will ever get completed!

Our advice? Follow the 80/20 Rule. Focus on the 20% of the information that matters most. Your CRM system will be more valuable if everyone completes the 20% most important data fields, versus having a few users complete 80% of the data. Gathering system requirements by observing end users in the field is the best way to help you identify the 20% of fields your users need to do their job best.

What’s the Objection?

So why do CRM customers still use the traditional approach to gathering CRM requirements? We want to debunk some of the primary objections we hear when trying to convince clients to enlist a silent observer.

  • Our sales staff is too large to get an accurate sample. If your organization has a large sales staff that is spread out geographically, it’s easy to assume that getting an accurate sample size is impossible. The truth is you don’t need to interview everyone to get a clear idea of how your staff uses your CRM. In our experience we find that a handful (yes, that’s about 4) of observations can shed light on the prevailing trends your staff faces. 

  • Our sales staff doesn’t know what they want. We hear this a lot from IT departments. Traditionally IT plays a leading role in CRM software selection even though they never touch the final product. You need to internally remove this stigma and trust that your sales team not only knows what they want, but has an idea of how the technology can improve the way they work.  

If you’re ready to toss the traditional method out the window, our skilled user experience architects are ready to pull up a chair and observe. We’re here to help and build a CRM application that will positively impact your workforce and your bottom-line. 



Topics: CRM Platform Selection Enterprise Mobility

The Secret Sauce to Buy CRM Software like a Pro

Have you purchased a new car in the past 5 years? Do you still get the cold shakes thinking about that grueling and awful sales process? The half-truths, the deceptions, the scummy feeling you had when the deal was over? Remember that scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation where Clark Griswold tries to buy a car? Vacation

Multiply that sales pain times 100, drag it out over several months, and you will get a taste of what many enterprise CRM software selection processes seem like! We frequently work with software vendors and customers to help them evaluate different software platforms and negotiate pricing. Unfortunately many of these transactions causes frustration on both sides of the process. Most companies undergo a CRM software selection process just once every few years. Since you might be a little rusty, we want to make sure you buy as efficiently as possible. Buying CRM software like a pro will help you:

  • Negotiate the best price and terms possible
  • Make you a star within the walls of your company
  • Save you from sales people that nag and annoy you

With that in mind, we want to share the “secret sauce” on how customers can buy CRM software like a pro.

Flip the Script, Sell Your Story to the Sales Person!

As a customer, you’ll work with a sales rep from the CRM vendor. Many buyers treat the CRM sales rep as the enemy, when in reality you should treat the sales rep as your biggest advocate. CRM sales reps have a job to do, and here’s what they want to know about you:

  • When do you plan to make a decision?
  • When will you actually place the order?
  • How much software do you plan to buy?
  • What’s the long-term upside?
  • What does your org chart look like?
  • What are the software evaluation criteria?
  • What’s the decision making process?
  • Will you stick to the plan and timeline?
  • How do we stack up to our competition?
  • What’s our relationship with key influencers and decision makers?
  • Should I commit this deal to my manager?
  • What can I do to help you make a decision as quickly as possible?

In many CRM sales cycles, a cat and mouse game exists where customers try to hide as much of this information as possible while sales people work relentlessly to answer all of these questions. Sometimes sales people will do things like go around you and call your manager and executives. While this might be super annoying to you, try to remember that they’re only trying to get answers to their questions. If you put yourself in their shoes, you can imagine how their sales manager probably grills them on a weekly basis about all of their questions.

Now that you know what information your sales rep needs, we recommend that you share as much of this information as possible up front. Show org charts, outline the influencers and decision makers, and get them excited about the long-term potential of your account. Maybe your current project only requires a few sales force automation software licenses, but make sure the sales rep knows you’re considering a customer service project twelve months from now, and that the marketing group might also like some new applications.

Beyond the long-term opportunity, we encourage our customers to provide access to your executives when the time is right. By making sure the CRM sales person knows how and when they can engage with your execs, they won’t try to get around you. Just as important, they can also line up the appropriate sales management from their side so both sides can speak directly and candidly to one another. This executive to executive communication helps reduce the potential for mis-communication or mis-understanding.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but sharing key information with the CRM sales rep will:

  • Get the sales rep and their sales manager excited about your account, and they will “go to bat” for you when it comes time to negotiate terms and pricing
  • Position you as a professional buyer, and they will treat you accordingly during negotiations
  • Save you hassle and headache because the sales reps won’t need to go around you

An open and honest conversation between the customer and the CRM vendor will lead to the best possible decision and pricing for the customer. Of course, if you need help figuring out your EXACT decision making process and software selection, we would love to help you out. Please contact us and we’ll get you setup with our software selection best practices!


Topics: CRM Platform Selection