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An unbiased, detailed step-by-step guide with comprehensive RFP and evaluation templates to find the best CRM system based on your organization's needs:

CRM Software Selection

Choosing the best Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system is a complex and time-consuming software selection process that involves many decisions.  Many important CRM requirements can be overlooked, or "slip through the cracks", in such a complicated process. This brings up the question "How to select CRM software accurately?"

Many of today's CRM experts, and web sites claiming to find the CRM system best matched to your needs, state that you must first identify your software requirements before you can select CRM software successfully.  But exactly what does the phrase "identify your CRM requirements" really mean?  Many questions come up about managing the customer relationship...

  • What should CRM do for your customers, and your organization? Important questions when trying to select CRM.
  • What should a complete set of software requirements include? What is the scope of the project?
  • How detailed should the requirements be in order to pick the best CRM system?
  • How are they used to vet vendors, evaluate vendor proposals, and select CRM software?

This page first presents a definition of a customer relationship management (CRM) system, then presents a proven, Step-by-Step plan (see below), along with some time-saving resources and tools, that will guide you through the process of selecting the best CRM software platform for your organization. Useful "Insider Tips" are placed where needed to help you, like this:

Insider Tip: One of the biggest mistakes is to equate "requirements" with "software features". Remember, the term "CRM requirements" includes many things that are not software features, such as workflow, compliance, and regulatory requirements, to name just a few. Selecting CRM software based on features alone is very bad practice because you are making a decision based on just a fraction of the criteria needed, which is why the phrase "If we only knew six months ago what we know now" is heard so frequently!



Identifying where and how CRM software functionality can benefit your customers and your organization is critical during later steps of the CRM selection process! Capabilities vary wildly from one CRM system to another since there are no officially binding standards or certifying agencies. A review of authoritive web sites, such as Wikipedia, et al., enables one to compile the following overall definition of CRM:

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a frequently used term that refers to that combination of practices, strategies, workflows, technologies, software, and platforms that an organization uses to enable, process, analyze, document, and manage prospect/customer information, transactions, and interactions throughout the entire customer lifecycle, with the goals of enhancing the customer experience and improving the business relationship, thus increasing sales, customer retention, and driving overall sales growth.

Installing software to automate or enhance all or part of the following Customer Relationship Management (CRM) functions could be required for a given project. Note that every organization will have its own specific CRM needs and goals driving their software evaluation and selection process. This is primarily due a need to preserve and enhance competitive positioning and proprietary product/service/support delivery processes.

  • Marketing Management
  • Incoming Call/Inquiry Processing
  • Call Center Management/Interface
  • Sales Lead Processing
  • Sales Force Automation
  • Quote Processing
  • Sales Order Processing/Interface
  • Inventory/Interface
  • Learning Management
  • Help Desk
  • Customer Service/Support
  • Service Dispatch
  • Warranty Management

Insider Tip: Be very wary if a consultant or a web site that offers CRM selection services dwells excessively on "sales force automation" (SFA) functions.  A focus on SFA topics alone may indicate a lack of overall CRM application expertise.  There is much more to CRM than just SFA.  A complete CRM can include all or just some of the business processes listed above (and perhaps others!). Choosing the best CRM software is highly dependent on determining where and how your customer experience can/should be improved.



An Insider's CRM Software Selection Guide

The following 10 step process for choosing a CRM system are completely unbiased, platform and and vendor neutral. More importantly, they are a proven methodology that has been perfected through continuous use in thousands of real life CRM software selection projects over more than twenty years. This includes both software development and consulting experience in CRM applications, and prior to the appearance of CRM, all related applications such as marketing, sales force automation, lead tracking, quote management, contact tracking, help desk, call center management, and similar. This knowledgebase enables you to select CRM technology with confidence! Step #1 is below.

Step #1 - Identify Customer Needs First!


The first step is to determine what your customers need, and then select CRM system software based on fulfilling those needs along with those of your staff and other internal requirements!

Don't forget the name of the planned system is "Customer Relationship Management", so it is crucial that you find out, in detail, what customers need and expect. What is needed to effectively manage the relationship with each of your customers? One of the primary goals of a CRM system is to improve the customer relationship with your company. This makes choosing a CRM software platform dependant on a detailed, thorough knowledge of your customer needs, then optimizing your processes and clearly defining your end goals as required to improve your overall customer experience. The functionality required by your staff to meet those customer needs are your requirements, as opposed to selecting a specific brand or "industry standard" collection of features.

The relationship with your customers starts with each customer, so the emphasis should be on enhancing each customer's experience with your company, and the value of your company to those customers. Your business functions and the CRM software features used are there to simply support the tasks needed to identify, serve, manage, and profit from customers.

Start the customer review process by first determining the major market segments that comprise your overall customer base. What are the attributes of the customers in each segment, i.e., what are their preferences, expectations, buying behaviors, and anything else key to buying patterns in your industry. This is the start to finding the best ways to increase your sales, increase customer loyalty, and boost referrals.

Once all major market segments have been identified, it is time to develop a "customer experience survey" for each specific market segment identified previously. Choosing the right CRM software system is highly dependant on what your customers are looking for in their relationship with your company, and a direct survey is the only way to find that out. Each survey should be sent to the customers in just its market segment. Although these surveys will differ somewhat, they should query customers about the following high level topic categories:

  • General Questions
  • Ease of Doing Business (with your organization)
  • Customer Loyalty
  • Customer Experience
  • Competitive Benchmarks
  • Web Portal Utilization
  • Business Practices
  • Communications
  • Support Quality
  • Service Dispatch
  • Suggested Improvement
The above are just high level criteria categories. If you would like help and suggestions about the detail survey questions needed for your industry and organization, please do not hesitate to contact one of our Software Selection Experts.

Insider Tip: It is important to actually call or send a survey to customers to identify their attributes directly, without the influence of your current marketing activities. Do not rely on customer history reports or the activity on your website because it may lead to false conclusions stemming from the constraints already imposed by your current system and other operational parameters.

Insider Tip: Be very careful (suspicious) if a "consultant" from a website claiming to help you select CRM software does NOT ask you about these customer-centric needs!  This lack of basic CRM selection best practice points to the high probability that the web site consultant is nothing more than a "demand generator", i.e, a "sales lead generation" site that collects your information and then sells it to CRM vendors, who will then call you repeatedly.

Step #2 - Determine Internal CRM Needs


The second step in the selection process is to find out what your internal and external staff users need to fulfill the customer needs identified in the first step. This could include your resellers as well, if appropriate. The task at hand becomes one of finding out which CRM workflows, software features, and other technologies are needed to fulfill your customer and internal needs in the most efficient and economical manner. You will not be able to reliably pick the best CRM software until that is done!

First of all, forget about computing platforms and CRM software features. At this point the goal is to find out what problems are they encountering on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis? Where do they feel their time is being wasted? Why is it wasted time? How much time could be saved? Does this wasted time affect the prospect and/or impact the customer relationship in any way? How?

The best way to begin is to have all users complete what is know as a Work Distribution Chart (WDC). The big advantage of a WDC is that it does not require any knowledge of CRM software to complete. It simply asks each user what tasks he or she routinely performs on a regular basis, and what percentage of their time each task consumes on average. Simply preparing this information will bring many CRM deficiencies and user needs to the surface. This information is very useful because it provides it helps answer the above questions and accurately forecast the savings that could be realized through a new CRM system.  Download a FREE Work Distribution Chart (WDC).

Along the same lines as the WDC, a basic CRM User Needs Survey can be very useful because it collects more detailed cost information about each task. View and download a FREE User Needs Survey.

Collecting this information is very important, without it an accurate savings forecast cannot be made. This makes it impossible to determine the financial impact of a proposed CRM software platform.

Once you have collected the User Needs you are ready to begin the next step, that of determining the scope of the project and performing initial CRM system planning and economic justification.

Insider Tip: It is very important to identify the EXCEPTION CASES, i.e., those situations where the normal process requires an additional step, or additional information is needed, or data is missing, and many other, similar situations that cause you to waste time trying to find information or wait for information from another department. This FREE User Needs Survey is good for that!

Insider Tip: Be very cautious if an online CRM consultant asks only very high level, almost useless, questions when helping you "determine your needs".  The probability is high they are nothing more than a "demand generator", a.k.a. a "lead generator", who simply collects your requirements and sells them to many CRM vendors who then call you repeatedly.  Examples of such high level questions are:
  • Do you need workflow management?
  • Do you need to inquire about customer purchase history?
  • and similar.

Step #3 - Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Project Scope


This step in the selection process is where you start putting all the pieces together. Now that you have a good list of customer and user needs, and a good idea of how much time is being spent/wasted by each user group in your organization, it is time to identify what is known as the Project Scope.

The CRM Project Scope clearly defines what is needed to improve the customer relationship management (CRM) system in use at your organization. It is important the boundaries of a new system, i.e., what functional areas are involved, where and how it will integrate with, or interface with, other systems, procedures, departments, and external entities. This is known as establishing the "project scope" (a.k.a. project domain) of the planned CRM system.

The frequently encountered functional areas of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system that could be suited to the needs of your organization are listed below.  There could be others. You should to review each as to how it could benefit the relationship you have with prospective and existing customers, and also how it could benefit your organization. This is especially true in those areas indicated by the customer/user needs surveys and WDCs as areas where large amounts of time are wasted.

NOTE: Follow this link to view and download a FREE CRM Software Project Scope checklist that makes this task much easier.

  • Marketing Management
  • Incoming Call/Inquiry Processing
  • Call Center Management/Interface
  • Sales Lead Processing
  • Sales Force Automation
  • Quote Processing
  • Sales Order Processing/Interface
  • Inventory/Interface
  • Learning Management
  • Help Desk
  • Customer Service/Support
  • Service Dispatch
  • Warranty Management
It must be noted that the following needs should be woven throughout the above core CRM functions as needed:
  • Reporting / Predictive Analysis
  • Mobile Access
  • Social Media
  • Contact Management
  • Compliance/Regulatory Needs
  • User Training
  • Legacy Data Conversion
Another thing that should be done at this time is to determine the priority, i.e., how important, each CRM function is to your organization. This priority will be used to establish the "Importance Level", which is important in later steps when evaluation and  selecting the best CRM solution using what is known as "Weighted Grade Scoring".

Insider Tip: Project Scope definition is another CRM platform selection best practice.  It is a crucial part of your CRM selection and implementation project because it determines what applications should be included, and the databases that need to be accessed. This is important because it helps identify the sequence (order) each CRM module should be installed in, and what data needs to be converted. All crucial to a smooth, problem free implementation.  If this step is missing from a consultant's offering you should be very cautious.

Step #4 - Initial CRM System Planning


At this point you should have a very good idea what your customer and staff needs are, how much savings could be achieved by switching to a new CRM platform or system, and what it should do in a general way. You have everything needed to obtain preliminary pricing from vendors and calculate the ROI and IRR that each new CRM platform could potentially provide.

The goals of this step are to determine if the project can be justified financially, and if so, in what order should the new CRM software platform be implements?

Financial Considerations

These questions must be answered at this point:
  • Is the ROI and IRR enough to justify the expense of the new CRM software system in question?
  • Do adjustments need to be made?
  • Is the projected pricing too high?
  • Could the majority of the anticipated savings be achieved by installing only part of the planned CRM system as a less expensive phase one?

NOTE: It is important financial ratios be high enough to justify the planned system.  If they are not, then it really does not make sense to continue the software selection project as planned.

CRM Implementation Schedule

The last question above brings up the other part of the preliminary project planning step, which is to determine the order in which the various components (modules) of the newly chosen CRM system should be installed. The order should be the one that provides the biggest, fastest return for the money, where significant improvement are quickly noticeable by as many end users as possible. There are always basic issues to consider. What modules are mandatory, i.e., must be installed first, to make the system function, for each system under consideration? Once the mandatory modules are installed, are any others required before those modules with critical functionality can be installed and used?

Insider Tip: Internal Rate of Return (IRR) is the better metric to use when picking software, since it takes the time value of money into account. The ROI represents the simple percentage gain over the entire investment time period, not annualized as in the IRR calculation.

Step #5 - Determine Requirements Needed to Select CRM


The goal of this step is to expand the customer and user needs obtained in previous steps into the detail CRM software system requirements needed to accurately select the best CRM software or cloud platform for your company.

The fastest, most accurate and easiest way to do this by using a pre-populated list of CRM requirements with a Fit-GAP matrix.  (Learn about Fit-GAP analysis.)  Each Infotivity RFP contains thousands of CRM requirements criteria sorted by business process broken out by software function. This makes it very easy to quickly match the user and customer needs with the full detail needed.

Follow this link to download a comprehensive CRM Requirements Checklist with Fit-GAP Analysis.

Accurately identify ALL software requirements and user needs using this checklist. These comprehensive checklists present thousands of CRM software features and functions, combined with full Fit-GAP analysis, to ensure your organization's specific requirements are identified completely. This includes the hidden "exception case" requirements could be lurking in any organization's business processes and operating procedures. Some examples are rules that start with "We always do it this way except when...", or that "This particular customer always gets an extra 2% off this product except when....". This CRM software requirements checklist tool will help you identify those hard-to-find, critical software requirements that must be addressed if a new system is to be implemented on-time and on-budget.

This is also the best time to investigate CRM-related business process (re)engineering (BPE/R), a.k.a. workflow, issues.  Workflow automation is a key area to be addressed by any new platform, and identifying workflow needs is one of the best ways to uncover previously unknown functional and interface requirements specific to your organization. 

Insider Tip: All CRM software requirements statements should follow a "single subject" rule, i.e., address only one criteria topic at a time per statement. This helps to ensure that vendor responses to the RFP questions derived from these statements can be easily evaluated and compared.

Step #6 - Use an RFP for CRM Software Selection


This step of the CRM selection process is focused on preparing an RFP using the detailed CRM requirements identified in the previous step.  Creating a meaningful RFP ensures vendors are queried about all of your organization's specific strategic and operational needs, including related efficiency improvements.

Overall, the RFP must do two things - accurately communicate your organization's CRM needs to vendors, and elicit vendor software proposals in a consistent form that is easily and accurately evaluated and compared with other vendor responses. This ensures you will be able to select the best CRM software quickly and accurately.

Accurately communicating your organization's needs requires much more than simply presenting a series of questions regarding CRM software/platform features and company history to each vendor. Why? A simple list, no matter how detailed, provides no means of cross-referencing your organization's goals and procedural priorities with vendor responses to the RFP. For best results, the questions in an RFP should:

  • be in quantitative format to ensure easy, accurate evaluation and comparison of vendor responses (proposals)
  • be categorized by major organization business and procedural goals
  • be answered with clearly defined vendor responses
  • cross check each other to verify the vendor's understanding of your unique CRM needs (see legal benefits)
  • be directly related to the high level business procedures important to your organization

Obtaining consistent vendor responses is extremely important if you want to compare them to each other! Inconsistent answers make it very difficult to choose the correct software. For example, if 3 different vendors answered a given RFP question with YES, NO, and 1st Quarter of Next Year, what do you do with the "1st Quarter of Next Year" answer? How can that vendor's response be evaluated? It is like comparing apples to oranges. All questions in an effective RFP must be clearly stated so there is no vendor confusion, and they must be worded to elicit a focused answer. 

RFP Types Available

Infotivity provides two types of RFPs for choosing CRM software platforms - Custom and Standard. 

A Custom RFP is created by Infotivity for a specific client, with the purpose of obtaining vendor proposals that address that client's CRM software needs.  Learn more about obtaining a CUSTOM client CRM project specific RFP. Ideal if time is of the essence or your resources are tight.

Standard RFPs are available in generic horizontal and industry vertical formats.  Please follow this link to learn more about Infotivity's collection of STANDARD RFPs for CRM software selection. The perfect starting point for quickly developing a customized RFP yourself.

Insider Tip: Be sure the RFP does not rely on "free form text" answers that must be manually evaluated one at a time. The RFP must be able to automatically analyze and evaluate the vendor response to most RFP questions. This will drastically reduce the time needed to evaluate vendor replies to your RFP!  Learn how at How to avoid RFP mistakes!

Insider Tip: An RFP is not just a list of questions about software features and cost information. In addition to feature and cost data, a correctly written RFP queries vendors about HOW they will configure and implement their software/platform to meet your organization's needs, then provide the support and training needed over the life of the system to help you reach all your short and long term goals.

Step #7 - Evaluate CRM Software Proposals


Manually preparing a Request for Proposal (RFP) that is 30, 40, or 50 pages long is no easy task,  but even that pales in comparison with the daunting task of having to manually evaluate each vendor response to each individual question in each RFP!  For example, if you send an RFP containing 1,700 questions to five (5) vendors, and receive vendor RFP replies (proposals) from all five, that means you would have to manually evaluate and score 8,500 different responses!

There is no question that using an automated RFP template that enables vendor proposals to be digitally received, then quickly merged into a comparison matrix to be automatically evaluated and compared with other vendor proposals, offers significant advantages. But be sure no special software must be installed by the vendor simply to respond to your RFP, or installed and learned by you, since that could require significant extra effort on your part!

Infotivity provides RFP templates with matching Evaluation Matrices in the Excel format you already know.  Each template contains all the formulas needed to calculate response analysis ratios, weighted grade point (WGP) suitability scores, supportability scores, and compare several different responses feature by feature, side-by-side. Just coming up with all the required spreadsheet formulas would take days.  The following unique capabilities enable you to evaluate CRM software based on its:

Suitability   Supportability   Usability   Flexibility   Affordability

Automatic Evaluation of vendor replies (proposals) is assured since Vendor Input Validation is included. This ensures that all vendor replies (proposals) provide:

  • Consistent vendor proposal format that allows for fast electronic processing.
  • Consistent input response types that allow for easy "apples to apples" comparisons.
  • Detailed weighted grade point scoring algorithms that allows for scoring at the individual question level.
  • Financial ratio calculation algorithms for Internal Rate of Return (IRR), Present Value (PV), Net Present Value (NPV), and Payback Period that can be presented in Detail or Bar-Chart format depending on need.
Insider Tip: When evaluating an RFP, always do the vendor response scoring at the absolute RFP criteria specific detail level to achieve maximum accuracy when evaluating vendor RFP replies (proposals).  Software operates at the detail level, so all evaluations must be at that level to be accurate.

Insider Tip: Always be sure to score not only the presence of a CRM software feature, but also HOW that feature will be supplied since that determines how SUPPORTABLE that software will be over time.  Features provided fully tested "out-of-the-box" will require the least support, those provided via custom scripting or programming will require the most support.  This directly impacts how much support (and money) the proposed system will require over its planned useful life.

Step #8 - Detailed, On-Premise Demonstrations of Proposed CRM Solutions


Obtaining accurate software selection decision-making information from a vendor CRM software demonstration requires much more than reviewing CRM software feature availability. A comprehensive software demonstration script should be used to insure the presentation shows the following:

  • WORKFLOW BOTTLENECKS - How many are eliminated by the proposed software solution?
  • TRANSACTION PROCESSING - Where, How, and Why does the vendor system improve transaction processing?
  • INFORMATION RETRIEVAL - How does the software improve inquiry and reporting capabilities?
  • ADAPTABILITY - How easily can the software be adapted to changing business needs? Preferably through a demonstration.
To be effective, the CRM demonstration script should require vendors to show how their proposed software increases PRODUCTIVITY in a meaningful, measurable way.

Infotivity software demonstration (demo) scripts ensure vendor demonstrations are meaningful by requiring each vendor demo to follow your pre-designated tasks.  This makes software weaknesses much more visible.  Each demonstration is graded using consistent criteria, enabling truly quantitative comparisons.  Infotivity demo-scripts enable each member of your acquisition team to accurately assess and record, in real-time, how well the software being demonstrated meets their needs for Functionality, Productivity, Adaptability, and Risk.  Weighted Grade Scores are calculated based on your customized priorities.  Learn more about  how these demo scripts analyze and evaluate software demonstrations.

Insider Tip: Be sure your CRM Demo Script can receive and score "feature assessment" scores from multiple departmental users. Each user will have a different perspective that needs to be taken into account.

Step #9 - Obtain Best and Final Offers before Selecting a CRM Solution!


This step helps insure you make the RIGHT CRM software choice!

BAFO - The Easiest Way to Save Money...with Certainty!

The BEST and FINAL OFFER (BAFO) process enables you to save significant money over the life time of a new CRM software/platform since it dramatically reduces the chance of unplanned issues and problems in the future. BOTH the winning proposal and it's associated contract have been customized to address unique issues at each step of the CRM selection process to fit your organization's specific needs. This process is more effective than using a standard RFP to first select the winning software or platform, then cramming it into a standard contract, and then crossing your fingers hoping everything "works out all right".

Learn more about the Best and Final Offer (BAFO) process....

Infotivity RFP templates provide ALL the criteria needed, in the right format, to select the BEST CRM software or Cloud platform for your organization at the Lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). A Best and Final Offer (BAFO) Letter helps you obtain the best price!

Step #10 - Select CRM Software


At this point you now have everything needed to choose the best vendor CRM software proposal. Your selection committee should review the final cost information, the demonstration scores, and the RFP response evaluation scores, and then select the CRM system proposal which best fits your organization's overall operational, strategic, and financial needs and goals.



At this point you now have the answer to the question "How to select CRM software?"

Select the best CRM software platform by using the easily customized, quantitative process described above. Since it is based on easy-to-use Excel, there is no additional learning required, this CRM platform/software selection process can be modified to fit any application scenario, and the Excel templates enables information from any external system to be easily exported and imported.

Why learn new software just to select CRM software best for your organization?


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