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Do You Need a CRM Implementation Consultant?

I have been a CRM consultant for 29 years. Now, if you do the math that means that I’ve been doing CRM consulting since 1989. However, some of you “old guys” who were using contact managers back then, realize that there was no “CRM” as a concept in 1989. Back then, the most sophisticated technology involved nothing more than a fancy Rolodex for contact management using systems like Act!™ evolving into corporate-wide Salesforce Automation (SFA) with the introduction of Goldmine™ in 1989. SalesLogix was the first relational database driven, enterprise wide, salesforce automation system that capitalized on its Act!™ roots in 1999. The gorilla in the room has been, up until 2009, Siebel™ which gained a 45% market share in 2002 but has since declined in popularity since its acquisition by Oracle. The leading CRM system these days is, a cloud-based, subscription CRM full platform solution that has taken the world by storm and Microsoft Dynamics that enjoys a growing user base.

…the greatest risk to a successful CRM implementation lies in the fact that there is much too often a mismatch between the skills of the CRM implementation consultants and the expectations of the clients who hired them.
As these CRM systems became more sophisticated and companies realized the importance of managing their existing customer relationships throughout the entire enterprise, the major players of CRM, which today include, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft Dynamics, required a much greater level of expertise and a demonstrable understanding of system functionality in order to modify and customize these systems to meet the business processes and challenges that companies are facing.

But to avoid making my own long story even longer, I just choose to say that I’ve been a CRM consultant for almost 3 decades.  In that time, I have seen my share of both successful and unsuccessful projects caused by many factors. Primarily, what I have observed as the greatest risk to a successful CRM implementation lies in the fact that there is much too often a mismatch between the skills of the CRM consultants and the expectations of the clients who hired them.

I had a wise man tell me many years ago that consulting was what you did between sales jobs. And in some cases, I believe that may have been true for me. Early in my career as a CRM consultant I thought that consulting was the process of merely convincing someone to do what they already knew they should do and reinforce it with potential benefits. Sometimes it was a little bit like telling someone “Do as I say and not as I do.” But as systems have become more complex, it has become critical that companies use a skilled and experienced CRM consultant to guide them through the challenging process of implementation.

CRM ConsultantSo in this blog series that I’ve entitled “How to Hire a Tightfitting CRM Consultant – A Guide to Choosing, Using, Bruising, or Excusing Your CRM Consultant” I will use the experience that I’ve gained over the past three decades to try and educate you in choosing the correct consultant to implement your CRM solution, and build an environment that will facilitate successful project execution on time and within budget.

Should You Use a Consultant? 3 Questions to Ask.

Selecting a consultancy for implementing your CRM system clearly begins with you. It is probably easier to determine when not to hire a consultant versus when to hire a consultant. But before you make that decision, follow the next few steps and I think your decision will be the correct one.

Yes, at the right time and for the right reasons a CRM consultant’s contributions can be invaluable. But too often in my opinion consultants are brought in at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons. So before you bring in a consultant, try to answer the following three primary questions first:

Question One: Do we know where we want to go or are we ready to be told where to go?”  There have been times when some of my consulting projects kicked off with only a vague sense of their intended destination. When I worked for IBM, it was not unusual for my consulting assignments to doggedly carry-on long after the original objectives were met. It was often our job to help our clients determine the new destination and guide them toward that. I found this to be difficult to understand but in the final analysis, most organizations don’t do a very good job of determining the definition of what “end” means when they hire a consultant. It’s very appropriate to bring in a CRM consultant to help figure out where you need to go, but don’t ask them to take you there before you figured out just where there is.  Frankly, if you don’t know where you’re going, anybody can take you there, so make sure you understand where your CRM project is headed and what the destination is for this phase of the project. Without you first determining where there is, you can’t expect your consultant to draw boundaries around the project and you will never be able to effectively measure the success of each phase of your implementation.

Question Two: Should our own people be doing this job?I know this sounds obvious, but it is always amazing to me how often I am brought in to a project and asked to do things that my clients are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. Of course clients have plenty of reasons to not use their own people like:

  • Using a consultant is temporary and easier to get money for rather than increasing headcount
  • Your people don’t have time for the learning curve necessary to properly define your requirements and implement the system
  • It is easier to assign tasks to your people rather than full-blown responsibility for project involvement through the life of the project.

Question Three: Have we used consultants in the past and have those experiences been unsatisfying?” A consultant can only be as good as your organization lets them be. If your experiences with consultants in the past have been less than satisfactory, you might want to take a look a little closer to home. If your team feels threatened by an outside consultant, feel that a consultant adds unnecessary workload to them, or they have a personal bias against using outside resources, it is better to figure those things out first and make changes before you take the plunge again.


Choosing the Right CRM Implementation Consultant – What to Look Out For

So now, you’ve honestly answered the three questions.

Now it’s time to narrow your search and determine which consultancy to use. This can be a bewildering and time-consuming task to determine which consultancy to use. But remember, you are hiring a consultant because you need objectivity, fresh ideas, skills and experience that your organization doesn’t necessarily have. In this blog, we are assuming that you have chosen a CRM system or have hired a non-CRM consultant to help you find the right system. There is a huge amount of propaganda on the web about which CRM system and which CRM consultancy is the best. I will write a new blog about how to choose the appropriate CRM system but let’s assume you’ve already chosen your software platform.

Let’s also assume that you have narrowed your search for a CRM consultancy to two or three firms. Now the courtship begins but since we all understand that courtship is way more exciting than the marriage, go into this courtship with your eyes wide open.

Pay more attention to the way consultants listen than to the way consultants talk. Don’t let them drone on about the great things they have done for all their great clients. You already know that or they wouldn’t be sitting across the table from you. What you really want to hear them talk about is their understanding of your problems and your project; your customers; your competition; and your products. If they talk about these things then they’ve done their homework and it shows that they are prepared. Beware of consultants who are giving you solutions before you have had a chance to explain your problem. Listen for them to have an open mind about how they attack your challenges. You may not be the center of the universe, but you ought to be the center of theirs.

Beware of the age old consultant bait and switch! Consultancies are notorious for running their best consultants by you during the sales process but when the project starts those consultants are never seen again. The people sitting at the table across from you need to be involved in your project because you are investing your time in educating them and they are investing their time in listening to you. Don’t be afraid to ask if the consultants sitting across your table are the consultants who will be assigned to your project. If they say yes, make sure that’s documented in the contract (given that you can execute the contract in a timely fashion. Good consultants are in  demand so don’t expect them to sit around turning down other projects while you take weeks to execute the agreement and schedule the project start.)


Not So Fast…

So, they’ve finished their pitch and you’ve ask all your questions. You’re convinced that the people across the table from you should do the work. But there are still some things you really need to know and there are things that most managers don’t think to ask. Now you will. Try asking some or all of the following questions:

  1. Give me the name of a client that won’t act as your reference. Why are they unwilling to be a reference? Remember that admitting mistakes and demonstrating the ability to learn from those mistakes is a pretty healthy sign of intelligence, integrity, and honesty which must be the cornerstone of a solid working relationship.
  2. What don’t you do as well as you wish you could? A good consultant will confess their limitations and a great consultant understands that those limitations create areas of focus which will lead to project value and success.
  3. What is your definition of “done”? Good consultants are always trying to bring the project to closure. Understanding this concept is an important differentiator.
  4.  If we don’t hire you, which of your competitors should we hire and why?  This question tests the consultant’s character and level of fear. You’ll always get one of two answers. They will either evade the question which means they are afraid they are going to lose your business to that competitor, or give you a direct answer which means that they are confident in their ability to deliver, but either way you will have learned an important lesson about your consultant.

Ask the tough questions of yourself and your organization and if the decision is to use a CRM consultant, lay the groundwork for success which opens a world of opportunity for your business.



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Chip Rowe is the Senior Vice President of Salesforce Delivery Excellence for APN Consulting Incorporated which helps companies implement, maintain, monitor, and expand their core product ecosystem. Connect with Chip on LinkedIn or through email at

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