MyCustomer.com examines which factors you should consider when choosing an external CRM consultant for your project.
Many businesses will choose to hire a consultant to help develop a specific project, and the same is true in the CRM industry. Whether it’s help regarding adoption, implementation or internal cultural change (or indeed the whole journey), an outsider’s perspective can help ease the process and help each project reach its potential. So with so many CRM consultants to choose from, what qualities should you look for before making your selection and is it essential they have a CV-full of industry-specific experience?
In January 2008, Gartner analyst Matthew Goldman interviewed 284 clients about working with external consultants on specific CRM projects to understand the factors behind a successful relationship. Gartner established a cause-and-effect model that demonstrated the relationship between a consultant’s performance in specific service areas and the client's overall satisfaction, likelihood of rehiring, and likelihood of recommending the consultant.
The report, Dataquest Insight: Best Practices for Service Providers to Retain CRM Clients, revealed that most consultants are measuring and investing in the wrong things. Rather than using surveys, debriefing, third-party research, and their own day-to-day client interaction to forge a picture of what drives customer satisfaction – typical of most external consultants – the report showed direct and indirect causal relationships mattered most.
More significantly, the report revealed that a strong team (21%) was more important than management (15%) or technical expertise (8%), or even CRM expertise (14%). The team factor – which included the team members proposed for the project – showed to deliver the highest level of satisfaction from a firm regarding their chosen consultant.
Additionally, the report revealed that although having a previous experience or relationship with a client often leads to identifying and closing opportunities, it does not play a leading role in driving the CRM client experience.
“Intuition plays too big a role in assessing and addressing customer satisfaction. We rely intently on analytics and decision support tools in many aspects of the business, but because the customer experience is personal, we allow intuition to play a bigger role than it should,” said the report.
Published in 2008, has opinion changed since then and are there any particular qualities that businesses should keep in mind when making their selection?
Blaise James, director in business consulting at Satmetrix, believes that a successful CRM consultant will hold two perspectives in mind at once: The client’s and the client’s customer.
He says: “To the client, the successful consultant provides reliability, credibility and integrity in addition to the “table stakes” of top-notch technical expertise. Also desired are the ability to harness technology, proven best practice and creative thinking to develop innovative strategies and processes that improve customer loyalty.
“But the consultant must also be a zealous advocate of the client’s customer, challenging the client to use CRM to genuinely improve the customer experience rather than create “bad” short-term profits at the expense of loyal customer relationships.”
Tim Pine, senior CRM project manager at Aptean, adds that a CRM consultant must have the “magic combination” of customer knowledge, responsiveness and application. “Many have one or two, but few CRM consultants can apply all three attributes together to ensure customer satisfaction.
“A CRM consultant needs to demonstrate that they understand the business; the customer-base; any limitations, barriers to sales and ensure that the sales people have all and everything they need to close and deal, deliver on after-sales promises and to ensure that all customers are happy customers,” he says.
Sarah Cross, MD at Uber, cites independence as a vital factor. She says: “Businesses need to ensure they’re not selling a ‘one-size-fits-all’ CRM technology product which will mean you having to shoe-horn your strategy into. A great consultant finds a technology to suit your business goals, not the other way round.”
So with that in mind, is there a certain number of years’ experience that will result in a fruitful relationship between the business and consultant?
James believes that businesses should look for “established methodologies from hundreds of implementations, benchmarks from industry research and the proven ability to successfully adapt them to a variety of client situations.”
Mark Osman, director of commercial operations at Eclipse Marketing, adds that a successful track record in delivering CRM programmes is key. “It’s also important to find out if the prospective supplier has long working relationships with blue-chip companies; this will demonstrate that they are well-respected and knowledgeable,” he says.
“Have they carried out CRM projects successfully in your sector? For example, if you are an automotive business, do they have a proven heritage in this sector?”
However, Pine believes that it’s less about industry-specific knowledge: “Whilst it is not essential for the consultant to have direct sector experience, it is vital if you are operating in a highly regulated market, for example, that the consultant has worked under the constraints of a regulatory body and that they fully understand the implications of rolling out a CRM strategy that is not compliant and is poorly governed!”
Once selected, Andrew Yates from Artesian explains how organisations can support CRM consultants: “In the last fifteen years there has been a shift from a ‘top down’ to a ‘bottom up’ approach to CRM; one that is reacting to the rise of savvy customer.
“While there is a mixture of skills within any team – the challenge for organisations is how to leverage different skill sets by arming CRM consultants with the intelligence that can optimise their performance. The explosion of new channels such as internet forums, blogs and social networks means that CRM professionals now have access to more information than ever before and can obtain valuable insights into brand sentiment, customer preferences and recent activity.”
But Gartner analyst Ed Thompson argues that the firm’s earlier report still holds true – methodologies, along with the other usual factors, are irrelevant. “The key success metric still is the team,” he says.
“What matters more is the team you assemble rather than the consultant. If you don't like the team then you better call it very early and get the team switched fast. It's all about whether you gel with the team, and you like them.”
Thompson explains that for the bigger companies, Gartner advices they take three project managers from inside the organisation alongside the three final consultants bidding for the work. Give them two or three weeks to work together with a project manager with whichever project manager wining the project wining the bid.
“Say to the consultancies, ‘You've been given a spy who can tell you anything you want about our company and their job is to help you win the bid.’ In doing so, you also have a spy yourself in your employee who is working with the consultant. You then interview your project manager and the consultants and find the team that's gelled most.
“A great technique for blending your internal person with the external team in a competitive environment,” he says.
What experiences have you had with external consultants and what selection process do you think works best?