10 ways to implement CRM on a tight budget

Balance

With the economy in a fragile state of recovery, the need for effective CRM systems is as important as ever. But with budgets still often tight, the scope to introduce much needed technology remains limited. I often work with companies who are looking to implement CRM technology on tight budgets, so I'm drawing on my experience to set out 10 ways to implement CRM technology more cost-effectively:

1. Get your requirements carefully mapped out first. The more detailed a specification of your requirements that you can generate, the better positioned vendors are to provide firm pricing. Firm pricing lets you identify the most competitive offerings, and helps you identify which capabilities you can do without if you a struggling to hit budget. Many organisations rush to select a vendor with an ill-defined set of requirements in the expectation that the vendor will develop the final specification. As it’s in the vendor’s interest to maximise the commercial value of the project, and at this point you are pretty much locked in, you can expect to pay around 50% more by adopting this approach

2. You don’t need to go for premium brands. While the temptation may be to go for a well-known CRM brand, they may not be the most cost effective option. A tight requirements specification will help you identify the functionality that you do and don’t need, and you may well find that lower cost options can comfortably meet your needs. Even some of the free open source and low cost commercial open source offerings can represent a viable route forward if your needs are not too sophisticated. It’s advisable to undertake careful due diligence, however, to give assurance the vendor you’ve selected is likely to remain trading in tougher market conditions.

3. SaaS is not by definition cheaper. Despite what the software as a service (SaaS) vendors may suggest, hosted software may or may not be cheaper than on-premise alternatives, even when just measuring the year one costs. Unless there’s a compelling need to deploy technology in a certain way, it’s wise to keep an open mind between hosted and on-premise options.

4. Shop around. Organisations often pay too much because they unnecessarily limit choice. As a case in point, we recently issued a RFP for a fairly straightforward system, and included several resellers for the same CRM technology. Pricing estimates from those resellers ranged from £30,000-£150,000. Had we had a more limited distribution we might have ended paying substantially more than we needed, or discounted a potentially attractive technology.

5. Negotiate well. While your budgets may be tighter in a down economy the vendors are likely to be feeling the pinch too, so there’s generally plenty of scope to negotiate. While software costs and day rates tend to be the key target for negotiation, it’s also worth looking the number of service days the vendor is proposing to determine if they are appropriate for the project. If in doubt, speak to an independent CRM consultant, they can often add a lot of value in this area for modest outlay.

6. Don’t overload on software. There is already billions of pounds worth of unused software out there sat on shelves gathering dust; don’t add to it. There can be a tendency to buy software for a much wider group than will actually use it. Few CRM vendors penalise you for buying software incrementally, so it often pays to start off small and add licences as you need them. You may well find you need a lot less software than you originally thought.

7. Keep it simple to start with. It’s generally best to phase projects. Just implementing the basics can often add a lot of value, and further capabilities can easily be added over time. This reduces the amount of costs up front, and as organisations often only see the realistic potential of technology after they have been using it for a while, it often avoids the development of expensive white elephants.

8. Take on more yourself. There’s little point in paying vendors to perform tasks that you can easily perform yourself. With many of today's CRM technologies being highly user configurable there is plenty of scope for organisations to do the basics themselves and let the vendors handle the more technically demanding parts.

9. Rent a developer. Some of the most cost-effective deployments we’ve worked on came when we paid for a developer by the day, got them on site where we could keep an eye on them, asked them to turn off their mobile phone, and told them what we wanted written. It requires a good understanding of the business and functional requirements and knowledge of the technology you’re deploying, and isn’t advisable in all circumstances, but we’ve implemented systems at under 20% of the originally quoted costs by operating this way as opposed to letting the vendor do the initial design work.

10. Use third parties. You don’t have to use the vendor for everything. You can often find capable, well qualified third parties and independent contractors to involve on a project without having to pay a vendor premium. Sites such as Freelancer.com and oDesk can also expand your options by giving you access to cost-effective developers located across the globe. You may have suck it and see a few times before you find people that have the right skills and that you can work with, but as the rates are so competitive you can afford a few false starts.

By using your imagination and defying a few of the conventions of CRM implementation, it’s amazing how cost-effectively CRM systems can be deployed. Sometimes budget constraints can be beneficial - necessity is after all the mother of invention.

Richard Boardman is founder of Mareeba CRM Consulting.

About Richard Boardman

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