How to implement a CRM system (part 2 of a four-part series)

Selecting your CRM

This is part 2 of a four-part series focused on how to implement a CRM system, “Selecting your CRM”.  It is based on our comprehensive guide CRM Turbo – A Small Business Guide How To Implement A Turbocharged CRM System.

Before reading this page, I would encourage you to familiarise yourself with our previous posts; what is a CRM system, what can CRM do for my business, key features of a CRM system and How to implement a CRM systemPreparing for CRM.

Your journey to learn how to implement a CRM system continues.

You now have an understanding of the type of functionality available in modern CRM systems and what potential benefits they can bring to your business.  You can see that these systems provide far more than merely a repository for storing customer details and contacts. CRM systems are much more about providing your customers with a 360° view of your business, with them very much placed in the centre.

You can now visualise how to be responsive to your customers at every stage of the sales and delivery process and prepare confidently for the growth that your business undoubtedly seeks. Before selecting your CRM system, i.e. contemplating which CRM software and CRM vendors to approach, it has been important to establish what your business needs from a CRM system.

This clarity is necessary for two reasons:

  1. CRM vendors are very good at showing you the bells and whistles of their systems and, to be fair, they are often very impressive. However, does your business need them?  Stick to the script and you won’t stray too far from the essential structure and functionality that your business needs.
  2. As you will see, the more accurate and prescriptive you can be with CRM vendors from the outset, the more relevant and specific their feedback will be.

The term “CRM vendor” will be discussed in the proceeding section “Vendor Selection”.  For now, think of the CRM vendor as a combination of the CRM software you choose and the CRM specialist that will develop the system on your behalf.

So, selecting your CRM will break into two stages:

  • The Brief – creating your briefing document
  • Vendor Selection – choosing your CRM software and vendor


The Brief

As you work through the detail of the brief, it will become apparent how your diligent preparation has simplified the process.  You may still have many questions unanswered and may not have considered every eventuality at this stage, but that doesn’t matter.

The Brief provides an essential tool to ensure that you;

  • have the most precise picture of what a CRM system may be able to achieve for your business before approaching a CRM vendor. It will highlight what essential functionality you might need and what kind of structure the CRM system requires.
  • have shared your vision with all stakeholders, e.g. project colleagues, associated departments, management, the board, to gain a broad consensus of what you are looking to achieve.
  • have gained approval, in principle, for a level of expenditure.
  • can professionally present the company to CRM vendors.
  • have a clear mandate to follow throughout the process. You can avoid being drawn into the nice-to-haves rather than sticking to essentials.
  • can maximise the ability of the CRM vendors to provide accurate feedback, a targeted demonstration and realistic idea of overall costs.

The Brief should comprise the sections below;

1. Introduction

    • An introduction to the business
    • Key objectives
    • Requirements for the system
    • Requirements from the vendor
    • Current systems

2. Detail

    • Design
    • Functionality
    • Administration
    • Hosting
    • Licences
    • Implementation plan
    • Appendices

The result will be a comprehensive guide to all stakeholders; members of your project team, those tasked with authorising expenditure and, most importantly, potential vendors who will convert your operational vision into a reality. A full Brief template with detailed explanations of each section is available for followers of CRM Turbo.


Vendor Selection

You are now ready to consider which CRM vendors are most suitable for your requirements.  While there is still much learning to be done, that learning curve is about to be accelerated by leaning on vendors.  You will move forward with clarity of your requirements and, above all, with control.  You will lead, not follow, the process.

Throughout this guide, we refer to ‘vendors’.  This catchall expression relates to either of two distinct entities in the world of CRM.  Firstly, there is the proprietor of the actual CRM software, the commercial business that conceives, develops, maintains and owns the rights to it (e.g. Microsoft for Dynamics 365,, Oracle, Bpm’ online).

Secondly, there are partners.  These are a network of developers and resellers who will work directly with a client to achieve the ideal CRM set up with the chosen software.  They will typically be certified partners of the relevant software proprietor.  There are a lot of them, and some diligence is needed to pick the most suitable.

If your implementation is straightforward or perhaps you have decided to enhance the standard software yourself, then you may consider dealing with the software proprietor directly.  You will purchase the licences you need from them and expect a limited amount of support on your journey to the completed system.

However, for most followers of CRM Turbo, you will talk to a certified partner of the software proprietor who will be responsible for the development and implementation of your system.  Sometimes the partner will also handle the licences; in other cases, you will purchase licences from the software proprietor and development time from the partner.

I have generally referred to the ‘vendor’ as representing software proprietor and/or developing partner.  However, for the selection in front of us right now, we need to distinguish between the two.

So, in this section, we may continue to refer to a vendor as this combination of both.  However, where appropriate, I will also refer to proprietary CRM software as ‘software’ and the certified partners who specialise in developing and implementing that software as ‘developers’.

We can now work through a typical process for identifying the most suitable vendor for your CRM implementation in three primary steps:

  1. Vendor Shortlist – identifying a shortlist of software and developers
  2. Analysis – making sense of the feedback from vendors
  3. Vendor Appointment – a recommended way to appoint a vendor


Shortlisting is a critical part of the selection process to identify the most suitable vendor for your CRM implementation.  You will want to ensure that you have considered all available vendor options.

Bear in mind that it is time-consuming to engage with a vendor, to go through initial discussions, set up a demonstration meeting and work through all your specific requirements.  It, therefore, makes sense to start by pruning the choice down to something more manageable.

a. Considerations

  • Can the software fulfil your essential requirements?
  • Cost
  • Vendor support

Can the software fulfil your essential requirements?

You may well be asking yourself at this point “how can I answer this question unless I engage with the vendor in the first place?” Great question!

CRM software promotional material will usually claim more functionality than in practice.  After all, the more claimed functionality, the more sales.  Typically, CRM vendors will promote their products with an expansive range of features. While these features may exist, they also may prove to be incapable of managing your specific requirements.

Look to understand the granularity of each particular feature you need before your demonstration and discussion with each vendor.  Your preparation work with workflows, field-mapping and the brief put you in a strong position to achieve this.

How to implement a CRM system - PlanningWARNING! You are almost certainly expecting your CRM implementation to be a driving force for your business for at least the next five years, perhaps considerably longer.  This expectation suggests that your chosen CRM system needs to be able to manage your essential requirements today and over that five-year (plus) period.

The problem is that you don’t know what your essential requirements will be in five years. You’re not 100% sure what your essential requirements are now.  When you start using your CRM, you will inevitably begin to uncover new ways to improve your company’s efficiency and customer engagement through the system.  Can your CRM system even manage these, or will you prematurely have to consider switching to a more robust system?

But let’s go a stage further.  In the same way that you don’t yet know what your essential requirements might be in five years, the CRM software proprietors and developers don’t know what they may be capable of offering! How will progress in artificial intelligence influence CRM development? What will the deployment of social media for boosting sales look like, how will virtual assistants be utilised, what will be the requirements for improved security or perhaps increased efficiency through powerful automated workflows?

Future-proofing may be critical for your business.  If so, then build a CRM shortlist with market leaders who have the broadest and deepest functionality today and have demonstrated a commitment to investing in their platform.  They are most likely to be in a position to take advantage of the technological advances of tomorrow.



Undoubtedly cost will be a critical factor in considering your choice of CRM vendor. The three main areas of cost will be development, licensing and support.  You will find a wide range and mix of the three.  Some software solutions may look competitive on development costs while licence fees may seem a little too high and vice-versa.

Exactly how these costs work out for you will depend mainly on the depth and complexity of your required setup and how far those requirements diverge from the core capability of the CRM software.

The Analysis section following shortly will walk you through a methodology to assess functionality and associated costs presented by each CRM vendor.


Vendor support

The type of support you can expect to receive largely depends on whether you purchase your CRM system via a developer or directly from the software proprietor.  Developers will generally charge an hourly rate for any work done.  They will package this up in various ways; standard packs, premium packs and perhaps break-and-fix-only options.

However, underlying this support will always be the consideration of an hourly rate.  You can gauge how diligent the support will be as you work with the developer during setup.

If you have reliable in-house I.T. and/or CRM capability already, you may not be intending to employ the services of a developer.  Instead, you might be considering a support contract directly with the software proprietor.  This option is likely to be cheaper but, not surprisingly, provides a more stand-off option.

As a guide, most businesses who deploy CRM with 10+ users look to the CRM vendor for development work.  It is also common for smaller scale CRM implementations to look to the CRM vendor for development.  The additional cost of setup invariably proves to be excellent value for money further down the line.

“Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar!” Anon

The type of support you receive will be a necessary consequence of the style of development you choose for your CRM setup.  Working closely with a responsive developer through start-up will build a trusted relationship which you would want to continue throughout the lifetime of the system. You can have confidence that you will inform you of CRM industry developments which may be appropriate for your business. In the background, you will have a spare pair of eyes checking that you are getting the best value from your system.

b. Trawling the Net

As previously discussed, a vendor is a combination of software owner and developer.  You will be forming a view of whether to pursue development in-house or whether to lean on the experience of a well-selected developer to implement your CRM system.  Either way, your first step will be to form a view on the software, to eliminate those products which clearly cannot fulfil your essential requirements.  After that, you will be in a position to consider the most suitable developer partner.


Which software?

This guide does not attempt to persuade you in the relative merits of one software product over another.  The CRM market is developing rapidly and what is relevant and current today almost certainly won’t be tomorrow.

What can be done, however, is to highlight the leading players in the mid-size organisation class, without necessarily extolling the many virtues – and occasional vices – of each.  They are all in the mix because they all have something to offer. By following this vendor selection process, you will reach the right conclusion about the best-suited software product for your particular needs.

The two outstanding products in this class are and Microsoft Dynamics.  You need to assess them for yourself but, in short, these sales platforms are most likely able to cater to ALL of your essential requirements now and in mid-term future, and you should identify specific reasons for stepping outside of these two.

If you are looking to dig a little deeper you may also like to investigate some of the following; Bullhorn, NetSuite, Oracle CX, Sage CRM, Sugar CRM, Infor CRM, bpm’ online.  You may be attracted to these because they were recommended by someone in your business network or perhaps because you already utilise related software from them.  Both reasons are valid.

You will also stumble across a spectrum of CRM platforms, most of which will promise the earth but, in reality, will not be able to provide even the current essential functionality that your company needs.  GoldMine, InfusionSoft, Swiftpage Act!, Zoho, Insightly or HubSpot may offer some, or perhaps much of, your overall need.  However, in your real business world, you need a system which can handle ALL of your essential requirements now, let alone those in your future.

This concerted and intelligent effort spent at this early stage refining your software list will pay dividends from hereon.  Within a short space of time, you are likely to have been able to eliminate the obvious and hopefully have reached a shortlist of perhaps 2-3 software products.


Which developer?

Assuming you do not intend to develop your CRM system in-house, you now need to contemplate how to identify the most appropriate developers for your software shortlist.  Different software owners adopt different approaches at this point.

For instance, maintain a firm grip throughout the process, manage the initial dialogues directly and when appropriate will introduce you to developers who best match your needs.  Conversely, Microsoft Dynamics highlight certified partners via their website and leave you to work out who might be best suited to you.

In either case, pick at least two or three partners for each shortlisted software and try to sense who has the best understanding of your CRM needs throughout a telephone call or WebEx.  If you are shortlisting developers from the proprietary software website, consider the following factors:

    • Do they have gold/silver/bronze partner status?
    • What is their proximity to your business?
    • How does their client list fit with your business size and sector?
    • Have you received any recommendations from someone in your business network?

These are all valid indicators and should be sufficient to reduce down your shortlist accordingly.

c. Finalising The Shortlist

At this point, you will have shortlisted perhaps 2-3 software products and 4-6 potential developers of those products.  Your target should be to drill down further and conclude with a maximum of four options ready for the analysis that will follow.  To achieve this, take a look at the following steps:

    1. Initial Contact
    2. Share Brief
    3. Demonstration
    4. Quotation

Initial Contact

The initial contact is an excellent opportunity to form a first impression of the company and the people with whom you are considering working.  It is, of course, also an opportunity for them to develop a first impression of you, which will be significantly enhanced by your preparation to date and evident grasp of the subject.

Share Brief

You can now send out your brief to the relevant parties.  You may or may not chose to ask for a signed Non-Disclosure Agreement beforehand, depending on usual company protocols.

A word of caution.  Don’t be surprised if your first demonstration is frustrated by a need to continually refer the vendor to your brief because they blatantly haven’t read it or even know it existed.

This lack of grasp of detail isn’t perhaps quite the treachery it may at first seem.  Vendors in high demand will be receiving a near-continuous flow of proposals and cannot possibly digest and deliver on all of them.  They will most likely scan your document and prepare a presentation which approximates to your vision for a CRM system with the minimum of effort (and cost).  They will be confident that it approximates your needs because it will most likely be very similar to other business’s needs – there are, after all, only so many ways to run a business.

If, however, you are frustrated that they haven’t taken sufficient time to understand a minimum about your business, then move them to one side and crack on with another!


Demonstrations are time-consuming, so it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that that time is used efficiently.  Contact the vendor once they have digested your brief to discuss the critical elements which need to be included in the demonstration.

The demonstration itself is usually managed through conference call facilities (GoToMeeting, Skype or similar) so ensure that all internal parties who need to attend have appropriate audio-visual facilities and a copy of the brief to hand.  Vendors may be amenable to presenting on-site, but this will be mostly dependent on logistics and the size of the potential order!

As discussed in Share Brief above, don’t be surprised if the demonstration doesn’t manage to cover everything you had planned. You may well feel the vendor was too keen to show off their bells and whistles and a little less interested in addressing the specifics of your brief.  Nonetheless, your knowledge base will have been enhanced significantly.

These demonstrations will enhance your understanding of how CRM could look inside your business.  Your previously black and white vision of CRM will now be approaching full colour.   Once you have worked through all your currently selected options, move on.


It is now time to request a quote from each vendor/software proprietor based on their understanding of your requirements.  Once received, a full analysis of those options can begin in pursuit of a final choice of vendor for your project.  CRM vendors present quotation information in varied, and often confusing ways.  This area is looked at in more detail in CRM Turbo.

Don’t worry if you still have outstanding queries at this stage.  However, you should be in a position to filter down your options to a maximum of four vendors (i.e. a combination of software proprietors and/or developers).   The reason for this is to save time.  You don’t need more than four on the list by this stage.  The marginal benefits of adding more choices at this stage are just that – marginal.



You will now have some costings, roughly scripted notes and information held in the recesses of your memory from the demonstration.  It is now time to convert this knowledge into some rationally crafted conclusions about which vendor will best satisfy your needs and at what cost.

To achieve this, take a systematic approach through the following stages.  CRM Turbo provides a Vendor Selection Tool to speed you through this process.

The analysis process looks as follows (remember, an ELEMENT is either a design, structural, functional or administrative feature):


a. Provisional elements analysis

List each element for consideration and apply a ‘Relative Importance’ to each (e.g. 1=”nice to have”, 2=”valuable but not essential”, 3=”essential” etc.). Then rate each element alongside each chosen software/vendor. By comparing the two, you should end up with an understanding of how suitable your choices are.  Particularly note where you have an “essential” but haven’t been able to identify this capability from any particular software/vendor.


b. Remove vendors who fail the ‘essential’ test

At this point, you may have discovered that one of your shortlisted vendors cannot deliver all essential elements to the required level of functionality.  They can be removed from your shortlist immediately.  If you are tempted to keep them, that perhaps you can get by without a particular element, then you are effectively saying that it is not essential.  So, downgrade it.   Otherwise – remove the vendor from the list.


c. Provisional costings analysis

The costings analysis can be tricky because of the varied nature of the quotations you will have received. This trickiness explains why it makes sense to do this after you have removed any obvious contenders.  The Cost Analysis section of CRM Turbo does the hard lifting for you. You should prepare a costing for each shortlisted software/vendor and ensure you break down costs to include: Development cost; Licence Cost per year; Support Cost per year; Year 1 total cost and Year 2 (and onwards) total cost.  You will then have a clear idea of how much you will pay for implementation and how much on an ongoing basis.


d. Remove vendors who fall outside budget

Now rule out any options on a cost basis.  You should do this and be comfortable that the remaining vendors will be able to provide you with a suitable system at a better cost.


e. Final elements analysis & vendor selection

Now is the time to make your final choice.  Ensure that you cover ALL essentials before being attracted by some enticing ‘nice to haves’. The secret to selecting the most appropriate CRM software at the best price is to focus on the essentials.  Aside from issues of functionality, take a moment to assess the performance of your remaining shortlisted vendors.  How quickly, succinctly and enthusiastically have they responded to your continued follow up?  Are they sounding keen or have they lost some interest?  Finally, don’t forget to obtain references for your chosen software/vendor.


The moment when you can appoint your chosen vendor is an exciting moment along the journey towards successful implementation of your CRM system.  If you are having final thoughts about the wisdom of your choice, don’t forget:

  • You spent some time creating a briefing document, accurately notating your requirements.
  • You have followed a structured process to select your vendor and will have ended up with proven software and a proven developer. You have spoken to real clients who have vouched for their ability and trustworthiness.
  • A vendor will be loathed to go beyond the quoted time as a matter of reputation.

So, the Vendor Appointment process looks like this:

  • Brief Supplement
  • Sales Order and T&Cs
  • Final Checklist
  • Commit

a. Brief Supplement

When you produced your original brief, you included every element of functionality that you require from the outset, that you may need in the future or that you were generally interested to learn about some more.  By the end, you will have received a revised quotation based on the developers’ understanding of what has changed, but these changes may not have been notated formally.    This situation is a black spot for misunderstanding.  It makes sense, therefore, to create a supplement to the brief which highlights what changes have been made and what work you are expecting for the agreed sum.

b. Sales Order and T&C’s

As with all orders, spend some time reading through the sales order with terms & conditions particularly relating to payment terms, sundries etc.  Make sure that whoever is signing off the sales order fully understand the terms of a fast-track implementation.

c. Final Checklist

Just before you commit to your CRM implementation finally, pause for one moment and check that you have completed all the essential steps in this process.

Have you;

  • attended a demonstration which presented a fair reflection of the type of CRM implementation you need?
  • shared progress thoroughly with all stakeholders, e.g. project team, future users, management, board etc. and obtained buy-in from all?
  • carried out a full cost analysis of your top shortlisted vendors?
  • checked that your brief supplement accurately reflects the structural, functional and administrative capability that you are expecting from phase 1 of your CRM implementation?
  • confirmed that your chosen vendor provided the sales order after reading and digesting your brief supplement?
  • agreed the timetable for implementation with the vendor and you are happy with this?
  • checked through the detail of the sales order, including the number of licences and provision for ongoing support?
  • spoken with at least two client references of your chosen vendor who are (ideally) of a similar size and industry sector?
  • confirmed payment terms and affirmed that funds have been allocated according to those payment terms?

d. Commit

Congratulations!  You have mastered how to implement a CRM system.  You have completed a thorough process to assess the opportunity that a successful CRM implementation can bring to your business, selected the ideal vendor to bring this CRM system to life and are ready to start installing your CRM.  So, you’re ready to sign up and start the scoping process.



If this post has been helpful and you are contemplating how to implement a CRM system for your business, take a look over at CRM Turbo – A Small Business Guide How To Implement A Turbocharged CRM System. The guide is a Logical Business publication produced to help small enterprises introduce a CRM system into their businesses in the most cost-efficient way possible.

The result should be a CRM implementation of which they can feel immensely proud and, most importantly, that delivers real value for their business for many years to come.

The series of posts to which this post belongs (see below) consists of extracts from CRM Turbo to allow you to sample the value of the information.  I hope you have found it helpful.

All about CRM

  1. What is a CRM system?
  2. What can CRM do for my business?
  3. Key Features of a CRM system

How to Implement a CRM System…

  1. Preparing for CRM
  2. Selecting your CRM
  3. Installing CRM
  4. Thriving with CRM

Alternatively, feel free to contact me directly at