Sunday, November 24, 2013

Should organisations choose a CRM platform before a supplier?

Oil rig platform off Oxnard, CA in 40 kph winds and 10-15' swells 
With the emergence of the generic CRM systems and the reduction in the number of viable proprietary fundraising databases, an interesting question is arising: should charities now be choosing a CRM platform before even looking at which specific supplier/partner they want?

It is a process which some companies in the commercial sector have already been practising for years. For some companies, they will decide first on whether Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, SugarCRM etc are the best fit for them, and only then will they search for a specific partner who can help them implement a new CRM system on that chosen platform.

For charities, however, at least until recently, because the options have primarily been about comparing different proprietary fundraising database suppliers (e.g. Blackbaud, thankQ, Redbourn, ACS etc), this has not been an approach we have taken. That said, there will of course have been some technological decisions: the system must be SQL Server, or it must be Oracle; it must be dot net or it must run on Linux etc. Or even, it should be open-source. And so on. So it's not a completely alien idea.

It's just that with the new CRM systems, the platform choice can be far more "business-oriented"; i.e. if we do decide that platform X is the right solution for us - and if that platform is one of the generic CRM systems - then we now have the choice of talking to numerous companies about how they would implement that, looking at whether we want a templated version or start out-of-the-box, develop in-house or with a partner, and so on.

But additionally, if as a charity you do want to be considering a platform first, you also need to consider the proprietary solution as one of those platforms - and (probably) not just one such solution but the concept as a whole. As I have discussed many times in my blogs, there is no simple right and wrong as to whether you should select a traditional fundraising database or a CRM solution. If you do select a proprietary solution then you will (almost certainly) implement it with that system's software author and that has its pros and cons. If you go with a CRM solution, then using a business partner of that software author (or even doing it in-house) also has its benefits and downsides.

Personally, at the moment, I think choosing a platform first is a difficult approach to take for all but a few, probably larger charities who already have a detailed, well thought through technology plan and IT strategy. Especially at an early stage in a procurement project when you are still trying to understand the differences, the benefits of all solutions, the impact on your organisation and so on. I think there would have to be clear reasons for you to only look at the traditional fundraising databases, or decide not to look at those at all. You might dismiss one option or one supplier etc as you progress your procurement, but I believe you need to understand what all options can offer before going solely down one route. So at the moment that will usually mean keeping them all in the hat until you are ready to shorten your choices to the final few.


LauraLou said...

I think that it always helps to have an idea of the software platform you'd like before choosing your supplier. We knew that we liked the look of Sage CRM, so opted for a company that were specialists in that software. They did show us other softwares too, but the Sage CRM was always the best for our company.

Andrew Rowney @ Workbooks said...

A very interesting article but you seem to have missed a couple of significant points by assuming that:
1. Every CRM platform is available via a reseller or partner model.
2. Buying through a reseller is somehow better than dealing directly with the vendor.

At Workbooks, we prefer to engage directly with our customers in order to provide the best possible service, and this is reflected in the satisfaction rating Workbooks has achieved on the G2Crowd CRM comparison website (ie. 99% if don’t have time to look!). The recent CRM for SME review published by analyst Gleanster endorses this approach and states that “Unlike the lion’s share of competitors in the space, all implementations are owned and delivered by Workbooks (not third-party consultants and systems integrators). The solution achieved stellar user feedback in the Gleanster vendor rankings and users praised the full-service customized support they received during the implementation.”
So perhaps your readers/customers should assess the capabilities, experience and commercial objectives of the implementation partner/reseller, as well as the CRM platform itself, as all of these have a significant bearing on the outcome of the project.
The commercial reality for a reseller supplying a CRM platform such as MS Dynamics is that he sees very little of the license revenue, the majority of which is passed to the vendor, and must generate his revenues by supplying consulting services. A cynic might say that the reseller’s commercial objective is to make the implementation as long and complex as possible, which means he makes his money regardless of the actual outcome of the project.
This is fundamentally different to the Workbooks approach where our income is maximised by annual license renewals which are 100% dependent on the long-term success of the project, and this means our incentive is actually to minimise the cost of migrating an organisation to the Workbooks platform.
I just thought you might find this fresh perspective of interest?