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TechnologyAdvice Guide to CRM Consulting Services

Introduction

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a fundamental component of almost every business IT environment. It’s not surprising that it accounts for $20 billion of the world’s IT spending, according to Gartner.1 But CRMs are markedly complex — to implement, use, or customize — in a way that demands either a strong IT department or help from an outside service provider. Sometimes, that provider is the vendor themselves. Other times — especially where CRM is deployed as a company-wide solution — businesses choose to work with professional CRM consulting services. These firms can help you choose a new CRM system, manage CRM deployment and customization, or make better use of a CRM you already have.

If you’ve never worked with a CRM consultancy before, it can be difficult to know which firm will best align with your goals. In this guide, we’ll explain what to expect from the process, what kind of CRM consulting services are available, and how to choose the best CRM consultant for your unique needs.

Market Overview

CRM software vendors frequently claim their systems are easy-to-use, easy-to-implement, and require little to no IT maintenance. While that may be true for basic, cloud CRMs deployed in a small business environment, most CRM projects are called “projects” for a reason: they’re costly, time-intensive, and require intricate IT knowledge.

Companies managing a CRM project on their own often lack the expertise and resources to achieve maximum ROI (return on investment). Though complete CRM “failure” is less common in the current age, thousands of businesses fail to properly manage their CRM, to the detriment of productivity, efficiency, and even customer satisfaction. For one illustration, only about 16 percent of businesses report full integration between their CRM and other business systems.2

Here are some of the most common ways that CRM projects go awry:

  • A business chooses the wrong product for their needs, resulting in a lack of features, excessive features, or misaligned workflows.
  • A CRM project goes over budget due to unexpected implementation costs, hidden licensing fees, or unforeseen operating expenses.
  • A business lacks clear executive strategy for supporting CRM software and tracking its use throughout the company.
  • A business has insufficient IT resources to configure and manage their CRM, resulting in bad data hygiene, overtaxed relationship with software vendor, etc.

The purpose of a CRM consulting service is to help you meet your business and IT goals without having to exhaust internal resources or hire permanent staff to manage a temporary project.

In that sense, it’s a type of short-term business process outsourcing. As  software systems grow in complexity, working with a CRM consultant is becoming increasingly common: about 45 percent of work on CRM projects is done by third parties.3

Most CRM consultants have a decade or more of experience in digital initiatives, as well as in your particular industry. They are technically proficient and familiar with best practices for enterprise software, which means they can save you from costly mistakes associated with “learning as you go.”

Choosing a CRM Consulting Service

Choosing a CRM consultant has a lot in common with the traditional job hiring process, except you’re evaluating a collective firm instead of an individual candidate. Obviously, you want a firm that’s good at what it does, but try to be more specific with your requirements. The firm you choose may work with your business for six months to a year — or longer in some cases — so you can’t be too careful.

Decide what kind of CRM services you need: Many consultants specialize in one specific CRM platform — Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, and SugarCRM consultants are a few of the most common. Others work with multiple vendors and offer assistance during the software selection process. If you’ve already chosen a vendor, you’ll be best served by a firm that has an existing relationship with that vendor.

Make sure their strategy conforms to your needs: Take note of how each CRM consulting agency describes their action plan. Is it built around your business’s goals and success factors, or is it built to serve the agency? Are they trying to push a certain strategy or platform that they’ve used in the past, but doesn’t serve your interests? How well do they listen?

Exercise due diligence: CRM consultants should have a proven track record of success. Ask the firm for case studies of projects they’ve completed in the past. Look for projects that are similar to your current situation and in the same industry. Keep in mind, it’s easy for firms to pick case studies that paint them in a positive light, so you should also check references.

Know which specific consultants will be assigned: The representatives you speak with during initial interviews won't necessarily be the ones who work with you on the project. A larger firm may promise their “most highly trained agents” but fail to provide specific credentials. The consulting experience can vary significantly depending on who handles it, so it’s in your best interest to inquire further: ask for names and resumes of the agents who will actually be assigned to your project.

CRM Consulting Categories

Not all CRM consulting services are created equal; most specialize in a particular aspect of CRM, such as systems integration, custom application development, or business process training. Some of the larger firms — such as Deloitte and Accenture — have the resources to meet a variety of needs across the digital business spectrum.

Generally, a firm will fall under one of three different categories, based on the core services it provides:

CRM Procurement Services

These firms specialize in helping businesses choose the right CRM for their business. Typically, they begin with a “discovery” process, which involves documenting workflows, conducting a needs assessment, and defining the business case for CRM. Afterwards, they recommend products that best align with your needs and offer the most long-term value. As CRM expert Paul Greenberg explains it4:

“Yes, you do know better what you need, but a consultant knows better how to get it and who provides it.”

Many CRM procurement consultants will also serve as liaisons between business and vendor to negotiate pricing and contract terms. Since these consultants are well-versed in the legalities of software agreements, they can ensure their clients are granted sufficient rights and privileges.

CRM Implementation Services

Firms that provide implementation services — sometimes referred to as “implementation partners” — serve in a more direct project manager role during the deployment of a new system. Implementation partners are marked by a high level of technical mastery. They offer companies the benefits of a custom-configured CRM without the cost of a full-time IT team.

Systems integration, or setting up two-way data exchange between existing systems and the CRM, constitutes a large part of the process in many scenarios, but consultants may also work on building custom-coded modules or mobile applications, setting up workflow configurations, or selecting bolt-on applications to extend functionality. Some CRM vendors offer this service as part of a premium support package, but vendors may not always understand the nuances of your business processes as well as an independent CRM consultant.  

CRM Optimization Services

Not every CRM project involves a new system. Some businesses want to keep their current solution, but build a better use strategy to maximize return. The problem is, internal employees are bogged down with day-to-day obligations and don’t have the time to evaluate big picture opportunities for improvement, especially as they relate to technology.

A CRM consultant brings outside perspective and expertise from previous projects. They can also give your specific situation their undivided attention, which makes for a shorter path to success. Common examples include training programs for employee adoption, new channel strategies, or customized business improvement programs (e.g. using CRM to improve customer retention).

CRM Consulting Service Case Study

Company: SCA Packaging5

Consulting Service: CSC (Computer Sciences Corp)

SCA Packaging is a full-service packaging provider headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. SCA started out as a basic cardboard manufacturer, but grew rapidly in the 1990s and 2000s by expanding their services as well as a series of strategic acquisitions. They now serve clients and markets all across the globe.

With this period of growth came inevitable challenges. The company’s IT landscape was made up of numerous parallel systems — some were redundant, others that didn’t exchange data with their CRM. Data became siloed in orphaned programs or in the exclusive possession of single employees. SCA needed a way to bring transparency and reciprocity back to their customer processes, so they turned to CSC for help.

CSC began the project with a discovery phase, where they mapped out SCA’s requirements, challenges, and existing workflows. SCA wanted an SAP-based CRM that could accommodate remote device access (on company laptops) but stay synchronized and provide strong central control, as well as role-based security (i.e. sales reps can log in and see customer records, but not other, more sensitive information). CSC built a custom SAP system that combined remote CRM retrieval and editing with centralized activity and opportunity management.

“CSC offered both the know-how of the basic package, as well as the expertise to customize this for the client. CSC’s team was easily accessible and flexible in meeting our needs, and that really fueled the partnership.” - Katia Schotte, SCA Project Leader

Upon project completion, SCA reported a number of key benefits:

  • Faster onboarding for new sales hires
  • More structured processes between external and internal sales teams
  • More in-person contact with clients, powered by data mobility
  • Streamlined workflows and easier data exchange saves time and increases efficiency
Other Leading CRM Consulting Services

While CSC’s services worked well for SCA Packaging, they’re not necessarily the right firm for every company. Here are a few other firms that have a strong market presence and offer a variety of CRM services:

Accenture

Deloitte

QGate

iTransition

Bluewolf

Appirio

Choosing the Right CRM Consulting Service

At TechnologyAdvice, our goal is to connect businesses with not only the best technology, but the best technology partners . If you’d like more information about any of the CRM consulting services listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you. Call one of our Technology Advisors, or use the Product Selection Tool on our site to get a list of recommendations based on your needs.

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Sources

  1. “Gartner Says Customer Relationship Management Software Market Grew 13.7 Percent in 2013.” Gartner. Last modified May 6, 2014. http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2730317
  2. “Customer data scattered in enterprise, says Scribe study.” ZDNet. Last modified June 7, 2013. http://www.zdnet.com/article/customer-data-scattered-in-enterprise-says-scribe-study/
  3. “How to successfully select a CRM consultant.” My Customer. Accessed July 10, 2015. http://www.mycustomer.com/feature/technology/how-successfully-select-crm-consultant/166402
  4. “Consultant help for CRM software evaluation and selection.” TechTarget. Accessed July 10, 2015. http://searchcrm.techtarget.com/answer/Consultant-help-for-CRM-software-evaluation-and-selection
  5. “SCA Packaging: SAP CRM Solution Improves Sales Calls.” CSC. Accessed July 10, 2015. http://www.csc.com/consulting/success_stories/66625-sca_packaging_sap_crm_solution_improves_sales_calls

 

All CRM Consulting Products

Last Updated: August 22, 2016

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