Companies large and small have realized the growing importance of customer experience and are looking to maintain a competitive edge. The first step in that direction is picking CRM software. To help you find the best solution for your unique business needs, we put together a guide for your next CRM RFP.
For many, CRM strategy is the most important component in driving and managing the success of their business. And a successful strategy requires a robust and great-fitting CRM software solution.
CRM became the largest software market in 2017 and is expected to hit $35 billion by 2023. Hundreds of vendors are out there, giving you plenty of great options. But with so many solutions available, it can be difficult to sort out what’s being offered and what you really need.
The process for new software evaluations is often a collection of random tasks and choices tackled in the wrong order, leaving companies burdened by solutions that don’t achieve user adoption or address pain points. Creating a CRM RFP (request for proposal) provides structure and direction so buyers can make informed choices driven by data and target a shortlist of best-fit vendors. Doing so helps companies ensure they select the right CRM solution, achieve successful implementation and attain high user adoption to promote greater business growth.
This post will walk you through the step-by-step process for creating and managing a CRM RFP. But first, we’ll quickly cover some definitions.
What’s an RFP?
Before we look at the steps involved in creating your RFP for CRM, it’s important to understand what an RFP is. Because it actually has a couple closely-related requests that can also be helpful. Let’s break them down:
Request for Information
This is the initial stage in your search. Your CRM RFI gets the ball rolling and lays the groundwork for sending an RFP. The RFI acts as a tool for gathering information from various vendors.
Your level of familiarity with the CRM market may determine whether you use a CRM RFI or not. If you’re not thoroughly versed in the different vendors and options, sending an RFI will save you a lot of time and trouble.
The goal here is to cast a wide net and haul in as much information as you can. That’ll set the framework for which vendors you choose to pursue with an RFP. To get the most out of your request for information, it’s best to include the following info:
- General details about your company
- Minimum requirements (e.g., the CRM must have social media integration to be considered)
- The challenges you’re looking to solve with a CRM, along with suggested fixes
- Questions about industry specialty or particular problems the solution was designed to address
- A way to note whether included features are native or require third-party integration
- Sections for vendors to share their info, including service offerings, implementation and support, price structure, product roadmap and company history
- A response deadline (typically a few weeks)
The trick to a successful CRM RFI is to strike the right balance between being too vague and going overboard with your research. Vendors need to understand the specific ways their product can help your company. Just remember you’re going for a helicopter view that’ll help you decide which parts of the CRM landscape to visit on the ground.
Request for Proposal
You’ve done the initial research. Now it’s time for the RFP to shine.
No RFP will be exactly the same, since you’re building it around your company’s specific needs. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to use the following elements at a minimum:
- Background information that explains why you’re seeking a CRM
- Your company’s budget
- Reasons for selecting a CRM
- The goals you’re looking to achieve
- A list of the criteria you’re using to vet vendors
- Submission information
- A response deadline for sending the proposals
We’ll dig into the specifics in the next section.
Request for Quote
Like the RFI, the RFQ is optional but often used. This is the card you pull late in the game when your list is down to a few vendors (maybe even just two).
The name is slightly misleading — getting a firm quote on the price is certainly part of it, but there are a few more details you should ask about. Specifically, focus on finding out what the implementation process is like, how the vendor will deploy your CRM and other final details not addressed in your RFP.
7 Steps for Building an Effective CRM RFP
Many people begin this process by looking for a CRM RFP template that contains a list of key CRM criteria they can customize. That can be a helpful starting point, depending on the quality of the template. However, there’s more to the process than just downloading and customizing an RFP template.
To successfully pick the right CRM, we recommend following this RFP process:
Step 1: Pick Your Team
Accurate, relevant information is the foundation of a successful CRM RFP. And you can only build that foundation with input from the right people.
Implementing new software impacts everyone from IT to the end users, so it’s key that you identify every stakeholder and gather their input. This helps accurately prioritize your most important CRM software requirements and will equip decision makers with the information they need to make an informed choice.
As you form your selection committee, start with the people closest to the project — sales reps and managers, marketers and anyone else who will be the primary users. They’ll have the clearest idea of specific pain points and how to solve them.
You should also include IT leaders, who can provide technical expertise. This is most critical for larger companies with sophisticated requirements like security measures and complex data integration. Finally, involve members with decision-making power, such as a CMO and CFO.
Step 2: Analyze Your Business Needs
You need to have a clear understanding of how your business runs and what it needs before you start into the specifics. You’ve identified the need to invest in CRM software, whether that means deploying for the first time or changing products. But why? Take time to assess your reasons for this decision.
The size of your company and the complexity of internal processes will determine how much work you need to invest at this stage. Some considerations you should keep in mind:
- Current Shortcomings: Whether you’re using spreadsheets or another CRM solution, where are the gaps between what you have and what you need? What specific features do users find lacking or frustrating?
- Analytics: What data is most essential to report on? How user-friendly do you need reports to be (visual dashboards vs. a text-heavy spreadsheet format)?
- Processes: The right software will support and enhance your processes. Make sure you have them thoroughly documented so you understand the flow of work and can evaluate products accordingly.
- User Adoption: What do users want and need from the new CRM? Determining this can go a long way in realizing a successful implementation — lack of user adoption is a main reason why CRM implementations fail.
- Deployment: Does it make more sense to deploy on-premise or in the cloud, given factors like your budget, IT infrastructure, user access requirements and mobility needs?
- Customer Focus: In reality, CRM software isn’t primarily about fancy dashboards and metrics, or even about internal improvement. It should, above everything else, help you be more customer-centric. That could include anything from 360-degree profiles that help you provide consistent experiences to robust support tools that enable you to provide first-class service.
Step 3: Compile and Prioritize CRM Requirements and Features
The next step in selecting a CRM is determining what your organizational requirements are. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous step, expanding on it to list the individual CRM features you need based on the information you gleaned about your company.
Start wide, listing everything your selection committee thinks would be valuable — you can narrow it down later. There will be different opinions on what should be included, making it critical to get input from everyone. Sales managers may list dashboards and performance measurement tools as must-haves, while the IT guy won’t consider anything that doesn’t have data encryption and two-factor authentication.
Once you have all requirements compiled (our free tool can help with this), rank their importance to differentiate between must-have and nice-to-have features. Keep the details from step two in mind while you do this. If you’re losing money because sales reps keep pursuing leads that end up being cold, for instance, lead scoring would make sense as a high priority.
No product will be an exact match for all your requirements, so you need to be completely clear on which features or requirement groupings need to be at the top of your list and weight them accordingly.
Features that deliver business value are what ultimately matter. Look for which capabilities can enhance customer relationships, generate more revenue, drive down costs, save time and facilitate greater collaboration. Those are the central pillars you want to build on.
When compiling your requirements, give some thought to the sort of vendor you want to partner with. Achieving a correct software fit is critical, but having a solid relationship with the vendor is equally important. Consider whether your team will need training, help with implementation or migration, and ongoing support as part of your requirements building. Going further, incorporate factors such as price, system uptime (if you go with a cloud-based solution) and contract commitments.
With a list of priorities in hand, you can gather feedback from the project’s stakeholders to ensure the RFP adequately meets all considerations. This is the point where you’ll narrow the list of features according to your weighted criteria, ensuring you get everything you need without extra bells and whistles that only make the software more cumbersome. You also want to have executive buy-in so the process doesn’t stall.
This process will take time, but the effort will be rewarded. Getting your key CRM requirements right will help you make the right choice the first time, saving you substantial time and money.
Step 4: Create the Request for Proposal
Once you’ve defined and ranked your specific CRM requirements, you’ll want to integrate these into the creation of your CRM RFP. The goal is to ensure that vendors respond to the CRM criteria you’ve created.
It’s better to err on the side of more when compiling your RFP. Only include pertinent info, but make sure you’re not leaving any important details out. This will help the vendors understand the exact ways they can (or can’t) serve your company well, which ultimately helps you end up with the best CRM system for your organization.
Make sure the RFP for your CRM selection project is well organized and professional. Ideally, you’ll submit your RFP project through a technology selection management platform so you can auto-compute vendor responses and more easily analyze them.
The SelectHub platform was built for this purpose. It takes you through the whole process, so managing each step is less complicated, and the overall RFP process is up to 50% faster.
Step 5: Shortlist CRM Vendors
Once you’ve defined key requirements and imported them into a CRM RFP template, you’ll select a shortlist of vendors. Here, you’re aiming for quality over quantity. Keep your shortlist under 10 vendors — five to eight vendors is a good target to shoot for. This ensures your evaluation team will have enough time to give each proposal proper attention. Plus, the shorter your list is, the more quickly you can choose a winner and move on to implementation.
With your shortlist in hand, you can now begin submitting your RFP. While email is one common way to send RFPs and receive proposals, consider whether an online platform will be helpful for managing this process. Such tools simplify and streamline the communications surrounding an RFP process.
Soliciting CRM vendors to respond to an RFP can be a time-consuming process. Make sure you’ve articulated your requirements well and made it as easy as possible for vendors to reply in kind.
Step 6: Evaluate CRM Software RFP Responses
In the past, technology buyers have generally waited for every response to come in before evaluation. This was primarily due to the manual processes required to compile all of the data and responses.
Now with the new tools available to buyers (and vendors), you can evaluate and compute your responses to your RFP as they come in.
The benefits to this are manifold:
- Alleviate decision-maker bandwidth issues
- Uncover and respond to vendor questions as they occur
- Eliminate vendors that don’t match up with key requirements
This step is where you start to see the fruits of your labor. It’s unlikely every vendor will match your specific requirements. And even if that’s the case, certain vendors will stand out more than others.
Use their responses to either push them through to the next phase, follow up with additional questions or determine their product won’t be a good match for your business. When the latter happens, be sure to contact the vendor and let them know you’ve considered their proposal but have removed them from the running. Vendors will expect an update on their status, and it’s a professional courtesy.
Step 7: Post-Evaluation
By this point, a clear winner may have emerged. If so, congrats! You’re on your way to a best-fit CRM and, in turn, a better experience for your customers.
If not, there are some additional steps you can take to determine which solution you’ll pick. Here are the most common:
- Engaging in a pilot or proof of concept with vendor finalists, which will let you see how the CRM performs specific tasks.
- Requesting vendor customer references. Less glowing references are often a good barometer for how your relationship with a vendor will go, so don’t look only for the shiny five-star references.
- Viewing a live demo. Similar to the proof of concept, this is your chance to see the CRM in action using real-world scenarios.
- Negotiating contract and pricing terms. Your decision may come down to which solution is better suited for your budget.
Finally, once you’ve reached the stage of finalizing the contract, verify how the vendor will support the implementation. Most vendors offer such information on their website, and you can include it as part of your RFP or RFQ, but it’s still good to know you and the vendor are on the same page.
The vendor may offer professional services to help implement your CRM. If you’re moving from an on-premise solution to a cloud-based solution, this can be a valuable asset. Having the vendor’s aid is also helpful if you’re replacing a CRM and need to migrate the data from the old system to the new one.
No one knows a product better than its vendor, so their expertise will promote a smooth implementation. And if you can avoid committing resources to the implementation, your IT team will thank you.
Whether the vendor handles implementation or that falls to you, here are a few key points to consider:
- Have a CRM “champion.” This is the person in charge of being the go-to expert at your company, acting as the vendor POC, answering user questions and generally owning the process.
- Map data and processes. A key part of data integration is data mapping, a process that matches existing data fields to their related targets. For example, if your current contact profiles include name, phone number and email address, data mapping ensures the target database’s fields correlate so information isn’t lost or corrupted. Similarly, you need to map your existing marketing and sales processes to the new system’s workflows.
- Test before rolling out. A test team should put the software through its paces before the go-live date. They can look for problems, determine how well it functions (and how close its functionality aligns with what the vendor promised), and provide feedback so you can implement changes before the whole team needs access.
- Train users. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn the new solution’s tools, navigation, workflows and other elements, whether the training is vendor-led or conducted internally.
For more help evaluating CRM solutions, see our CRM Software Selection Quick Start Guide.
To Recap: Use a CRM RFP to Choose the Best Solution Possible
Picking software is challenging. Every solution you implement plays an essential role in your company’s operations and strategy, but a CRM solution is the means for managing your most important ingredient for success: your customers. You need to get it right.
Sending a CRM request for proposal is an excellent way to make sure your CRM solution can handle whatever you throw at it.
If you’re not sure where to start or want to quickly and easily view the top CRM vendors, we have you covered. Our free comparison report is the perfect tool for jump-starting your selection process. We’ve also built a requirements template that speeds up the process while ensuring you hit all your key requirements.
What stage of the process are you at in your CRM Request for Proposal and do you have any tips? Comment below if you have any questions we can help with!