Choice Should be Valued as Much by CRM Vendors as it is by Customers
"Do business with your customers in the ways they want to do business with you." How many time have you heard this old saw in the last five or six years, and how many times have you heard it from CRM vendors?
Those software vendors are often keen to use this idea as part of their pitch, but when it comes down to it, this concept is all about choice – and choice is frequently missing from the offerings of many CRM vendors.
Take the user interface. While some vendors are making strides in the interface, others are clinging to the notion that their user experience is the one all users will prefer to work in, for everything. That's not "working the way the customer wants to work" – that's dictating the way the customer will work. There's no choice there.
Another key area is the deployment model. Even when a CRM software vendor has both an on-premise and hosted version, the hosted version is usually delivered in one way – the way the vendor finds most convenient and profitable. Never mind the fact that different cloud providers offer different SLAs, data center geographic distribution, costs and recovery plans; most CRM vendors slap their single option on the table and trust that the person buying from them isn't sufficiently well-versed in the cloud to contest their limited options.
How about system integration? All too many CRM software vendors are content to drive their users toward applications that come from a tightly controlled ecosystem of partners or, in one notable case, from their own company. You want choice? You can get it – if you're willing to pay a lot for integration. Otherwise, you need to take what you're offered, and shut up.
Now, I am the first to admit that trying to offer unlimited options is a sure ticket to bankruptcy for vendors. You have to make smart decisions. But those decisions should be built around what's best for the customer – and that includes choice. Limited, funneled, tightly-controlled sets of options are not there for the benefit of CRM customers – they're there because they work best for the vendor. And that flies in the face of a lot of the rhetoric CRM vendors use to tout their products.
Choice is also smart. I'm shocked more vendors haven't caught onto this. If you offer options – delivery models, supported databases, support models, mobile and social integrations, you name it – you also eliminate lines on the evaluation checklist where you as a vendor can be taken off short lists during the buying process. If you have compliance needs, for example, you might cross off the names of the pure SaaS vendors right at the start. If you're one of those vendors, might it not make sense to expand your choices so you can be in more deals?
So my advice is to look for CRM vendors who are enthusiastic about choices for their customers. Not only are they walking the CRM walk, they're probably more flexible, which will reduce your integration costs, and they're probably more keenly focused on changing trends in the market, since those will dictate the next sets of options they build into their products.
Henry Ford famously said back in the 1920s that his customers could have any color of car they wanted, as long as it was black. However, if you've looked at Fords in the last, say, 70 years, you probably noticed that they came in lots of colors. Why? Because customers changed and demanded choice, and Ford responded to that demand, because otherwise the company was going to die. The same is true for CRM vendors of all sizes. Give customers choices and they're far more likely to select you and stay with you – and isn't that the point of CRM in the first place?
Choice is smart. If you offer options – delivery models, supported databases, support models, mobile and social integrations, you name it – you also eliminate lines on the checklist where you as a vendor can be taken off short lists during the buying process.