Using SaaS for a CRM Rollout? Don't Rush It

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Ease-of-use is a primary selling point of software-as-a-service. Despite some niggling concerns over integration, SaaS vendors tell prospects that installation may amount to little more than a couple of mouse clicks on their end. Though not all SaaS stories are unqualified wins, SaaS has yet to produce a failure on the scale of the multi-year, multi-million dollar ERP implementation that prompted Waste Management to sue SAP for $100 million earlier this year.


Yet it's important to remember, as this Inside CRM article points out, that actual implementation accounts for only about a third of a CRM system rollout. Important pre-implementation steps, including defining your business processes and getting staff on-board, will take roughly the same amount of time whether companies use on-premise software or SaaS.


Though downplaying the importance of people and processes is a common problem with any CRM rollout, as I wrote last summer, I suspect it's worse with SaaS because so many vendors promote speedy implementations as a primary differentiator between their products and traditional CRM software. In that post, I cited Quocirca analyst Clive Longbottom:

(Companies) have fallen into the trap of having thought that they have bought a solution, whereas what has really happened is that they have bought some technology. This technology may make things work faster -- but if the over-riding CRM processes are bad, all you will do is hack off customers more quickly than you were doing before -- and possibly more of them.
So, don't try to speed things up by neglecting process definition. It is inherently time-consuming because of its highly iterative nature, notes the Inside CRM article. Business process management software may help, both with defining and then streamlining processes. For that reason, Gartner and other experts tout the benefits of using BPM to improve CRM efforts.


Obtaining employee buy-in is another time-consuming step that is often neglected, whether companies use SaaS or on-premise software. Barton Goldenberg, the author of "CRM Automation" and president of ISM Inc., told me in an interview that ensuring employees will obtain real value from a CRM system is the key to getting them to use it. He suggests that for every one piece of information that you ask users to add into a CRM system, the system should deliver at least three pieces of valuable information back to the user. He calls it the "3x factor."


Martin Schneider, director of product marketing at SugarCRM, which offers both SaaS and on-premise versions of its software, is quoted in the Inside CRM article as saying SaaS saves time for companies that won't require much software customization because "a lot of development time goes out the window." But, he says, any time saved could be lost -- and then some -- later if companies need to add advanced functionality like project management or integrate their CRM system with a database or other back-office system. In that event, he says:

SaaS can not only save you time, but it can waste you time.
The bigger lesson here: Don't become so intent on speed-to-market that you rush things during the evaluation phase.