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Rules for Discussions with CRM Vendors
Keep the following rules in mind when talking with a provider's references. They are all just common sense, but it's very easy to lose sight of possible miscommunications if you are not careful.

You can download excellent powerpoint slides on Marketing Strategy and Marketing Management HERE. Rule Number 1: Never Take a Vendor's Claims at Face Value
Many "facts" are significantly distorted by the time they get to you. For example, consider the simple statement, "MegaCorp has a data warehouse exactly like you want." Some quick questions: What does MegaCorp mean by "data warehouse"? Is it the same thing your vendor representative means? Is it the same thing you mean? How much actual data is on it? What type of user access is allowed ? By directly asking MegaCorp, you can understand what they are doing and make an informed decision.

Rule Number 2: Never Assume a Vendor Reference Is Valid
The biggest mistake you could make is to assume any reference a vendor provides must be a good one — after all, who would give you a bad reference? Many vendors provide references and pray you do not check them out. Who would give you a bad reference? A vendor who couldn't come up with a good one. If a vendor throws a customer name out during a sales call, make a note of it. Don't be shy—call the company on your own. If the vendor says the system is for risk management, ask the switchboard to speak to anyone in risk management—then ask who is in charge. Always start with the users when using this approach. They are generally very happy to talk about what their information systems (IS) organization has accomplished or failed to deliver.

Rule Number 3: Always Talk with the Reference's IS Staff
The IS organization supports this environment. They are aware of the issues confronting them. Talk with them to get a sense of what they are facing on a daily basis.

Rule Number 4: Never Take IS Claims at Face Value
Yes, the IS organization is important, but there are problems with relying too heavily on them. First, the IS folks you talk with will most likely be the same ones who made the original vendor decision. If they just spent $20 million on a disaster, do you really think they are going to tell you? The most common IS response when a system does not work as anticipated is to simply redefine the problem. If the system cannot handle the ad hoc processing requirements, simply redefine it as pre-defined access only. IS can get away with this for one simple reason: They do not live with the system, they only babysit. This leads to rule number 5.

Rule Number 5: Always Talk with the Users of the System
Users determine the real value of the system, because they are the only ones who have to live with the system; they are the ones trying to solve business issues; they are the drivers of a data warehouse. You must understand if the system does what they expected, and you must understand how their expectations match yours.

Make sure you involve your users in this conversation. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, it gets user involvement at an early stage. If a data warehouse project is going to be successful, you will need their involvement. Second, the users understand the business impact of what their counterparts are saying. If a reference user says, "It's fine, but I can't run these queries," does that matter? It may be the single most crucial issue to your users.

Rule Number 6: Always Talk Without the Vendor Present
If a vendor has chosen a site as a reference, it is likely they have a good relationship with at least part of that organization. If there are problems, it is less likely you will hear an honest appraisal if the vendor is in the same room. If the vendor's product works, then this should not be an issue for them.

Rule Number 7: Always Talk with the Users Without the IS Organization Present
In many organizations there is a strained relationship between the users and the IS organization. These tensions make it unlikely that you will get an open, honest opinion if they are in the same room. Divide and understand.

Source of Reference:
Ronald S. Swift, Accelerating Customer Relationships: Using CRM and Relationship Technologies, Prentice Hall. You can obtain this excellent book here

You can download excellent powerpoint slides on Marketing Strategy and Marketing Management HERE.