CRM demos, customization key demands for buyers pre-purchase

CRM buyers are demanding more from their vendors. SaaS is making it easier for the vendors to show off their wares and customization abilities.

Executives at Enpirion, an analog semiconductor company, wanted to know what they were getting before they bought...

a new CRM system for their rapidly growing business.

They also wanted it to map closely to their own business and sales processes.

"What I was looking for was an actual demonstration tool that mimicked what I was looking for," said Mark Cieri, director of marketing and business development with the Hampton, N.J.-based company. "It had to actually run some custom aspects that mimicked internal processes so [that] others, including execs, could look at it from different perspectives. I did a lot of due diligence that the demo I saw had the features I wanted."

So Cieri, who led the CRM selection team along with a counterpart in sales, made the CRM software demonstration a point of emphasis.

Enpirion was essentially running its sales and marketing through spreadsheets on a homegrown system using a Microsoft Access database. The leadership knew that if they wanted to significantly grow their customer base and lock in new business, they needed a more formal system. It was a build-vs.-buy decision.

Enpirion began by evaluating CRM systems, eventually settling on Oracle's CRM On Demand application, thanks largely to the fact that the company was running several modules of the Oracle E-Business Suite in the back office and had a relationship with Biz Tech, an Oracle partner in Philadelphia. Enpirion evaluated two other CRM applications, Cieri said, including "the largest competitors to Oracle CRM On Demand.”

Once the company had decided on its interest in Oracle CRM On Demand, Cieri also had some very specific ideas on how he wanted it customized to Enpirion's business.

"After we signed on and were putting together the scope of the agreement, we wanted to make sure we froze the scope," Cieri said. "We didn't just buy off-the-shelf CRM on-demand. We worked with them to add customization. That was big for us. My vision on this was this had to easily fit into an individual's workflow. I don't want this to look like a separate thing in their workday. I want this to look like Outlook."

Modeling and preparing that demo took about two months, he said, but once the system went live, there was very little customization required.

Another key piece in the evaluation process? Enpirion wanted to get it done with no internal IT.

"We're a small to medium enterprise," Cieri said. "We wanted to be able to interact with the tool, but I did not want to add IT support on my side."

Enpirion's experience is not unusual, according to William Band, principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. The maturity of the CRM market and the rise of on-demand applications or Software as a Service (SaaS) has put a lot of price pressure on CRM vendors.

"One consequence is that buyers are in a much better position to demand much more upfront work," Band said. "With the rise of the on-demand space, those solutions are actually fairly easy to create demos and mock-ups of the solutions."

In the coming year, SaaS CRM will be the default choice for organizations as they see whether on-demand can meet their needs better than on-premise, Band predicts.

What's more, the vendors themselves are often willing and eager to do some of that upfront work in order to move the sale along.

"Vendors prefer that buyers ask for these demos up front because in the past they traditionally had to go through a whole RFP process that doesn’t get them to yes or no,” Band said. “That's costly for them. They prefer getting product mocked up in front of buyers and decision makers as soon as possible."

In fact, according to a survey of application vendors conducted last year by Forrester, scripted demos and references are the most important elements in their sales process. According to Band, 76% of deals that vendors said they were involved in required that they provide references or that the buyers called references; 65% said that a scripted demonstration was part of the buying process; and 45% said that some type of proof of concept was involved.

For Enpirion, that meant getting the demo in front of Cieri, his counterpart in sales, the manager of operations and the executive team.

"These are the core three people who looked at it initially," Cieri said. "We brought the executive team to the CEO and a couple of VPs to look at key aspects of it to make sure they were going to be comfortable in reporting and monitoring and scalability."

What's more, with a SaaS-based application, it's easier for a vendor to customize and demonstrate those customizations than it would be with the traditional on-premise version of the software.

As for the future, Cieri expects any new customizations to be fairly easy.

"I hope so," he said. "We understand the system pretty well. We know how to customize screens and reports. It's fairly intuitive. As we continue to scale with satellite organizations and partners, that should help us more closely link with other business processes."

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