Creating the Long List

The long list guides the selection process. It should have the following two characteristics:

  • Focus on candidates that have a realistic chance of meeting your requirements. For instance, the candidates on the long list should fit within your price range and should offer the high-level functionality you require, whether it's marketing automation or VoIP integration.
  • Be diverse enough to include a variety of approaches and philosophies. The long list should not be too short: limiting yourself to a couple of candidates at this stage may cause you to overlook interesting ones. In particular, if you did some vendor browsing as part of creating the requirements list and even if you really liked some of them, you should try as much as possible to consider a wide sample of candidate vendors when you create the long list.

Use a combination of approaches when creating the long list: it's a kind of brainstorm and you want to generate a wide list, so be creative. Below are six different approaches with proven results. Use as many as you can to expand your horizons.

  • Visiting the exhibit hall of an appropriate business conference, as suggested in the last chapter, is a good way to see many vendors in one go. The level of detail of what you can see in an exhibit hall is ideal for creating the long list—even though it's absolutely insufficient for completing the evaluation step. Seeing systems side by side also allows you to contrast the vendors' positioning easily. The amount of customization is limited because vendors have to address many potential clients, so you are less likely to be confused about what's in the product and what's custom. The experience of seeing that all vendors have slick demos should help immunize you against being taken in by pretty looks during the evaluation phase. Not to mention that you will enjoy collecting the inventive give-aways that are standard fare in that kind of event. (Need another free T-shirt?)
  • Study the articles and ads in your favorite trade magazine or web site. This is a decent substitute for the trade conference exhibit hall, although the amount of information available in an article is, by necessity, limited while CRM tools are pretty complex. Ads are even shorter than articles but they are interesting because they force vendors to target just one benefit so you will quickly see if the vendor's technical and business vision matches your requirements. See for suggestions for suitable publications and web sites.
  • Sign up for vendor webinars. In an hour and without leaving your favorite workstation you can get a high-level picture of a tool. Webinars are often painfully short on exposure to the actual product, devoting half of the typical one-hour length to an "expert" disserting on some lofty topic, another fifteen minutes to a fluffy presentation about the company and its strategic direction, and a scant five minutes to a quick demo. Q&A is fairly short and questions are answered at the discretion of the emcee, so your questions may not be addressed at all. Despite the limitations, webinars are just right for checking on the overall fit. You will find them helpful to build the long list but don't expect to complete a full evaluation through a public webinar.
  • Get suggestions from colleagues. This is in many ways the best approach since it will yield advice beyond just names. On the other hand, it's limited to your network. It may not uncover the newest tools, depending on your colleagues' appetite for the bleeding edge. If colleagues suggest in-depth evaluations at this stage, politely decline and return when and if their recommendations make it to your long list.
  • Get suggestions from staff members. Unless your entire staff has been with you forever, it's likely that some staffers have used other tools in other organizations relatively recently. Both positive and negative suggestions are helpful, provided that you take the time to understand the reasons for the enthusiasm or lack thereof (since your needs may be different from the organization they came from) and also the role of the author of the suggestion (since end-user experiences can be totally different from those of administrators or executives).
  • Work with analysts. CRM analysts are extraordinarily well informed (or should be!) about the CRM world and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the players. In particular, they have a pretty good grasp of who the stronger vendors are and what vendors may survive for the long haul.

    The problem with analysts is that they know nothing about your requirements. The point of CRM tool selection is not to select "the best" or "the leader" in the field, but rather the one that fits your needs most closely. Don't be mesmerized by quadrants, rankings, or waves; dig deeper into the unique strengths and weaknesses of each offering, matching them to your requirements list.

As you gather suggestions, what is it exactly that you should be considering when deciding whether a particular vendor should be added to the long list? Since you're not in a position to check each candidate in detail at this stage, stick with a handful of high-level criteria. If the list is getting too long (ten candidates would be a lot), add more criteria from the requirements list. If you can't find any suitable candidate, drop some of the criteria. The following criteria work well for building the long list:

  • High-level business functionality. This one is obvious: if you are looking for a marketing automation tool, don't bother with CRM solutions that don't offer that. If you need to handle Spanish text, then reject solutions that cannot work with international languages. Make sure you only consider functionality that cannot be customized or somehow added on. For instance, let's say you want to support chat. While it would be ideal to find a solution that includes chat, you should be able to add chat as a point solution to another tool that provides the other functionality you require. On the other hand, you can't "add on" international language support or multichannel support.
  • Scalability. If you are planning for a few dozen users, almost any CRM tool will do. As the number of users increases, the range of tools that can support that many users decreases. Eliminate tools that do not have an established record of supporting twice as many users as you are planning for.
  • Price. At the long list stage, you are very far from negotiating a final price, but there's no reason to consider candidates that are way above what you can afford. So if your budget is $100k (for the tool, not the implementation) don't waste your time on $500k tools, but don't discard the $200k vendors either, since you can always exercise your negotiating muscles later to get close to or even under your target. We will see in the next chapter that CRM prices can be very flexible.
  • Implementation time. If you have a short-term implementation goal, some of the more powerful and complex tools are out. Although all vendors claim their tools can be implemented in a few weeks or months, the more complex tools simply are not amenable to aggressive implementation timeframes. If you need to be up and running in 60 days and the vendor says that they've had implementations as short as 60 days, you probably want to pass on that particular tool unless you are very sure that you can live with a minimal implementation.

Categories of CRM Tools

The CRM field is so wide as to be overwhelming as you enter the long list stage, so it's useful to organize it into a number of categories that meet specific needs. We will look at four useful dichotomies: traditional versus new wave, suite versus point solutions, vertical versus general-purpose, and packaged software versus ASP.

Traditional versus New-Wave

Some CRM tools have been around for a while and some are rather recent. The traditional tools have had years to accumulate features so they offer very rich functionality, although the features tend to be piled up in a historical rather than a slick or organized manner. With traditional tools, the architecture and customization tools require longish implementation cycles, but they allow extensive amounts of tailoring if you are willing to undertake the work required. On the other hand, new-wave tools are streamlined, having adopted a smaller subset of features. The better new-wave tools focus on exactly the essential features, so the loss of functionality may be almost invisible. New-wave tools allow for limited tailoring but on the other hand customization and deployment are easier. Choosing between traditional and new wave tools often boils down to how much customization and integration you need. Here are characteristics of traditional CRM tools:

  • They include lots of features. This means that almost anything you may want will be there. For instance, whereas a new-wave CRM tool may lack a CTI integration, a traditional tool will usually offer several options, all of which used by several customers in production settings.

    But lots of features could be a problem. You will probably have to spend significant amounts of time and resources turning off or hiding features that you don't need. And if you choose not to, your users will complain that the app is confusing and hard to use.

  • Partly as a result of the abundance of features, and partly because the original thick clients allowed and encouraged it, traditional tools offer busy screens and can be hard to use and hard to learn because of the complexity of the underlying app. End-users will typically need a couple days of training to use the tool properly. This is not a big problem in an environment where staffers use the app a lot and turnover is low, but for staffers who are new or who are intermittent users, the training investment is large.
  • Traditional systems encourage using best practice functionality, honed over long periods of time. This can be a great incentive to abandon or modify quirky business processes. Actually, if your business model is hard to fit into an existing, traditional tool, your first impulse should be to question your model rather than the tool.

    However, there are instances where the built-in tool workflow simply has to be modified for your needs. Traditional tools make it very difficult to change the workflow, and some changes are simply impossible. For example, collaboration, where multiple individuals contribute to a particular issue, is often desirable from a business perspective. But it's very challenging to build it in an environment that relies on a paradigm of one owner per issue, which is the way most traditional tools function.

  • Despite the limitation described above, traditional tools can be customized to do almost anything—as long as the workflow model is not tinkered with. This makes them very flexible indeed, to the point where you may not recognize the underlying tool as you check references. Each implementation may not only look but even function in a totally different way.

    The customization possibilities come at a cost. It takes time and resources to customize, for one thing. Another interesting consequence is that the traditional vendors, knowing that almost all customers will perform customizations, adopt a lackadaisical approach to perfecting the out-of the box app and screens, leaving them cluttered and confusing. Worse, they may deliver an "app" that is completely unusable prior to customization; that is, they deliver a tool kit rather than a complete app. If you are in a hurry to get going, a traditional tool may simply not be what you want.

  • Traditional tools can also be integrated to many other systems. As a bonus you're likely to find reference accounts for many integrations, which is always a nice omen, although not a guarantee that it will work for you too.

    Integrations are costly because there is always some custom work required, so having the potential for integrations may not be such an attractive proposition for you. It's almost always a mistake to select a particular tool over another, simpler one, only because it has integration capabilities that you might exploit in the future but for which you have no specific plans.

  • Traditional tools are expensive and slow to implement. If you need the richness of their features and their customization capabilities, the cost is probably worthwhile. If you only need something simple they may be a waste of money and resources, and they may saddle your organization with a tool it cannot sustain in the long run.

New-wave vendors take a different approach.

  • They usually contain basic, major functionality, and are well suited to modest requirements. The better new-wave tools offer an uncannily well chosen subset of functionality: just what you need, and no more. This is much better than having to remove or hide features in a traditional tool.

    As well chosen as the functionality may be, you may find that your needs are much greater than what you can find in a new-wave vendor. If you have to add a lot of functionality that would be bundled in a traditional competitor, it may be easier, cheaper, and even faster to select a traditional tool. As careful as you are with customizations, it's hard to beat the long-term maintainability of built-in features.

  • New-wave tools have less built-in structure, which can be an advantage if you are trying to implement something different. On the other hand, if you want to enforce a standard best practice, a traditional tool delivers everything you need in a neat package.
  • New wave tools sometimes offer unique features, both because they come from newer, nimbler companies, and because some new-wave tools are built from the ground up to deliver entirely new functionality. For instance, when chat first became popular for sales and service, a number of vendors appeared that offered pure chat functionality—that is, without a customer repository, the whole focus being on the communication channel. To this day the "chat only" vendors such as divine/eshare have been much more innovative in their domain than the traditional vendors, even the vendors who have incorporated some chat functionality into their products.

    Over time, the most useful and popular new features get integrated into the traditional tools, as chat did, and the inventive new vendors may add more robust CRM features to the new functionality (but chat vendors have not). So if you are looking for unique new features you may have to go with a new-wave solution.

  • New-wave tools are easy to use, or at least much easier than the traditional tool. This is a consequence of the much smaller feature set to be sure, but the user-interface and the user paradigm are also significantly different. Rather than designing for an expert user who uses the tool daily for years, new-wave vendors design for the user who is computer-savvy but may be new to the app. For instance, they use popular user interface (UI) standards rather than creating an idiosyncratic, complex user experience.
  • New-wave tools are, on the whole, easier to implement than traditional tools. This is not just because they offer limited functionality, but more a matter of philosophy. Traditional tools are built on the idea that IT help is required and available for tool implementation projects. New-wave tools have a realistic view that IT resources are always limited and they put many tasks within the reach of an educated, but non-technical, business user. Almost all new-wave tools require highly skilled IT resources for the initial implementation, however.
  • New-wave tools may have limited customization facilities. This is not an issue if you are planning to keep customizations to a minimum and if the base functionality meets your needs by itself. But if you absolutely must have specific functionality that needs to be built expressly for you, new-wave tools may be too restrictive.
  • Integration kits can be missing or you may find that no customer has implemented the specific integration you are interested in. Here again, your requirements may be such that the limitations do not matter, but if you need specific integrations you will need to carefully evaluate what's available and what's proven.

So should you choose a traditional vendor or a new-wave vendor? Carefully consider your needs for customization and integration. If they are high, chances are that you will be more successful with a traditional tool, but only if you are ready to invest the necessary time and resources to make it work. If your customization needs are modest, or you have limited resources, a new-wave tool that offers a good set of functionality is probably the best bet, even if you have to give up on some less essential features, since the implementation requirements are much lighter.

Suite or Point Solution

Another way to look at CRM choices is whether to select a suite offering or a set of specialized tools. A suite offering gives you an integrated solution with different modules that address each business function. A point solution covers one particular area or one particular set of functionality very well, but requires additional tools to deliver a complete solution. Suite offerings are very tempting.

  • They deliver a pre-integrated solution, so sales, marketing and service can easily share information. Sharing information is certainly possible with cobbled solutions, but it requires integration work.

    There are a few drawbacks, however. One is that suites do not, in general, solve the issue of integrating with back-end systems such as accounting. The other is more insidious. Whereas point solutions are created with the assumption that they will be integrated with other tools, and hence offer nicely open architectures that conform to industry standards, suites can be weaker in their integration capabilities.

  • They usually have a consistent user interface across functions. Consistent interfaces make it easier to train users. This may seem immaterial since sales reps rarely morph into service reps or vice-versa, but it does make it easier for reps to research information in other departments.

    Interfaces are not always consistent since some of the suite vendors grew through acquisitions and have not chosen to make the interfaces consistent across functions.

  • They usually offer weaker functionality in some areas, particularly for the more leading-edge features. If your feature requirements are high, suites may be disappointing.

    In particular, if you are considering adding modules to an existing CRM suite, you may find that a point solution delivers better functionality and is a better choice despite the integration requirements.

  • Most suites are offered by traditional vendors, so they have the advantages and disadvantages described above.
  • Even as traditional tools, suites are faster and easier to implement compared to creating custom integrations between best-of-breed tools. If you need a completely integrated solution but are short on time, a suite is your best bet, although you may have to sacrifice some functionality in the process. For the same reason, it may make sense for you to use the same vendor for front-office and back-office functionality.
  • Suites are easier to maintain, since the maintenance team only needs to learn one tool and only needs to interact with one vendor's support organization. This is tempered by the fact that suites, being traditional tools for the most part, tend to have more complex maintenance tools.
  • Point solutions focus on just one area or one particular feature set.
  • They deliver the cool functionality and the specialized or leading edge features. Some features will eventually be delivered by the suite vendors, but it could take years. Point solutions do what they do extremely well and are often referred to as "best of breed" for that reason.
  • With restricted scope, point solutions are usually easier to implement and to maintain. But if you need to put together several point solutions, each with a different customization and maintenance environment, what you gain in simplicity may be lost with the synergy of a suite environment.
  • Moreover, many, although by no means all, point solutions are also new-wave tools, which means their implementation is easier. They also have the drawbacks of new-wave tools.
  • If your requirements are narrow, the limited scope of the point solutions is not an obstacle. If your requirements are wide and you also need tight integration, then you will need to integrate multiple best-of-breed solutions, a long and resource-intensive process.

Suite or point solution? If you are targeting a single business function, you might as well go for best of breed, at least if you have no plans to expand to other functions in the medium-term. If you need a solution to cover multiple functions, consider both suites and point solutions. If your needs are fairly simple and you are looking for a quick implementation, a suite is your best bet, although you will have to live with the feature limitations. On the other hand, if your needs are complex and you either are willing to invest in costly integrations or you need only loose integrations, then cobbling together a bunch of point solutions will give you the best of both worlds, high-end features and integration.

Vertical or General-Purpose

In an effort to minimize the customization work required to implement their tools, some CRM vendors offer vertical packages that are targeted to a specific industry segment such as health care, financial services, government, etc. Vertical tools are often built with a set of templates applied to a base product, but there are stand-alone vertical tools as well. If you find a vertical tool with a good fit for your needs you will find that the customization requirements are much reduced. Therefore the implementation time is much faster and the maintainability of the end product is much better. On the negative side, vertical tools are often traditional tools, and therefore harder to implement and to maintain. Mid-range vendors tend to stick with general-purpose tools, so you will probably have to select a high-end vendor if you want a vertical tool. That may be outside your price and timeframe range. By all means investigate vertical solutions appropriate for your industry, but unless your needs are fairly complex you should be able to do well with a general-purpose tool.

Package or ASP

CRM tools have traditionally been sold as licensed software, however some are now packaged as ASP (app software provider) offerings through which the software is rented rather than bought outright. Some vendors offer only ASP solutions, some vendors offer both, and yet others allow third parties to offer the tool in an ASP arrangement while they stick to the licensed software model. Virtually every CRM tool is available through an ASP arrangement. What are the pros and cons of choosing an ASP arrangement?

  • Initial costs are much lower with an ASP. This is less of a benefit than it seems since you can arrange for a loan arrangement to purchase software. However, if you need a solution only for the short-term, perhaps until you have time to deploy a long-term, comprehensive solution, an ASP will be more advantageous.

    Before you make a decision, run the numbers. Even with an ASP, you will incur significant costs for the initial startup and you may be required to sign up for a lengthy commitment.

  • ASP vendors offer pre-packaged customizations, and they have a lot of practice with customizations; therefore the startup time is remarkably short. The other side of the coin is that ASP vendors restrict the scope of potential customizations, so you are in a situation that's quite similar to the one of new-wave tools versus traditional tools: startup is easier and faster, but the scope is more limited.

    Be sure to consider the kinds of reports that you need. An ASP can probably create anything that you need, but at a price.

  • An ASP solution can support fluctuations in the user base more flexibly than an in-house solution. This is true of the infrastructure (no need to purchase or install servers for instance) and of the pricing structure. For instance, if you buy licenses for 100 users and find that you really need 120, you will have to go and buy 20 more, often at a high price because it's not a large purchase. If you only need 80 you can't really return the extra 20. An ASP is able to adapt to ups and downs better.
  • In some circumstances it may make sense to start with an ASP solution and migrate it in-house later (using the same tool). This is easiest if the ASP happens to also be the vendor. If you are considering such an arrangement, be sure to negotiate the terms for the migration from the ASP model to the licensed model so it has the financial benefits of a rent-to-own situation.
  • ASP vendors often offer prepackaged integrations, sometimes offering suite-like functionality through integrated best-of-breed tools. This is an ideal situation if you want the best of both worlds, although finding an ASP vendor that offers precisely the set of tools you want can be a small miracle.

    If you want to integrate the system with your existing back-end systems, an ASP solution may prove unworkable.

  • ASP vendors offer streamlined upgrades, both because they can leverage their experience to many customers and because they tend to support fewer customizations, so upgrades are easier.

    If you want to integrate the system with your existing back-end systems, an ASP solution may prove unworkable.

  • ASP solutions are usually cheaper in the short-term than licensed solutions, but more expensive in the long run. Make sure you understand all the charges both at startup and in the future, and any back-end charges.
  • That being said, ASP solutions do not exist for low-end packages. If your budget is very limited, buy a low-end package that will deliver limited functionality, very limited customization capabilities, but a very easy implementation at a low price.
  • If you are considering an ASP solution, you will need to consider the important issues of data ownership, data security, and data migration. It's a weird feeling to hand overy our precious data, especially customer data, to a third party. You will want to work out ways to ensure that data is regularly backed up and somehow made available to you so that you can continue your operations should there be any issue with the ASP.
  • Test and re-test the performance of the app if you are considering an ASP. The tool has got to perform well over the network.
  • Even more than with a licensed software vendor, double- and triple-check the stability of the ASP vendor, since you don't want to find yourself brutally deprived of service.
  • You may want to go as far as designing an exit strategy if you choose an ASP. It's comforting to know that you have options should the ASP not work out.

To ASP or not to ASP? The case against ASPs could be as simple as having a corporate policy against them (usually because of data ownership and security concerns). For small and medium companies, however, ASP solutions can be very liberating, allowing the company to focus on its core competency, which is rarely IT. The limits of ASP solutions can actually be quite helpful, since they discourage fanciful customizations that often have limited paybacks. Packaged solutions are cheaper in the long run, so if you know you will use the solution for a long time, it's best to go that route.

Name, Names, Names!

Naming names in the CRM field is a risky business. The incredible vitality of the field makes for an ever-changing landscape of vendors and tools, and mentioning each and every vendor that exists today would require pages and pages. Therefore the vendor lists below are by necessity partial and there are many perfectly good CRM vendors that are not included. The lists are accurate as of late 2002. For updated lists, please consult The best-known names in the CRM world are traditional vendors with high-end offerings such as Siebel, PeopleSoft, and Amdocs. Just to illustrate how common acquisitions are in the CRM field, Siebel offerings include some of the old Scopus line (my ex-employer). PeopleSoft bought Vantive. Amdocs bought Clarify, which was for several years part of Nortel before being spun off. All three vendors offer suites with roots in the front office. There are relative newcomers to the world of the traditional, high-end vendors such as Oracle, which is trying to leverage its strengths for back-end apps (and the database, of course). Oracle CRM has less of a track record than other vendors, however. Another example is SAP, which could be a good solution if you are already using it for back-office functions. New-wave high-end offerings include Epiphany—which started in the analytics and marketing automation business and then bought Octane, a service-tracking tool—and JD Edwards, after its acquisition of YOUcentric. Parts of Kana's offerings such as the old Silknet are squarely in the high-end realm, while others are mid-range. All Kana offerings are in the service-tracking arena. In the mid-range, GoldMine, originally a sales-tracking tool, bought HEAT, a longtime support-tracking tool to deliver a mostly-integrated suite under the FrontRange brand. Onyx, Pivotal, and SalesLogix (now owned by Best Software) also have roots on the sales side but also offer support-tracking functionality. Saratoga Systems is another, smaller player. The mid-range new-wave field is very exciting, with vendors packing much power into their offerings while allowing for quick and easy implementation—well, at least significantly easier than other CRM tools. is one example. is an ASP that started on the sales side, as is obvious from its name, but now also provides basic support-tracking functionality and a decent, if basic, knowledge base. Upshot is a direct rival. And RightNow Web offers a sturdy support-tracking tool with integrated knowledge base and self-service functionality both under an ASP model and a licensed software model. The big unknown and potentially giant gorilla in the mid-range, new-wave field is Microsoft, which has announced a solution to be available in 2003. The expectation is that the solution will be easy to integrate with other Microsoft tools, including e-mail and perhaps even its accounting offering (Great Plains). It remains to be seen what functionality will be available and how easy the tool will be to implement. There are also many contenders in specialty areas of the CRM world including collaboration (ePeople, Tightlink), chat (Cisco, divine), knowledge base management (AskJeeves, Banter, Kanisa, Primus), and automated self-service (NativeMinds, ServiceWare) workforce management (Blue Pumpkin), and monitoring tools (Nice, Witness). The approaches described so far should allow you to create a solid, manageable long list of vendors from which to start the evaluation. It's always possible to remove candidates from the list after you find out that they are lacking some essential feature, or to add a candidate that was discovered late but seems very solid. Experience shows that CRM teams rarely make additions to the long list because their hands are full evaluating the candidates on it, so if you have to err on either side it's best to include more candidates on the long list and be prepared to drop the weaker ones quickly rather than creating an overly short list and missing out on potential good matches.