It's been a busy year. I started 2015 off with an RFP and search for a new Salesforce partner. I transitioned the new partner into our organization and business processes in the Spring, and since then I've been working on improving every aspect of our CRM. Today, I'm sharing a few thoughts on choosing the right partner. In general, these suggestions could be applied to seeking out any business partner or vendor for your organization.
Many consulting firms will want you to commit to a large agreement that covers all services that will be provided for the entire year or multiple years. If at all possible, I strongly suggest pushing for a limited engagement to start, which covers a few small projects. This will allow you to see how well you work together. If all goes well, then by all means expand your partnership. However, it is a recipe for failure to project costs for a large long-term engagement where neither party has ever worked together and no one fully understands the exact requirements. Neither organization wins. The only one who wins is the sales person who gets a commission for the large poorly scoped project. Demand a limited initial scope and trial period. Everyone will be happier.
Don't Discount Location
At the start of my search I had thought that it would be fairly easy to work with any consulting firm regardless of where they were located. I looked at organizations in New York City--our home base-- and all throughout the US and Canada. I'm a fairly tech savvy person and regularly use teleconferencing tools to collaborate with consultants all over the world. However, during the RFP process, it became very clear just how important it is to meet face to face when you are implementing something as complex and business critical as a CRM system. CRM touches every aspect of a business and there are many interdependencies, so it's very easy for confusion to arise without regular face time. This became a significant factor during the RFP process. Remote vendors struggled to understand what was being asked for, while I was generally able to work out misunderstandings very quickly with the local vendors during a quick meeting.
I started the engagement with our Salesforce partners by mapping out a very exacting timeline that listed all the projects I intended to complete in the next year. I added detailed documentation to ensure that everyone understood the goals, objectives and risks. Then I shared this information with stakeholders. No matter how clear you are, misunderstandings will arise. It is a simple fact that in today's world no one pays as much attention as they should to important documents and emails. There are simply too many "important" things vying for our attention. Still, if you are clear at the outset the key stakeholders will get the gist of where you are going, which avoids pitfalls down the road.
Consultants are busy. If you don't demand your fair share of their time and effort, they will certainly expend their time on the squeakiest wheel. This is a delicate balance, as you don't want to be so annoying that your partner does not want to pickup the phone, but you definitely want to get your money's worth from the consulting engagement. I've found that the easiest way to ensure that everyone is happy is to start small and be very clear on the hours and estimated cost for each project at the outset.
I evaluated a number of Salesforce partners including: Appirio, ACF Solutions, Exponent Partners, Traction, and Arkus. Each partner had unique advantages. I ultimately chose Arkus based on their location, willingness to start small, and ability to clearly and accurately scope each project before we started. The decision process will be different for every organization, but I hope that some of my suggestions will help you as you consider Salesforce partners or other consultants for your organization.