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Siebel CRM projects: Choosing a consultant

Evaluating and selecting an implementation partner for your Siebel CRM project requires forethought. Several experts offer some hands-on advice about what to look for in a partner.

Note: This is the first article in a two-part series. Next month, learn how to manage the relationship with your chosen implementation partner.

When Shire Pharmaceuticals Group plc in Basingstoke, England, began implementing the Siebel Medical Call Center and Siebel e-Pharma CRM applications in 2002, it realized it needed some very specialized expertise -- expertise that it did not possess within its own staff.

"We did a user requirements plan, which showed that the medical information management component was essentially a content management challenge with a call center front end," recounts John Cogan, global head of information systems and group research and development applications at Shire. "We knew content management well, but we didn't know CRM."

The Shire team drew up a detailed Request for Proposal (RFP), which it sent out to three consulting companies that it thought might be able to help with its CRM implementation.

Based on 10 categories, including user requirements and technical assessments, Shire ultimately chose First Consulting Group, a Long Beach, Calif.-based consulting firm that is both certified in Siebel and experienced in content management projects for life sciences companies. Fortunately for Shire, that choice turned out to be a good one, and Cogan credits much of the success to the initial partner evaluation process.

"It pays to be clear on what you're looking for before you start," advises Cogan. "Spend time detailing the requirements of the project, as well as other criteria for your selection. The key aspects for us were the fixed scope, fixed price and fixed time. So the vendors knew the plan when bidding."

As Cogan discovered, when faced with an expensive and complicated Siebel implementation, having an experienced and knowledgeable consultant to rely on is not only comforting, but often critical to the success of the project.

Why "Siebel-certified" pays off

Siebel partners bring a combination of technical and business process expertise, said Steve Bonadio, vice president at Meta Group Inc. That can be especially important in terms of their vertical industry know-how. "They can bring in appropriate subject matter experts, while most organizations don't have a clue as to what a best practice process should look like relative to their industry."

"Someone who'd been implementing Siebel for a while is going to understand what you can, and cannot, do right from the start. They're going to have some prebuilt integrations and best practices on hand that they can use to jump-start a project," said Sheryl Kingstone, program manager for the Yankee Group's customer relationship strategies area, noting that the cost of a certified Siebel systems integrator will likely run anywhere from $145 to $225 per hour. "They may cost a little bit more, but if you get [a consultant] who doesn't know what they're doing, you're going to spend a lot more in time and implementation costs to get them up and running."

But while there's clearly value to hiring an implementer who's skilled in Siebel -- a certified Siebel partner would presumably have a good relationship with Siebel -- you still have to select the right person for the job. One strategy for selecting the software and the systems integrator is to hire a third party, such as an analyst firm, to do the vetting of the RFP responses. This is especially handy for companies that are new to CRM and may not be able to easily assess all the information in the RFP.

This doesn't mean you should take a hands-off approach to evaluating the proposed implementation partner. You also need to do some research to ensure you have the right person, just as you'd investigate the proposed software product.

"What I find, unfortunately, is that most of the effort is spent on the product evaluation with relatively little effort placed on the evaluation of services," said Beth Eisenfeld, research vice president at Gartner Inc. "But that integrator is going to be with you for the next 12 to 18 months, or longer."

Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century (August 2004, McGraw-Hill Osborne Media) agrees. "If you and the integrator don't have similar definitions of the concepts of success, failure and timeliness, then you're going to have a huge problem."

Pick your partner, don't be shy

Greenberg recommends prospective customers visit the consultant's headquarters to observe how the company works and get a feel for its culture. "Tell them you want a tour and to have lunch there, just to get a feel for the company. Observe how the key account manager deals with you, and how he deals with other people in his company."

In addition, Eisenfeld suggests clients evaluate potential implementation partners based on a list of 11 criteria:

1. Geographic capability. If you're in Ohio, and your consulting firm is based in California, does it have consultants that can be available to you, on site, when you need them?

2. Management influence. Senior management needs to respect whoever is brought in, so management's bias should play a key role in the decision.

3. Industry expertise. You don't want to waste your time teaching the consultant about your industry.

4. CRM vision. Does the consulting firm understand that CRM is more then a packaged application?

5. Partnerships. Does it have a real partnership with Siebel? While Siebel experience alone is good, having a bona fide partnership means better access to technical experts at Siebel when you need them.

6. Functional skills. Does it have experience in sales automation, in marketing, or whatever functional aspects of CRM you're implementing?

7. Technical skills. Has it actually been in the field learning the ins and outs of integrating, customizing and configuring Siebel?

8. Staff tenure. You want experienced, senior level implementers -- not recent college grads.

9. Methodologies. The consulting firm should present its methodology, which includes tools and best practices, much like an architect presents a blueprint prior to building a house.

10. Contracting practices. Will the consultant write the contract the way you want it to be, whether it's fixed price or with specific service level agreements, among other factors.

11. Culture. Some firms are more collaborative, others prefer to "take charge," so consider whether the consultant's culture will mesh with your own corporate culture.

Finally, Greenberg also emphasizes the importance of using references -- a lot of them. But don't get them from the integrator, who will give you good references only, but from Internet search engines, online CRM forums, trade magazines and industry analysts. "Call analysts, go on the 'Net, find lists of customers and start calling them. One in five will talk to you, and then you'll get a real picture of what the company is like."

Next month: After you've selected your partner, now you've got to work with them. In part two of this article, you will find out how to ensure that your new partnership continues to be happy and productive throughout the implementation process.

Sue Hildreth is a contributing writer based in Waltham, Mass. She can be reached at [email protected]

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