(Part 3 of a series of 5)

Welcome to Part 3 of my five-part series on choosing an admissions CRM! (In case you missed it, here’s why I wrote this series.)

In this post, I’ll tell you the three things you should do FIRST for a better outcome – whether you’ll be using an RFI, RFP, or both to select your CRM.

1. Talk to your colleagues and get recommendations.

Ask your colleagues about their CRM vendors and get their recommendations. Ask them what was on their “must-have” list, and see if their must-haves align with yours. Did the vendor they chose deliver for them? Were there surprises (pleasant or unpleasant)?

Also, ask them how closely the sales process aligned with the reality of the software. Did the CRM adapt to their processes, or did they need to adapt their processes to the CRM? Did the vendor customize the software for them, or leave it to them to figure things out for themselves?

Ask about the learning curve for staff, the implementation process, and the training/support provided. How long did it take to get up-and-running with their CRM?

Other questions: What kind of resources (people, time) did they have to allocate to the implementation process? How many people are required to maintain the CRM? What features and functionality did they actually use in year one? What were the biggest roadblocks? Were there hidden costs?

Also ask what they wish they would have learned about from the vendors during the sales process.

2. Have a preliminary discussion with each vendor.

Talk with the vendor about their company’s philosophy, culture, and values. Do they value the same things that are important to you?

Ask the vendor, why wouldn’t someone choose them? What doesn’t their CRM do? If they say their CRM does it all, it’s probably not a good sign, because no software does “everything.”

Ask them about the implementation process and client support. For example, how much of the implementation will they handle for you? Remember, after the sales process, you’ll mostly be working with the company’s implementation and support teams, so make sure you’re confident you’ll get the help you need, when you need it.

At the end of each conversation, ask yourself, “Is this a company that I would want to work with for the next five years?”

3. Get a preliminary demo.

At this stage, a demo should take about 60 minutes. Get a high-level understanding of the CRM; does it make sense to you? Use the preliminary demo to get a feel for what your day-to-day experience would be like with the system. Focus on the user experience. Ask yourself, would I want to use this CRM day in and day out?

Conclusion

Once you’ve completed the three steps above, use the info you’ve gathered to narrow your original pool of vendors to a more manageable “shortlist” of no more than six. Each of the remaining vendors should be aligned with your priorities, staffing resources, and budget. That way, reading through each vendor’s RFI and/or RFP response will be a valuable exercise, not just a drain on resources.

Next, in Why You Should Use an RFI to Choose an Admissions CRM (Part 4 of this series), I’ll talk about why and how to use a Request for Information to help choose your CRM … and I’ll even provide you with the smartest questions to ask in your RFI.

Shelly Spiegel has nearly 30 years of experience in the education market – including 15 years as CEO & Chief Creative Officer of the company she founded, Fire Engine RED.