Do you need a CRM Vendor or a CRM Partner?

John Eccles, 12 August 2016

CRM vendors and partners provide different services, operate differently and think differently. It’s important to know which you need and how to work with either a vendor or a partner to maximise results


The CRM vendor

The CRM vendor’s business model is selling CRM services: they undertake CRM projects and tasks as specified by the client. The client knows the detailed scope of their projects and what is required of the vendor.  Services required are similar from project to project. The client is in charge of the process and the vendor needs to be expert at what they do and able to respond to changes and feature requests.

When a CRM vendor is best

  • When the CRM system is simple. Many systems, particularly SME systems, are simple because simple is less expensive to buy and less expensive to run. You don’t want or need a lot of customisation – you just want to get the system up and running and your team trained to use it.
  • When the system is standard.
  • Your processes fit or will be made to fit an existing CRM system with minimal customisation.
  • When you understand well both CRM and your CRM strategy.
  • You know the specifics of what needs to be done and you can specify it in terms that a CRM vendor can understand clearly. You could do it yourself if you only had the specialised resources available.


Working with a CRM vendor

The same rules apply as for any vendor. Get quotations or tight estimates for cost and delivery and manage the vendor to deliver on time and within budget. Be careful to specify exactly what you need as your specifications will be your primary means of quality control.

The CRM partner

The CRM partner helps craft the CRM strategy and roadmap that drives the client’s project and task needs.  Then they undertake those projects and tasks. The CRM partner contributes to the client’s strategy by bringing expertise about CRM and CRM strategy to the decision-making process so that better decisions are made. The CRM partner is thus more invested in the success of the CRM strategy and the CRM implementations and will question any projects, tasks or changes that are inconsistent with the agreed strategy.

When a CRM partner is best

  • When the system is complex and customised.
  • Enterprise-level CRM systems are all complex and are frequently customised/optimised to fit the established systems of the client. The more users, the more customisations for productivity become cost-effective.
    AND when external input on CRM and CRM strategy knowledge would lead to better CRM decisions and plans.


Working with a CRM partner

Partnering involves working together at the stage when the scope is fluid and the costs are unknown. The partner will charge for consulting and advising - either explicitly or by building the cost into projects. You need to know up-front how you will be charged. I recommend time and materials for consulting and estimates for project work.

You still need your partner to be skilled and efficient in CRM analysis, design, development, implementation and support and you should expect them to provide project pricing and plans as for a vendor.

A key difference will come when you want to make a significant change mid-project. The CRM partner will not automatically do what you ask. The project was a result of joint strategic thinking so there will be push-back and questioning of the change to ensure it has been properly thought through. This may involve delay, but generally you will value the benefit of the strategy-check over the cost of the delay.

At times, important things may be left unspecified in the interests of flexibility. This works because the CRM partner understands the context and the strategy behind a project meaning not every detail needs to be spelt out.


Partnering involves a much higher level of trust and trust involves risk. You need to prove yourself trustworthy as a client and you need to give the CRM partner opportunity to prove themselves trustworthy. Yes there’s risk. But the benefits of an optimised CRM strategy, a roadmap that is informed by advanced CRM knowhow, and a partner who sincerely seeks to serve your interests is well worth it.