By Michael Warren, Vice President, CRM Practice, Wilson Allen

To get the most out of CRM, firms need to keep it simple and focus on doing the basics well. It also requires firms to be clear about what it is they’re trying to achieve and for them to look beyond traditional approaches to CRM to accomplish those goals.

It’s hard to believe that CRM technology in a professional services environment has been around for the best part of two decades. What is probably less difficult to believe is that most firms have struggled to advance beyond the use of that technology to manage contacts and marketing.

In the past, firms had traditionally seen the implementation of CRM as a question of technology. The decision that needed to be made was which system should be purchased. Many firms, therefore, decided to buy a system based on what other firms had done or based on how it fitted in with their overall technology strategy. When the landscape suddenly shifts firms can then struggle to work out what their roadmap should be.

In recent months we have seen considerable changes in the CRM technology space. There have been sunsetting announcements, new entrants into the market from large software vendors, acquisitions, and new modules and functionality. There are also more and more “CRM-adjacent” technologies emerging that add many more options – and complexity – to this space.

In the past, the benefits of a CRM system were far too focused on marketing and were not sufficiently compelling to interest busy professionals with increasing pressures on their billable time. Very few professionals care about adding contacts to marketing lists and so don’t invest time in doing so.

Getting the most out of CRM

Professionals need to be able to quickly and easily look up information on who knows who, what’s going on, the experience the firm has with specific clients, practices, or industries, and then find people within the firm that have that expertise. They need then to match this to clients and potential clients and understand within those clients the strength, depth, and history of the relationship. CRM systems have not traditionally been designed to fulfill this function, on their own, it has often been the remit of the office of knowledge management, particularly as it relates to experience and client intelligence. But that office doesn’t usually have access to contact and relationship information.

Using CRM to support sales

Another key change in the CRM space is that “sales” is no longer a dirty word in most firms. Partners want the CRM system to generate revenue. The reality is that the world has changed since 2008, and not just because of the recession. Firms have realised that business doesn’t walk in through the door. They are finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves from their competitors. But probably most significant of all is that partners realise that technology can help them manage their network.

Most professionals, in any industry, have an inner circle of top contacts and referrers, representing a large percentage of all the work that they will ever win or that is referred to them. Professionals are now starting to think about the real value of adding more members to that inner circle and nurturing existing members. They realise how valuable technology can be as a way to provide insights and reminders to support that process, for example, “it has been several months since you’ve spoken to X.”

Professionals are also starting to understand the value of hunting in packs rather than behaving like a lone wolf. There is a recognition in firms that different people are good at managing relationships at various stages of the business development cycle. There are those professionals who are superb at knocking down doors and closing deals, whereas equally there are those that are much stronger at nurturing the relationships with loyal existing clients and identifying cross-selling opportunities.

Traditionally where professionals have taken a very “sole-practitioner” approach, the success of the practice depended on the business development skill set of the key partners. But by sharing contacts within and across practices and by recognising that firms need a combination of rainmakers, deal closers, and relationship managers, there is a real possibility that firms can cover all stages of the business development cycle.

Putting new principles into practice

There are also still far too many business development managers who see using CRM as an administrative task that can be delegated to assistants or the data team. But gradually professionals are understanding the need to share contacts and download their actions when they get back from a client meeting.

As with all things in life, most people are not going to provide inputs unless they are clear on what the outputs are going to be. Therefore, a critical part of the successful use of CRM has to focus on providing professionals with valuable and actionable reports.

Another critical success factor has to be working with senior professionals with a positive attitude towards business development rather than trying to win over the skeptics. In my experience the following approach works well:

  • Identify a practice(s) that already have a reasonably good culture of sharing information and of meeting to discuss business development.
  • Identify a report (s) that they currently produce that drives these conversations, preferably one that takes a reasonable amount of effort to create manually and identify how you could replicate that report in the CRM system.
  • Focus on understanding what the key inputs and outputs are at each stage of the business development cycle and most importantly, what moves a client or prospective client from one stage to the next e. g. when there is an activity, or a meeting or a proposal. The reason that this is so important is that by understanding the triggers and processes, you may be able to automate the process of moving clients from one stage to the next.
  • Work with the administrative assistants initially to help with the capture of the basic data and in managing the professionals. Introduce a “scorecard” with five basic pieces of information that are needed to segment clients and then measure the completeness of this data to drive behaviour. For example, industry sector, job title, nature of relationship, areas of interest, and geographic location. It doesn’t matter what they are necessarily, it’s just that you need a foundation on which to build.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of providing outputs from the system, but don’t overwhelm users with emails otherwise it will just become noise and they will start to ignore them. You need to work with each user to provide the reports in a way that fits in to how they work.
  • Ensure that all of this is presented in terms of CRM technology supporting their existing plans and processes. You are much more likely to succeed with a practice group that already has a business development initiative or process such as Client Care or Account Planning. Trying to create something from scratch will be much harder to do.

You will not change the world overnight so celebrate small victories and publicise them. Getting people to use CRM is likely to be one of the toughest sales job you will ever have, so you need to take success where you find it.

See how Wilson Allen can help your firm use CRM to drive revenue. Visit CRM Solutions.