Professional services firms are under ever-increasing pressure to achieve performance and profitability goals. Yet many firms are holding on to dated “Field of Dreams” business models (i.e., if you build it, they will come). That approach may have worked for Kevin Costner’s character in the 1989 movie, but not so much in the real world.

It’s pure fantasy to think that to make more money you just have to have more billable hours to offer clients. Success in today’s environment requires greater focus on identifying the most profitable work, winning that work, and then helping clients succeed. To achieve this focus, firms must extend the value of their business intelligence (BI) investments to include different data sets. Specifically, firms need to elevate the role of customer relationship management (CRM) data.

Giving CRM the recognition it deserves

Historically, CRM in professional services firms has been left to the marketing department to run with and use in whatever way it saw fit. It was never really looked at as intellectual information. That is changing.

CRM has reached a tipping point within professional services industries. Firms are realizing the significant potential CRM represents for enhancing firm-wide data and BI strategies. Give the right people the right information at the right time to make the best possible decisions about running the firm and meeting client expectations – and firms have the best formula for success.

Unifying the data journey

There’s a lot of data that’s not being used by firms today. Consider opportunities lost. Do firms actually look at that data? Probably not as much as they should. If a firm has missed the chance to bring in a new client, does it know why? If it does, can it leverage that information so the next time it faces a similar challenge, it’s more likely to win the work? The ability to prepare mashups of disparate data sources will continue to be the hallmark of any worthwhile BI solution.

Consider all of the information shared in email. Now imagine mining it by using artificial intelligence across the firm. For example, imagine someone who works in a law firm sends a message about a client to either third-party counsel or an internal colleague. Maybe it’s a real estate client and the word “litigation” is thrown into the message. That should prompt an action that a litigator may be needed and can be brought into the case. This ability could deliver incredible value by enabling the firm to be more proactive in servicing the client.

The onus is on firms to connect the dots on technology decisions and investments to ensure that the overarching data journey is unified. This means asking essential questions. For example, if you change your practice management system, can you access meaningful data? Can you use that data? What happens if you change your CRM system? Will that effort be treated as a siloed project or will it be connected to a strategy?

Raising your organizational intelligence

To develop a complete picture of your firm – its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities — your firm needs to adopt an approach to BI that brings together all of the disparate bits of information in an intelligent way – one that tells the data story across the organization. But one that also captures more than just data.

It needs to capture intelligence about people, behaviors, and how people work together from each phase of the client life cycle, quickly analyze it, and share the findings with key decision-makers. Armed with that information, you can affect meaningful and profitable change.

To further explore the importance of CRM data, read the blog post series “Keeping Data Simple” by Michael Warren.