CRM in Professional Services: How to Succeed Without Divine Intervention

May 24, 2016 Peter Schmidt

Client Relationship Management (CRM) software has been available to lawyers, accountants and consultants for over two decades. Many firms purchased and installed CRM software but are still struggling to realize its promised potential. They are drowning in inconsistent, incomplete and incorrect data, while struggling to justify paying maintenance for underutilized software. Looking back, they wish they had tried walking on water instead. That, at least, would have been more refreshing. A handful of firms have managed to succeed with CRM in spite of the obstacles. If you want to be one of the success stories, you have to understand how other firms have managed it and choose a strategy that will work for your firm.

CRM is a business strategy that promises a comprehensive method of managing the firm’s relationships with its clients, prospects and business partners. It’s an enticing vision. To get there, the first question to ask is, “Why are we doing CRM?” You can break this into two parts: looking for the good things that will happen if you move forward, and the bad things that will happen if you do not. In the first group, firms will often look to obtain more profitable work from existing clients, attract new clients, and reduce the costs of marketing/business development. On the other hand, doing nothing may result in the firm being perceived as a spammer, losing clients to other firms, or failing to attract new clients. If the pros and cons of implementing a CRM strategy are not sufficiently compelling, you’re better off delaying the initiative until they are. Stopgap measures can be effective until then.

Once you have decided to proceed, make sure that the project’s goals are aligned with your firm’s goals. It won’t help your cause if you’re trying to attract new clients while the firm is focused on cutting costs. Quantify your goals: otherwise, how will you know whether you’ve accomplished what you set out to do? Remember that one size does not fit all. The project plan that your friend used in another firm may not be appropriate for yours. Lastly, consider the time factor. Be ruthless in determining what is needed now and what can wait.

Choose the right people for the project team (not all technophiles and not all technophobes.) You’ll need a project champion, who must be respected as a leader in the firm. Avoid choosing the quintessential “techie” professional: every firm has at least one, and that individual often does not relate well to his or her peers. Some professionals and their teams will need to be involved, but keep the demands on their time to a minimum. Recognize that there is never a good time to take them away from client work, but some times are worse than others. CRM projects require cooperation between the marketing and IT departments. If fences need mending, take care of that before you start your CRM project.

When it comes time to select the appropriate CRM software, opt for the one that will get you where you need to be. Different products have different features, cost structures and visions for the future. You will almost certainly live with your selection for several years, so make sure that it fits both your short term requirements and your long term strategy.

Some firms opt for a well-publicized rollout. They unleash the creative energy of the marketing department internally, with contests, incentives and campaigns. Others go for a “stealth mode” and slipstream behind other initiatives, such as a desktop upgrade, the formation of client teams or an office move. You know your firm’s culture including what has and has not worked before, so use that knowledge to determine the best approach.

Borrowing from the real estate sector, the three most important factors in implementing CRM software are data, data and data. Even though data quality is paramount, you have to set expectations appropriately. Data will never be perfect, and data should never be perfect. Remember the 80/20 rule: 80% of the effort should be applied to the most important 20% of the data. And if you apply the 80/20 rule again to that top 20%, you’ll see that roughly two-thirds of your effort should be spent on the most important 4% of the data, and half of the effort on the top 1%.

How do you determine the most important data? Look to your top clients and prospects. Focus on the organizations with the greatest number of individuals in your data. Many of these organizations will be similar firms since, after all, lawyers know other lawyers, accountants know accountants, and consultants know consultants. Firms that are similar to yours are easy to review and clean, so start with these to get your feet wet. Financial institutions, insurance companies and conglomerates are much harder, so make sure your processes are finely tuned before tackling those. As for individuals, take special care of the contacts that are known by the greatest number of your professionals. If their information is incorrect, you’ll probably hear about it multiple times. Identify some of the key players in the firm and make sure that their contact data is correct. This group could include rainmakers and those who are meticulous in maintaining their contacts. Pay special attention to those we would euphemistically call “influencers”, i.e., the individuals who will tell the world if anything is wrong. Don’t give them the opportunity.

The bottom line is to make sure that what you are seeking to accomplish is in line with what the firm as a whole wants to accomplish.

  • Assemble your project team carefully.
  • Evaluate all potential solutions and choose the best one for your firm.
  • Choose a rollout process that fits your firm.
  • And finally, focus on the data, especially the most important data. Keeping these simple principles in mind will help your firm become a CRM success story, and not a statistic.

After all, if you want to walk on water, you have to know where the rocks are.

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