Review a stack of business journals and three letters will likely pop up time and time again – CRM. The universal acronym for customer (or client) relationship management, CRM is seemingly the Holy Grail of todayâ€™s business manager. For the professional services person, some iterations of CRM may be confusing – many are slanted toward automating customer service operations. But never fear, there is a whole lot more to CRM than fielding service calls. In fact, a new breed of CRM is quickly becoming a powerful solution for professional services firms, especially those with management teams that want to leverage firm-wide intellectual property to grow their client base, improve productivity and maximize profitability.
Unlike accounting or HR solutions that are primarily used by highly trained and skilled personnel within a single department, CRM is an enterprise application that is used by virtually everyone across the firm. When deployed in an organization, CRM solutions aggregate vast amounts of information to create a pool of knowledge that can be used to prospect new business, validate leads, analyze processes and more. Sounds great. But the question remains: how can a firm ensure success? Following are five simple steps that can help put your organization on the path to CRM success.
1. Remember that Culture is King â€“ A CRM solution is more than a new software package. It also encompasses a mindset, a way of doing business and a way of interacting with others in the firm. The success of a CRM implementation rests on the shoulders of a workforce that is willing to share information about clients and contacts. However, this "collaborative" mentality flies in the face of the culture within some professional services firms. For better or worse, many professional services practitioners are skeptical of sharing contact information for fear of losing opportunities to generate work that they can produce themselves. However, if a CRM implementation is introduced to the workforce as an opportunity to create new opportunities for all, success rates will improve significantly.
Consequently, it is especially important to publicize instances when shared information benefits the firm-at-large. Management must work toward creating a culture that is based upon "the greater good" rather than "individual gain." To reach this goal, users must see proof that the information they share will be used to improve operations and add new business that will benefit all members of the firm. It may take some time, but such a culture shift is worth the effort.
2. Set Realistic Goals â€“ One of the greatest mistakes a management team can make is to force-feed new technology across the organization. This is particularly true with a CRM implementation. As firm management prepares for a CRM rollout, planning and patience are critical. Working with the implementation team from the software developer, management should agree upon a plan of phasing software use across the firm. Some organizations orchestrate a CRM rollout by location, others by practice group or department. Regardless, this type of phased approach gives both the firm and the implementation team an opportunity to make adjustments, manage expectations, achieve milestones and promote successes.
3. Obtain and Maintain Senior Management Support â€“ Successful CRM implementations start and end at the top. Firms simply cannot achieve success without full management buy-in, nor can management set the process in motion and walk away. As a rule, successful CRM implementations are characterized as those in which management leads by example. Rolling-out a CRM solution takes hard work, but the benefits are substantial. Management should not sugar coat the process or minimize the effort involved. Similarly, as milestones are achieved, those same managers should be the first to strongly promote the benefits being realized by the firm.
4. Analyze Working Processes â€“ The process of fitting a CRM solution into a professional services organization provides a wonderful opportunity to evaluate processes and procedures across the firm. Working with the implementation team from the software provider, firm management should review, analyze and evaluate the firmâ€™s procedures as well as all of the data sources that will be migrated into the CRM solution. This is the perfect time to discuss and develop new procedures that will increase the firmâ€™s success.
5. Select the Right Software Partner â€“ While teaming with the right solution provider is important to every software implementation, it is absolutely critical when dealing with a CRM solution. The way CRM is utilized by a professional services firm differs greatly from the way CRM is used by a product-oriented organization. Therefore, it is critical for services-based organizations to choose a software provider that specializes in professional services solutions. Equally important is the software solutionâ€™s ability to seamlessly integrate with other business processes across the firm, including the firmâ€™s financial and practice management systems. The ability to correlate client relationship management and new business development activities with firm financial performance greatly enhances the ROI generated by CRM. Finally, firms should closely review the
depth and breadth of consulting services provided by CRM vendors being considered. A CRM solution is only as good as the implementation methodology used to integrate it with a firmâ€™s business processes. Make sure that the vendor you select can provide experienced and dedicated consulting staff members that will work with your team to ensure success.
A successful CRM implementation can help a professional services firm stay head and shoulders above the competition. Keep these five steps in mind, and you and your firm will be well on your way to CRM success.
George Brandon is director of practice management consulting for Thomson Elite. More than one-third of the top 1,000 US law firms, more than one-half of the top 100 US law firms, and 30 of the top 100 UK law firms use Eliteâ€™s practice management systems.