Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

How Professional Services Firms Can Crawl, Walk, Run with CRM - Part One

Today's post is written by Bryson Engelen, a Sales Engineer at Sonoma Partners.

Professional Services firms know how critical it is to their business to implement or improve a CRM system.

But oftentimes the way they approach an implementation can doom them to failure. One of the major problems they encounter is trying to please everybody all at once. Their“boil the ocean” approach overwhelms users and delivers too much too soon.  Instead, it’s better to think of a CRM as a living, breathing thing, and to build upon it over time based on how people ACTUALLY work, not how they THINK they work. 

This can only be done by approaching a CRM implementation with a well-thought-out crawl, walk, run approach that keeps the users at the center of an ongoing conversation. 

In this series, we will take a look at the common CRM use cases for professional services firms as they try to master the basics (crawl), start using CRM on a more strategic level (walk), and then leverage CRM as a platform to solve business problems that would otherwise require custom solutions (run).  Think of these suggestions in each phase as an a la carte menu. In some instances, the phase designations may not perfectly suit your firm, so you may implement what is described as a “walk” item in your crawl and vice versa.   Let’s look at some of the crawl items for professional services firms in this post, and explore the “walk” and “run” CRM workloads in subsequent posts.

Looking to enter activity related information on-the-go in Dynamics CRM? Explore Activity Buddy, a custom app built by Sonoma Partners.

When discussing a “crawl” item on your CRM list, these should be basic things related to pretty standard CRM functionality that are relatively easy to implement, but offer very high value.  Typically, these are tactical, day-to-day quick wins that will make your users everyday jobs easier. By getting these simpler things right, you can build goodwill around CRM and inspire confidence in your firm that it is the right technology to be building your practice around. 

Here are some examples of how your firm can be smart about relatively simple things.

Account/Client Management:

Modeling Clients in CRM can be challenging since most CRM systems have Account record types that represent companies and Contact record types that represent people. These definitions don’t always fit how your firm thinks about clients.  Additionally, an individual client who is a person, may also have a relationship to a company that is a client record for your firm, like being on the Board of a company. CRM doesn’t traditionally do well at modeling that out-of-the-box.  This can be solved in a variety of ways, like having different Account Types and/ or making the concept of “Client” separate from the concept of “Account.”

Account/Client Segmentation:

Firms often segment their Clients by a dizzying array of categories that overlap and often contain redundancies. Client, former client, target, referral source, and practice all relate to the company’s relationship to the firm; industry designations, public/private, and geographic designations are parameters of the company itself (regardless of whether it is a client, for example.)  The model must work for Sales, Marketing, Delivery, and other Business functions and be simple enough for all of those stakeholders to understand and use.

Contact Rules of Engagement:

Many firms actively refute the concept of “ownership” at a company or person level (clients “belong” to the firm, not to a partner) but will designate a “Relationship Partner” who is responsible for the client.  However, individual practitioners will still refer to the company as “my client.” For this reason, it is often helpful to have a business process which defines the rules of interacting with the firm’s Contacts and Accounts. For example, the Partner in Charge (PIC) of a Client may want to be consulted prior to somebody reaching out to said Client regarding new services, marketing efforts, etc. We typically don’t automate this in CRM, but it should be discussed when working with professional services clients to ensure the data in CRM can at a minimum facilitate the process.  In order to really get your firm to fully realize its potential to cross-sell and upsell and provide ideal levels of service to your client, you really must tackle the rules of engagement with your clients.

Knowing Who Knows Whom:

Professional Services firms are highly relationship driven and generate a vast majority of their business from their relationships. Many CRM systems have rudimentary tools for tracking relationships, but they typically only go one level deep (Partner A knows Client X) and don’t show the web of relationships, nor strength of those relationships (Partner A relationship with Client X is strong AND Client X’s relationship with Prospect 1 is strong, etc.).  Sonoma Partners has developed a custom visualization tool called Relationship Mapper to help consume relationship data easier. Relationship Mapper allows you view connections between people, companies, and staff on a relationship web, displaying the nature and strength of each relationship a hover-over, and allows you to pivot on different individuals on the relationship map.  This makes it easy to quickly and clearly see the relationships tied to a Client, plot how to leverage a social network by jumping from contact to contact, and see which customers will provide the maximum value for your networking time and efforts.

Another aspect of relationship tracking is tracking individuals as they move from one organization to another.  This is related heavily to the marketing segmentation point we talked about on the Account/Client Management slide.  Professional Services firms often want to track a contact throughout their employment, starts/stops, former employment relationships, etc. and track alumni, which can be is challenging as former User records become Contact records.  Finally, a professional services firm might have existing tools that track relationships, oftentimes by monitoring email traffic and other Outlook data between your firm and the Client.  Getting relationship tracking right early on in your CRM implementation generates a lot of good will with the system, and there are many nuances and tricks to ensure it is successful.

Sales Processes:

First, let’s recognize a few stigmas and caveats.  Few professional services firms have a dedicated sales team and a lot of “sales management” is performed by “doers” in professional services, who see tracking Opportunities in CRM as too much overhead.  Also, many partners hate the word sales and focus on relationships.  Time and time again, professional services firms will say “we don’t sell, we build relationships” which is true and not true.  While your firm’s culture may hate the word “sales,” it’s wise to think of and build processes around how you acquire business and clients in “sales” terms from an organizational perspective, even if you market those efforts internally as something else. 

Seller/doers often chafe at what they see as restrictive processes around entering sales information and feel tracking Opportunities takes time and is irrelevant.  To solve for this, we need to provide the users with a quick way to enter and manage this information, like the ability to track updates from Outlook or mobile (easily, with minimal typing) and by making sure there is a simple, documented process in place for the many types of sales your firm does.  Few firms have a defined sales process that they follow when working on bringing in new business. Getting staff to follow those best practices can be challenging (assuming they actually know those processes exist).  However, this is critical, and CRM should never be the driver for the sales process.  Rather, it is important to have a business conversation internally to establish what your “process(es)” looks like (or should look like) that is completely separate from the CRM system of choice.  After that business process is identified, CRM should be configured in such a way that supports your process(es).  Process is pluralized because there needs to be a strong distinction laid out between New Business Opportunities (net new clients), Expansion Opportunities (cross-sell), and Retention Opportunities (with any luck, upsell).  For firms to minimize cost of sale and maximize efficiency and ROI, they must be able to accurately measure and adjust business processes.  Pipeline tracking can also be useful for planning staffing needs for projects.  Partners might not care about the word “sales,” but they probably do care about knowing how many consultants/accountants/whatever they’re going to need in the next X months.


Perhaps the biggest key to success for professional services firms is getting mobile right, but very few of them do because they don’t have a mobile strategy.  Many firms just check to make sure their CRM system has a mobile app, but never really evaluate if that app aligns with their users’ needs and never put in the work to customize the app to fit user scenarios.  For mobile to be successful, mobile user groups and use cases need to be identified early on.  This can be done really well with ride alongs with users, seeing what they do when they are out of the office in the course of a normal business day.  Learning why a partner keeps a stack of Post-Its in their briefcase and incorporating that into a mobile app can really be the key to driving user adoption.  In addition to knowing your firm’s use cases, you must also know your device landscape, develop a strategy around device/software updates, consider your security needs, and develop a plan to revisit your mobile strategy on a regular basis.  Mobile consumption of CRM may evolve far more quickly than the rest of the CRM implementation, and you may need to iterate on mobile CRM every few months as the needs of your users change or are more clearly identified.  Your firm may also find that the native CRM app is overwhelming or limiting, and may want to consider a custom, use-case specific mobile app.

Those are just some of the most common things many professional services firms may need additional guidance on in the first phase of their CRM implementation. There are plenty of others, and there will be even more examples in the next part of our series around a phased approach to CRM when we talk about getting more strategic in the “walk” phase. 

Hopefully, this post is helping you recognize how nuanced a CRM implementation can be, which is why a phased approach works best. 

Simply standing up a basic system and walking away is a recipe for wasted time, money, and energy, and won’t build good will with your users.  If you want to hear more about how to implement CRM for professional services firms using a phased approach, feel free to Contact Us.

Topics: CRM for Professional Services