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

Today's blog post was written by Bryson Engelen, Sales Engineer at Sonoma Partners.

Professional services firms know how critical it is to their business to implement or improve a CRM system, yet oftentimes the way they approach an implementation can doom them to failure. One of the major problems they encounter is in 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 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 adding to a CRM system 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 the common 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, and 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. In our last post, we looked at some of the crawl items for professional services firms. This time around, we’ll focus on the “walk” stage, and we will round out our exploration of this topic in a future “run” post.

When discussing a “walk” item on your CRM list, these should be processes more related to long-term strategy than day-to-day tasks handled by standard CRM functionality. Having implemented basic CRM in the crawl phase, hopefully it is no longer a challenge to figure out the right-sized bits to deploy to users and you now know which teams should do what to address change management. The other things you (ideally) took the time to do after your initial deployment were assess what worked and what didn’t in your rollout, determine what your users reacted to the best, and review feedback after users had spent some time in the system. Using lessons learned in your quick wins from phase one and having developed confidence in CRM firmwide, you’re now ready to transform this productivity tool into something that will help really generate additional relationships and revenue. Here are some examples of how your firm can be strategic with CRM and make it more of a long-term planning tool.

1. Referral Tracking:

For many professional services firms, a lot of business comes from referrals. These can be from alumni, current or former clients, and even from competitors as a result of any number of conflicts. One thing CRM can really help with is scoring your referral sources so you know which have referred a lot of business to the firm, which you’ve referred a lot of business to, and, for some firms, calculating the difference between the two as a referral score. Relationships that have high referral scores and have sent a lot of business your way may be ones worth additional cultivation and those that you have sent a lot of referrals to may be ones you have some additional negotiating leverage with. Referrals are a strong source of business, and without firmwide visibility of your referral history with business partners, alumni, and clients, you don’t have the complete picture of the value your relationships hold for your firm. CRM can bring that visibility to you and be customized to fit your referral tracking model.

2. Key Account Management:

Some firms will designate current clients who represent significant revenue, current clients with significant revenue potential or even strategic prospects as “Key Accounts.” These accounts represent a lot of value to the firm in either revenue or relationships, and it may be that the revenue information needed to determine if an Account is a Key Account requires a new integration to your ERP or Time and Billing System. Typically there is a Key Account Management process or a Client Team that drives the firm’s interactions with these Accounts to ensure the relationship continues to strengthen. Key Accounts may not be “key” firmwide, but just to a particular industry, office, or geography. As such, there may be several Key Account lists in the system. Identifying and maintaining Key Accounts is a good first step in gaining wallet share with your most valuable clients.

3. White Space/Green Field Reporting:

Most firms can’t quickly and easily see what services a client is currently using and what services they are not. Whitespace Reporting allows you to better understand the opportunities that exist within specific existing clients. Additionally, most firms can tell you anecdotally what their ideal client looks like, but don’t have data on it, or tools to find more of the same. Green Field Reporting helps you find new clients with similar profiles as your best clients. Data for White Space Reporting typically comes from an integration with an ERP or Time and Billing system, but is consumed on the client record in CRM as lists or charts. Client spend/needs can be broken down by service, geo, office, partner, etc. and rules can be built into the system to give helpful suggestions on cross-sell and upsell. Green Field Reporting identifies new clients in industries, geos, etc. where the firm has had success and can suggest specific prospects or firms not even on your target list that match this profile. For Green Field Reporting to really work, you need data - some from your internal systems and some from external sources. Internally, you need to know your key client’s spending profile and the relationships at those clients. From there, external data sources can provide you with a list of competitors to those key clients, and in some cases you can leverage existing relationships for a warm introduction to competitors (this usually works best at industry conferences). Green Field Reporting can be supplemented by employment history data from your staff, since relationships with former employers can make for excellent introductions. External data sources with this information are generally included with your CRM license or the integrations are available for a minimal cost.

4. Strategic Account Planning:

Professional services firms will often create a 1-5 year strategic plan around Key Accounts that helps gain wallet share with their most valuable clients. Often, these strategic plans are simple Excel, Word, or PowerPoint documents and are therefore not easily visible to all who need them and not reportable or really actionable. Doing Strategic Account Planning in CRM, however, allows you to track the success of your plan year-over-year, spot trends at the industry or firm level of what works and what doesn’t, and allows you to assign out and complete tasks in a centralized place. Some of the things we often see firms tracking in CRM for this process are Current State/Target State of Relationships, Competition/Threats, Influencers, Action Plans, Relationship Plans, Revenue Objectives, Strategic Objectives, and Year-Over-Year Plan Assessments. Generally, it is easier to move an existing Strategic Account Planning Process into CRM and modify it as you go along than it is to introduce Strategic Account Planning within CRM, but with the right messaging and change management, even that challenge can be overcome.

5. Competitor Tracking:

We often encounter firms that will track a competitor on the opportunity level only, and generally only one per opportunity. However, these firms never attempt to really report on this data to see where they win and lose vis-a-vis Service Type, Geo, Office, Partner, Industry, or Client Type, nor do they develop reports to see their own strengths and weaknesses (or those of their top competitors). Tracking competitors at the Opportunity, Client, even Services level allows you to update processes, share best practices, realign staff, and be more selective and efficient in developing proposals. You can develop charts and dashboards for particular competitors or Service Lines, and use those as a springboard for Win/Loss reviews. In addition to leveraging competitor tracking for Revenue Win/Loss, also consider using it for Talent Win/Loss so you can spot trends that may enable you to retain your key staff, or poach top talent from your competitors.

6. Third Party Tools:

While CRM is a powerful tool in and of its own right, one of the things it is really good at is being an aggregate source of data coming in from multiple systems. With CRM as a one-stop shop for your business development team, you can really understand who your clients and relationships are based on more than just what people enter into CRM, but also from what they do and say on other platforms. If you are familiar with Dun & Bradstreet or Hoover’s, you may be surprised at the number of competitors they have with integrations into CRM.  These data services bring client intelligence into CRM like client profile data, news, contacts, and similar clients. More likely than not, your Marketing team uses some form of Marketing Automation to track email clicks and opens, record website activity, and manage campaigns. Many have pre-built integrations into CRM, and some allow you to do all of your marketing automation within CRM itself. Even if you don’t do all of your marketing in CRM, a lot of basic integrations will at least bring marketing data back to CRM, mainly for reporting purposes, or to flesh out a Client record. Some of our professional services clients use Exchange scrubbing tools like Introhive, Gwabbit, and ContactNet to bring Outlook relationship data into CRM. These tools will score things like appointments and emails to determine how strong your staff’s relationships are with Client companies and contacts.  Some have pre-built integrations into CRM while others have data that can be imported and reported on with CRM lists, charts and dashboards. This relationship data can be tracked at the macro and micro level, some track more than Exchange data, and data from these tools can be used to kick off workflows (stagnated clients/unhealthy clients/cross-sell alerts). When you’re ready to really get strategic about your CRM, bringing in data from additional sources can give you a fuller picture of your clients and relationships.

Those are just some of the most common things many professional services firms may need additional guidance on in the second phase of their CRM implementation. There are plenty of others, and there will be even more examples in the last part of our series around a phased approach to CRM when we talk about getting more expansive in the “run” phase. Hopefully, this post helps 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 goodwill 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.

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Topics: CRM for Professional Services