Sonoma Partners Microsoft CRM and Salesforce Blog

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

Today's post was 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, 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 a CRM as a living, breathing thing, and 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, keeping users at the center of an ongoing conversation.

In this blog series, we 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 posts, we looked at some of the “crawl” and “walk” items for professional services firms. This time around, we’ll round out our exploration of this topic by discussing “run” items.

When discussing a “run” item on your CRM list, think of existing systems you bought or built that really only handle a discrete process or think of workloads that touch core CRM that you just have a process and no system around. Having implemented CRM in the “crawl” and “walk” phase, hopefully you have gotten feedback from users on other things they would like CRM to handle or you have uncovered related processes in your earlier CRM requirements gathering.  In some instances, you can build Line of Business applications from scratch in CRM to handle these, and in others you can explore enriching existing systems with integrations into your CRM, potentially using CRM as a front-end to the process. Here are some examples of how your firm can retire application cost and maintenance energy by folding processes into CRM.

1. Internal Business Apps:

There are a lot of apps that can be built or bought that help automate your internal processes, and they can plug and play into your existing CRM infrastructure. For many professional services firms, things like logging time and expenses, activities, and event attendance happen in tools outside of CRM or in a spreadsheet. These activities are critical to running your business and understanding internal costs, but users don’t like that they need separate tools to enter this information. CRM provides a great opportunity to build or buy apps to handle these workloads and places that information right alongside client data. For example, a simple activity logging app on a phone can make the process of recording phone calls and notes against a client in CRM fast and easy, and greatly increase the amount of client relationship documentation. Tools like a Client Mapping tool can be a mobile app built on top of CRM that allows users to find info on nearby clients, while event attendance tracking apps (like one built by Sonoma Partners) allows mobile users to quickly and easily add people to marketing lists on the go. If you have internal processes that are critical to your business but that data is being lost because it’s hard to get into a system and maintain, maybe you can offload that to CRM via a discrete app.

2. Client Portals:

Oftentimes, information and documents need to be exchanged with clients regarding projects, pursuits, contracting, etc. CRM can not only provide flexibility around managing documents related to clients (and store those documents within CRM against the client record), but it can also expose select documents and CRM data to clients as needed. CRM also brings self-service to the table in other ways, allowing clients to request help or service, review a project’s status and other details, select and download thought leadership and marketing collateral and see upcoming meetings and milestones which provide a centralized calendar for you and your clients. You can even configure a client portal to offload some data entry from your staff to your clients by allowing them to submit data like feedback or referrals and event RSVPs. Overall, since CRM is already how you manage clients internally, it makes sense to use the same tool for externally-facing client management processes.

3. Project/Resource Management:

Many professional services firms have project and resource management tools, but they don’t tie into client data directly, leaving a disconnect between business development and project management activities. CRM has built-in or plug-in capabilities related to managing projects, resources, expenses, time entry and more, depending on your use case. If your use case is complicated, there are plenty of 3rd party apps that might be easier to implement and have a lower cost of ownership. That being said, using CRM for things like housing a skills database, generating resumes (particularly with a CRM-driven resume update portal), creating an employee scheduling portal/app and doing resource allocation is possible with some existing functionalities and add-ons. Additionally, you can leverage native CRM tools and beyond that build or buy apps for CRM around project planning and project management via a portal or mobile app.

4. Internal and External Social/Collaboration Tools:

Social tools tied to CRM can be a better way to collaborate internally and externally, particularly around shared content like proposals. Often, the tool itself is pretty intuitive, particularly in this age of Facebook, but to make it work, your culture has to embrace a spirit of collaboration and not be tied to individuals “owning” things. If that cultural hurdle can be overcome, the results and efficiencies gained from social tools can be pretty dramatic. Say someone in one of your departments puts together a one-sheet that he wants to send to his clients, and recognizes it could also be beneficial to other folks in the firm to replicate and share with their clients, but he doesn’t want to email the whole firm. An internal social tool gives him have a good place to share the document and notify others who subscribe to him or his workgroup that he created it, so no one has to reinvent the wheel or go digging in a massive fileshare. And the internal social feed is searchable and available on a mobile device, so coworkers can find the document and email it to a client while on the go. What’s also nice about social tools is they put the conversation in line with the client or opportunity data so your brain doesn’t have to think about where things go or where they are. We all know inboxes are cluttered and overwhelming, so you want to dismiss as much as possible and you delete emails just to filter out the noise. With the social conversation in the context of a client or pursuit via a social tool, things feel more manageable and contextual.

Another argument for social tools is that email is a bad way to do versioning since updates pass each other like ships in the night. Social tools make updates and edits into a trackable conversation, sometimes in real-time. And finally, if you need help, Outlook is a bad survey/helpline tool, while internal social tools boost your SOS signal to an active subscriber army of your coworkers, who can point you in the right direction and whose answers slowly build an ad-hoc internal knowledgebase, which leads to better, faster outcomes. 

From an external social perspective, you can open up these social tools to clients so they have limited access to reading and posting on specific topics (like a project), while still maintaining security fences around them. Also, there is some inherent security in the nature of the social medium that can save you from embarrassing yourself with a client, like the fact that you can’t forward posts and it’s pretty hard to accidentally reply-all. Using social tools with clients also feels like a conversation, so it’s less formal and can be great for collaboration in a more idea-driven or brainstorm-like environment. These tools also have updated UIs that make them more engaging than email and input your conversations with clients in the context of the project or your relationship with them since they often live on your client portal, and context is something email doesn’t really do. Simply having a client portal and collaborative social tools can really help distinguish your firm from others, and highlight a uniquely efficient way clients can work with you. The final thing to note about internal and external social conversations is that the data is easily and automatically archived on the Client record, which historicizes client interactions in a central system. This is not always the case with emails.

5. Proposal Generation:

For some professional services firms, proposals can be hundreds of pages long and include things like resumes, project references, and boilerplate text like leadership bios and company history. CRM has lightweight functionality around this natively, and is a solid repository for the data you’d use to create documents from the centralized information within it. However, in order to really create full on proposals, some integrations really should be built into tools like Word or InDesign. Ideally, these would leverage predefined templates for efficiency and take a step-by-step wizard approach, allowing you to also bring in documents and pictures from document management sources tied to CRM. CRM would allow you to search for relevant content for your proposal, and more generally update that content centrally in one place.

Those are just some common things professional services firms may wish to tackle in the third phase of their CRM implementation. There are plenty of others we’d be happy to help you explore and discuss. Hopefully, this series of posts helped 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.

Three Steps to CRM Success

Topics: CRM for Professional Services