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Shifting to a PowerBI World

Today's blog post was written by Keith Mescha, a Principal Architect at Sonoma Partners.

Power B-What?

There's been a bit of buzz recently in the CRM circles around Power BI and how it fits into the overall CRM landscape. There is certainly no shortage of blogs, podcasts and event demos showcasing the power of this toolset. On a personal note, I'm am seeing the same level of interest based on the meetings on my calendar over the past few weeks.

What we're finding at Sonoma is that the topic of Power BI is still very confusing for most customers. In this multi-part series we hope to help demystify some of the confusion through real-life examples and suggest some best practices based on learnings from our internal use as well as implementations with our clients.

The Basics

Power BI is Microsoft's analytics and dashboard Business Intelligence (BI) suite of tools and solutions. It's made up of a few main offerings:

  • Power BI Desktop – Free development tool for building data models and dashboards
  • Power BI Service – Online PaaS offering to host and share Power BI solutions with a monthly licensing per user subscription based model
  • Power BI Embedded – Online PaaS offering for embedding Power BI solutions into applications for external consumption with a session based subscription model
  • Power BI Mobile – Free mobile app for consumption of deployed Power BI solutions on a mobile device
  • Power BI Enterprise Gateway – On Premise software used to extend on premise data to the Power BI Service

For latest and greatest features and release notes, refer to the Power BI site.

Real-Life Example

Every company I know has data quality issues or challenges to overcome. Unfortunately, we here at Sonoma are not exempt. One of the things we constantly struggle with is incomplete data and stale data. Often times, we will create a record without knowing all of the various data points we typically want to capture. If we do not go back and fill that information in once it becomes known, we are left with an incomplete and potentially inaccurate record. The genesis of the original report request was to provide a means for the data steward team to monitor newly created records.

The original ask was for a custom SSRS report that listed out all Accounts that were missing specific data across a pre-determined list of fields. This report would then be provided to our data steward team on a regular basis to ensure the data is augmented appropriately. When one of my colleagues stopped by to chat about the report, I happened to be in the middle of building a dashboard in Power BI for a customer. He was curious what I was working on, and as we talked and he explained his need, I fired up a new instance of Power BI desktop in an attempt to solve the problem.


Get Your Data

I pulled up the 'Filtered Account' view from the 'Get Data' option in Power BI. My User Account is a System Admin and the Filtered Account view resolves all the option set and lookup fields for us, so this was a quick and easy solution. When getting data for many of the source types, you have an option to Import or Direct connect. I’ll go deeper on that topic in my next post but for this solution I chose to import.


Shape Your Data

Initially Power BI pulls in all the attributes in the table, this can be a bit overwhelming so filtering down the attributes was our next step. My colleague had a list off the fields he wanted to audit and report, so I filtered down the data set to only include those attributes.


Within 15 minutes my colleague and I had a prototype dashboard built with the fields he needed, including a couple charts to use as filters. From there we iterated on a few designs, and ultimately landed on the below look and feel. End to end this entire process took a couple hours to build, including some custom columns to allow linking to our Account Forms on Dynamics and Salesforce.


Deploy Your Solution

Once we had a solid solution built in Power BI Desktop, I created a new O365 group for internal reporting, added a few users to the group and then deployed the Power BI solution to the Power BI service.

One key thing to note here is that we had to assign Power BI licenses to these users before they could login and see our dashboard. The fact that we wanted to schedule this a couple times per day and that we were managing this through our 0365 AD bumped us from the free to the paid license. We had a handful of users requiring access and plenty of licenses available so this was a decent option for us. If you have a different need there are other options, we can consider for staying on the free option.


Manage Your Solution

From there my colleague could interact with the report by logging into


After my colleague was happy with the presentation of the data and a few more cleanup steps, I was able to setup the data refresh of the data set in Power BI. We already had a Power BI Enterprise Gateway installed on our SQL Server for another solution, so including my data set in the refresh was very simple with just a few clicks.

Now that our solution was deployed, our data stewards have logged in and subscribed to the dashboards. Every morning they get an email with a snapshot of the dashboard and a link to access the dashboard where they get direct access to the records in Dynamics or Salesforce so they can easily update those with missing data.

In summary, the Power BI platform is a great set of tools that are easy to learn. There is quite a bit of information available through various internet communities, so getting started is easy. As shown here, from idea to solution was less than one day for a very simple deliverable. The toolset can extend into much larger solutions as needed, so please give us a call and let us help you take the next step in your analytics journey within your CRM applications.

In our next Power BI post, we will discuss in more detail the step of getting your data and how to decide on Data Import Vs Direct Query.

Topics: Analytics CRM Best Practices CRM for Professional Services Microsoft Dynamics 365 Salesforce

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

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.

5 Questions to Ask When Evaluating CRM Consulting Firms

Topics: CRM for Professional Services

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

Access Teams: One developer’s journey of hunting down his white whale and living to tell the tale

Today's post is written by Mike Dearing, a development principal here at Sonoma Partners.

Since the introduction of Access Teams in CRM 2013, I’ve had several opportunities to implement creative ways of leveraging this leaner form of record sharing to address our client’s more advanced security needs.  For those unfamiliar with this feature, it is a simplified and higher performing alternative to the days of sharing records to individual users with no relation to one another other than for the purposes of accessing a particular record. 

MSDN has a great write up if you want to learn more about when to use access teams versus owner teams.  Though implementing and using access teams is fairly straight forward, I recently ran into some snags when programmatically adding members to these teams that’d I’d like to share with my fellow CRM developers to hopefully save you the headache of troubleshooting these should you be as unfortunate as I once was.

The user id is invalid

What user id, you ask?  After some sleuthing, I determined it to be the team administrator being added as CRM programmatically created my access team.  If you find yourself programmatically adding members to access teams, make sure that you are not instantiating the organization service, or that a prior plugin that kicks off your code isn't instantiating your organization service, as SYSTEM. 

The initial access team creation, which happens when the first member is added to it, needs to run as an actual CRM user.  Whether or not you leave that as the current user, or if you decide to elevate to a system administrator service account, is up to you.  That user then becomes the team administrator for the access team, which CRM prevents from being SYSTEM.  You will get an error of "the user id is invalid" otherwise.

The wrong way (UserId will be SYSTEM):


The right way (ensure UserId is not SYSTEM):


Everything the light touches is our kingdom

The cascading section of this post has been updated to include a leaner cascading configuration, thanks to clarifications from Adam Vero.

If you want child records to inherit their parent record’s access team privileges, you will need to set up the behavior for the child relationship to have, at a minimum, cascade share, cascade unshare, and cascade reparent. Cascade share and unshare ensures that any child records created before your access team has its first member added will inherit the parent's access team template's rights appropriately. Cascade reparent will ensure that any records created after the access team has been added (or switches parents from a different contact to the one with the access team) will also inherit these rights. 



That’s it for now, my friends.  May your future programmatic access team implementations be merry and bright!

Facing your own CRM white whale? Contact Sonoma Partners, we’d love to help out!

Dynabacus the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Record Count Tool


Topics: CRM Best Practices CRM for Professional Services Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013

Come Clean With Your CRM Data

Two common concerns for professional services firms (accounting, management and IT consulting, AEC, and legal) surrounding CRM deployments are how to initially pull clean contacts into a CRM system and how to then keep them clean once they are there. 

This is a unique challenge professional services firms face because it's very common for firms to have duplicate contacts across multiple divisions within the same CRM system. Let's look at an accounting firm whose services includes audit, human capital, tax, and business advisory services. It's routine for a member of each of these teams to have a duplicate instance of the same contact with similar or varying information attached to the contact record. In other words, it's nearly impossible to start a project with "good" data. 



Because these duplicates exist, it makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the firm as a whole to put out consistent messaging and effectively cross-sell services to existing clients. This is especially troublesome for marketing teams who are working to prevent marketing communication going to the same contact multiple times. It doesn’t look great if four members of your team from four different divisions are reaching out to the same contact at the same time trying to sell different things. As obvious as this may seem, we see it happen all the time.

It's time for professional services firms to come clean with their CRM data to strengthen long-term relationships with their existing clients and ensure data accuracy within their CRM in the future.

We have identified the following four steps to assist professional services firms with contact migration and management: prepare, analyze, migrate, and manage.

1. Prepare

Where is your data coming from? This is where you identify the data sources where your records exist which could include Outlook, an incumbent CRM system, ERP, spreadsheets, or another homegrown data system. This is also where you divide business vs. personal information and flag contacts that should be included or excluded in CRM.

We have the ability to choose which fields from CRM will sync to the primary record and which fields will remain private. This means if you have the home phone number of Paul Brown but your colleague doesn't, that field will be hidden and remain for your eyes only.

At the end of the prepare step you will have a targeted list of uncleansed contacts that are ready to be cleansed.

2. Analyze

Time to come clean. In this step of the project your data gets cleansed based on analysis and business rules. 

Important aspects of the analyze phase of the project include:

  • Identifying who owns a contact
  • Identifying who can view a contact
  • Defining rules of engagement
  • Discussing private data needs

Normalization, data enrichment, and data security are all taken into consideration as we work towards creating a comprehensive list of cleansed contacts that are ready to be imported into CRM.

3. Migrate

Now it's time to move. We begin by segregating existing contact records in Outlook and then executing business logic on the contact data set. Then we migrate data from the staging area to CRM. We will work with you to determine the best method for migration, whether it be SSIS vs. 3rd party tool. Your output will be the same: cleansed contacts in both CRM and Outlook.

4. Manage

Once you've gone through the process of normalizing your data and importing a clean batch into CRM you want to keep it that way. It's difficult to keep data clean on an ongoing basis and if you don't, user adoption will suffer. Enter the role of data stewardship.

Designating a member of your team as the CRM data steward (this does not need to be a full-time role) and giving them the tools they need to keep the data clean will ensure that your CRM remains pristine. Regularly scheduled data cleansing activities and a commitment of a data steward resource will ensure that you have clean data going forward.



This methodology we have developed ensures that your contact data is comprehensive, clean, and continues to stay that way so your organization’s CRM remains accurate (and useful) moving forward. Properly migrating and managing your CRM contacts will allow your marketing team to access marketable data that can be used to increase customer intimacy.

Do you work at an accounting, consulting, AEC, or legal firm and feel that your CRM system could benefit from data cleansing? Contact us today to learn more about contact migration and contact management for professional services firms.

The Negative Effects of a Disjointed CRM System
Topics: CRM Best Practices CRM for Professional Services

Customer Success Story: Grant Thornton


"In our business, relationships matter." - Rick Stow

Grant Thornton LLP is one of the world's leading organizations of audit, tax and advisory firms. Although their revenue is in excess of $1.3 billion and they operate in 57 offices across the globe, Grant Thornton hasn't set out to be the biggest accounting organization in the world.

They know they compete with four larger firms, thus being the biggest doesn't differentiate them from the rest of the crowd. What does? Establishing closer relationships and personalized service that earns credibility and increases value. Enter the tool that helps Grant Thornton build and nurture personalized relationships with their clients: Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Prior to their Dynamics CRM implementation, Grant Thornton lacked visibility into their contact and account records, as well as information that spanned across multiple employees and practice areas. Maintaining various customer management solutions, including SalesLogix, proved to be a challenge that sometimes led to duplication of effort and missed opportunities.


With one consolidated system, Grant Thornton is determined for their firm to maintain a meaningful relationship with each client in their CRM. Here are 3 ways their CRM solution helps them achieve this goal:

1. Commitment to Mobility 

A majority of Grant Thornton's employees spend a majority of their time outside the office, making the mobile component of their CRM project essential to their success. Not only did a mobile solution give their team members the functionality where and when they needed it, but it helped drive widespread user adoption - the key component of a successful CRM project.  

 2. Rise of Collaboration 

Relationships are everything in professional services firms, and people are very protective of their relationships and their contact records. Grant Thornton worked to overcome this mindset in order to understand the full scope of a client relationship. To foster effective collaboration, Grant Thornton integrated SharePoint, Lync and Yammer to promote a dialogue around client and account activities.

3. Enhanced Sales Processes 

Their new CRM solution accommodates different sales processes and regional requirements, helping to achieve the "One Firm" goal they had when starting the project. As collected data enters the CRM solution, employees can pinpoint the strengths, weaknesses, and threats of an opportunity. Because this information is centrally located and visible to appropriate parties - account managers can collaboratively develop a plan for pursuing the relationship. 

We worked with Grant Thornton for 11 months to create their custom Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution. Here are some lessons learned from their deployment: 


Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Your CRM project is ongoing and can be done in phases. It's okay to go live with fewer requirements and communicate broadly as you roll out additional functionalities. 

 Reduce the scope of the project: 

Don't go down the rabbit hole of adding on endless nice-to-have features. Most of your employees don't operate at that level of detail and if they do, they don't want to maintain a system that requires that much detail. Phase out the introduction of the system to drive widespread adoption.  

Are you ready to write your own CRM success story? We’re ready to help. 

Topics: CRM for Professional Services Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

CRM for AEC Firms: Proposal Generation and Document Management

Architecture, Engineering, and Construction firms have traditionally relied on separate databases to collect data on projects, manage financial information, and handle client accounts. Navigating these disparate systems makes it difficult for internal divisions to share and access important information needed for proposal generation and document management.

Some of the common business challenges that plague our AEC clients include:

  • Trouble managing multiple data sources
  • Navigating redundant and inconsistent data
  • No single view of clients
  • Difficulties making go/no-go decisions

If you're a marketer working at an AEC firm, we know that it can be especially painful to generate proposals and manage documents. But it doesn't have to be. With a well-implemented CRM solution, AEC firms can tame the proposal and document management beast.

1. CRM can track MSAs, NDAs, and Contracts

MSAs, NDAs, and contracts need to be stored in a logical and easy-to-find place. Instead of storing them in hard-to-navigate-to folders on a shared drive or in a Sharepoint labyrinth, use CRM to store and place them right against the project record that's complete with project data. While these documents don't do much for proposal generation, it's convenient to have these documents on hand so you know what you agreed to with the customer.

2. CRM can track employee skillsets and certifications and automate updates

All of the important employee information you need like project experience, trainings, certifications, trade association memberships, pictures, and more can be stored within your CRM.  Better yet, CRM can help automate the process of updating this information with automatic notification emails that tell employees to update their resume via an easy-to-use employee portal which guides them through the process. And if an employee doesn’t update their information in a timely manner, workflow can alert a manager or HR. If you want to get really fancy, project information can be automatically appended to employee records as they are staffed on a project or as projects wrap up.

3. CRM can aid in targeting the right pursuits and proposals

We know that proposal generation is a pain point for AEC firms. Since proposals are so expensive to generate, you don't want to waste time having Marketing develop them or have the BizDev team chasing pursuits that you have a low chance of winning. An unprofitable project could be due to the type of project, the geography and the local competition, the client itself, or any combination of these things. A CRM system can help AEC firms pinpoint where they can maximize their profits and minimize low profit pursuits. 

4. CRM can simplify proposal generation

We know that marketers at AEC firms are required to dig through multiple databases and work with multiple departments to get the information they need for proposal generation. You have to pull data from other marketers, HR, project managers, clients, the company shared drive, the company document management system, the financial system, and project management systems. With a CRM system, you have a central place where you can get the information you need for a proposal, collaborate on the document, track where the proposal is in your process, and have a logical place to store it once it’s complete. You can even have templates in the system to publish all of the project, employee, and other data in a proposal-friendly format.

Proposal generation and document management doesn't have to be a beast. There is an easier way. Want to learn more about the business benefits our AEC clients have experienced with CRM? Contact us to learn more about quick and easy proposal generation and document management. 


eBook - Top 10 CRM Evaluation Criteria
Topics: CRM for Professional Services

4 Reasons to Stop Investing in a Homegrown CRM System

CRM for Professional Services
For the most part, homegrown things are great. We can get behind homegrown vegetables, flowers, and craft beer. But your homegrown CRM system? That’s another story. For professional services firms in accounting, consulting, legal and AEC, CRM systems are the lifeblood of building relationships and service dollars. And if you want to keep your staff and customers happy, maybe you should start shopping for a CRM that is enterprise-grade, instead of wasting money and manpower on a homegrown CRM system that’s sub-par. Here are 4 reasons why:

1. Homegrown CRM systems don't come with free stuff or shiny new toys 

Whether you purchase or Microsoft Dynamics CRM, by virtue of the platform alone you get access to the tools, functionality, and integrations your team needs. Whether it's reporting, mobile apps, forecasting, user authentication, or especially integrations with tools you use, need and love; incorporating these features into a homegrown CRM system (and maintaining said integrations) would come at an exorbitant cost (and still wouldn’t work as well). Name brand CRM solutions not only give you all this for free, but also constantly deliver new innovations. Both and Microsoft Dynamics CRM release regular updates 2-3 times a year, and you don't have to do a thing to reap the benefits.

With either platform you never have to build the mobile app or Outlook integration your users clamored for and you constantly get great new things like OneNote integration. A lot of professional services firm use OneNote (and who wouldn't, it's a great tool!) and for Microsoft Dynamics CRM users, no one had to ask for an integration between the two tools: Microsoft built and delivered the ability for OneNote to sync to CRM out of the box. If you wanted to integrate OneNote with your homegrown CRM, it would cost an untold amount of money (and might not even be legal). A huge benefit of buying a CRM, rather than building one, is you get access to the shiny new toys (and tried and true programs) your users will love.

2. Homegrown CRM systems aren't user-friendly

Let me say this another way: a lot of homegrown CRM systems are ugly. And clunky. And your people don't want to use tools that are ugly and clunky. So if supporting user adoption is part of your CRM initiative (which it absolutely should be) good luck getting your team to regularly use a system that is as painful to look at as it is to use. Microsoft Dynamics CRM and both have teams of UX designers for precisely this reason: CRM solutions must be visually appealing to be appealing.

3. Homegrown CRM systems are difficult to maintain

A majority of the homegrown CRMs we get a glimpse of were built 10-20 years ago, exist on-prem, and look like Microsoft Office applications from the late 90s, or worse, are green screens that only very technical people can touch. All of these factors (and trust us, there are plenty of others) contribute to the fact that homegrown CRM systems can be extremely difficult to maintain. And that's if you hold on to the employee that can maintain them.

Does this sound familiar? "Yeah, we had a guy here in the early 2000's that built our system but he left 5 years ago. No one on staff understands the system, no one can update it, and it's just sitting on our server untouched." Like we said, maintainability is a big issue for homegrown CRM systems. 

4. Homegrown CRM systems make customizations painful

Assuming you are one of the fortunate few who have been able to keep their homegrown CRM guru on staff for the past two decades and he/she knows every in and out of the system, this doesn't mean that making changes is easy to do. When it's entirely custom, your CRM expert is likely using duct tape, spit, and prayers to make the system do what you want it to do. On the other hand, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM allow you to make changes to the system with simple point-and-click, drag-and-drop configurations that require a Business Analyst skillset, not a developer coding away.

If you need someone more technical to make changes, there are plenty of developers you can hire on either platform to work in-house at your firm or as a consultant. and Microsoft Dynamics CRM also have lots of great partners (like Sonoma Partners *ahem!*) who are very well-versed on the platform, have solved similar problems to yours countless times before, and have helpful tools and tricks to make selecting, switching to, upgrading, and maintaining or Microsoft Dynamics CRM easier and more cost effective than doing so with internal resources.

Want to learn more about enterprise-grade CRM systems? We're all ears (and solutions)

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Topics: CRM for Professional Services