CRM Approaches Across Professional Services

March 02, 2016

CRM in professional services firms has commonly been a marketing tool focused primarily on contact and list management.  By no means am I diminishing the importance of this function, but as I've started working more outside of the industry, I've come to realize that CRM solutions can -- and should -- solve a wider range of business problems.

The professional services client lifecycle spans four phases -- outreach, acquisition, service, and growth.  In large firms, most "client relationship management" activities have focused on the outreach side -- using the systems to manage traditional marketing mailings and events.  Some professional services verticals (particularly accounting and management consulting) will often use CRM to support business development and sales functions.

It is interesting to me that the usage and focus of CRM varies so significantly between the parallel professional services verticals.  Management consulting, legal, accounting, architecture and construction, and technology consulting firms are all generally selling the time and expertise of their members, and as such the business applications of CRM should be very similar.  It is an illuminating exercise, then, to see where different professional services firms have been particularly successful with their implementations and processes. 

In the end, when you study how others are using CRM, you start to think about how to create an integrated platform to support your firm's client relationships across that entire lifecycle.  Most teams have an understanding of what the applications can do in the outreach phase, and as noted, some have dipped toes into using CRM for that sales phase.  But that leaves a lot of common questions and business problems unsolved, or solved in disparate places. 

Common Question 1: How are our clients and prospects consuming our thought leadership?  what does that tell us about them and their interests and potential for additional work?

Approach:  Many firms in this space use lead management processes, website statistics, and their CRM system to infer interests and opportunities, to ensure that distribution of articles and studies are appropriately targeted.

Common Question 2: How do our business development initiatives and programs affect the firm's bottom line?

Approach: A unified view into the connections between campaigns/initiatives, lead generation, and resulting projects or matters is critical – if you cannot compare your spend/effort and results across campaigns, it is incredibly difficult to determine what works and what does not.

Common Question 3: How much are we spending to develop and maintain our business with each client?

Approach: This one is a particular key issue for me.  Be sure that your firm's business development expense management is tightly tied to your CRM, so that analysis can be completed by client and reported with revenue.  Without close integration, you are left understanding your business development spend by partner, rather than by client or prospect.

Common Question 4:  Where is our business coming from?  which of our referral sources warrant investment?

Approach: This strikes me as straightforward, and yet in 75% of my professional services clients over the years, referral management is characterized (generously) as "not something we're doing well."  Tying CRM opportunities to intake processes can automate this process, and it is the only way you can understand which people and which companies are sending you business, and the value of that business.

Common Question 5: How do our clients access information about their projects and matters?  Wouldn't part of "managing the client relationship" include giving them the same up-to-date information they get from any of their other advisors?  Shouldn't this be self-service?

Approach:  To be clear, this one is less common within professional services firms, but not for any particular reason beyond an understanding of the capabilities of the leading CRM systems.  Client portals are built in functionality for many of these, and provide options for real time collaboration and status updates with all of the security and access controls that are necessary.

Common Question 6:  When I add a new attorney to a client's project, where should she go to get up to speed on the project to date?  why is this so hard?  (Firms know, from their client interviews, that even the most satisfied of clients will reference this on the "areas to improve" list.)

Approach:  This is similar to the previous answer – use your system's collaboration tools to manage your projects and matters, so that both clients and new internal personnel can get caught up.

Common Question 7: How can I better understand and anticipate client attrition risk?

A: Understand trends across your clients, their personnel, and your relationships using content automation within your CRM system, and use this to identify risks and gaps that can be mitigated before a client moves on to another advisor.

If you are implementing a system for client relationship management, implement a system that facilitates management of the “full” client relationship for your firm.  Think about tying it all together, so that when you're creating your CRM roadmap, you can see the full landscape.  More details to follow.