The $64,000 question – What’s the best CRM?

Anyone responsible for driving business within professional services has three things on their mind:

  • How do we ensure our clients understand the full range of services we can provide?
  • What can we do to ensure greater collaboration?
  • Are we able to ensure that clients are seen as clients ‘of the firm’?
When we discuss business improvement with our clients the focus unsurprisingly turns to the many ways that can be used to increase fees and to maximise the efforts by fee earning staff of business development work. The next question is do we need to either change our CRM system, or to buy one if we are all using excel?

Which brings us to the $64,000 question:  Buy, or custom make your CRM?

After 25 years working with professional services I can now offer you the answer to this holy grail of all questions.

It. Does. Not. Matter.

This being the case, we can save you tens of thousands of pounds of programmers time in customising what will turn out to be a colossal waste of money. Just send a cheque in the post!

Usage is what matters. It trumps 90% of every feature a company will try and sell you.

We worked with a large pharmaceutical firm who spent £22 million in creating the most accurate, detailed, comprehensive CRM system, that could be adapted for every market globally, and every level within the organisation, and every therapy area. While the CRM system provided any user with absolutely the right information and access, it was so complicated that the uptake was negligible. A colossal waste of shareholders money.

A couple of years ago we were speaking at the annual partners conference for a top-10 accounting firm and the question was raised about “whether they should change their CRM system, as uptake was so poor?” They were using Lexis InterAction. A system used by something like 30% of the top 100 law firms in the country.

Trust me when I say: The problem is not the system. The problem is the uptake.

How do we encourage use?

This is your real challenge. Because most firms will ask their senior associates and senior managers to begin developing relationships with introducers and prospects, so that they become clients of the firm. But after two years of building such relationships, sometimes very personal relationships with clients becoming friends, the clients are seen as personal.

So part of the secret, that becomes the focus of any rollout in which we are engaged, is to create that sense of need, that sense of value with junior staff. Because when you get uptake at the manager/associate level for using the CRM as a matter of course, then by the time they are partners it’s second nature.

This all relates to culture and whenever we are involved in these assignments it is fundamental that the stakeholder network is broadened out from simply the IT and marketing team. IT are there to prevent implementation of anything that is incompatible, and marketing are often there to ensure a new system integrates with any existing database used for campaigns.

Neither of which have anything to do with client relationships.

The most important people to engage, when you are considering using or changing a CRM system, is the managers, partners and senior associates. They are the users and therefore the most important people to engage in these conversations. It always surprises me when we spend much of our time educating firms that there is an overarching need to change the culture to one of collaboration and client proximity, in order for a CRM system to be used effectively.

Can we make CRM systems work?

We worked with one top 30 law firm who categorise their services into eight service lines and they were able to review the system and say with confidence that 40% of their clients used five service lines.

Let’s just think about that for a minute as it demonsrates excellent market penetration across your client base and contrast that to one top-10 accounting practice, who identified that if they were just able to achieve the national average tax advisory rate for their clients, would achieve their annual growth overnight. Achieving penetration of five service lines across half your client base speaks volumes about the quality of service they believe they receive.

Backhanded compliment

Working with a client recently they said they were embarrassed when one of their clients said to them “I’m so pleased you were able to help with this specific issue, we struggled with this for years…”. Awkward that it had taken the client partner so long to have that conversation and explain that they have an department focused on providing those solutions.

But there are so many to choose from… where do we start?

It is worth looking at some different options and obviously we would be delighted to help support you in this but, our recommendation is to first engage with your stakeholders and get them to create a top 10 list of their requirements. Identify what it MUST do, and then what you would like it to do. By the time that list has been reviewed it can be shown to those outside the working party to see if they have any other views.

This also serves a very useful purpose, one of engagement. By the time you choose the system every user will have had the opportunity to identify the way that we use it and what they need from it. Now you can go out to the market and see which of the systems might fit the bill:

MS Dynamics – An easy add-on if you are running a Microsoft platform. It may not be perfect… But the trade-off is that it will look and feel almost exactly the same as the other Microsoft applications. Remember it’s not about the system it’s about the uptake. Anything to facilitate easy uptake is a good idea

Canndi – Not a system that you would’ve probably come across before, but nonetheless can be used very effectively by some firms. It’s modern, more sexy, more intuitive and a load more fun than an enterprise system you may build. Probably not for the larger firm but worth a peek if you are a small or medium size business

HubSpot – I would hold my hands up and say we have been using HubSpot for three years and we’re not on commission but really rate this as a tool plus they have a supportive network of people behind them. We recommend the system to individuals who are frustrated when they don’t want to use a spreadsheet and realise that the CRM is the best option but do not have access to anything from their firm. A single user can integrate this with Outlook and your emails can therefore be copied into the system so you have a record of all your contacts.

The usual suspects:-

  • Lexis InterAction
  • Peppermint
  • Elite
  • Aderant
  • Sugar

One last thing

Did I mention it doesn’t matter which one you go for? Because it is all about the uptake.

Think carefully about how you are going to rollout the training for using the CRM. Because when it comes to  training, is not about how to use the CRM. There is a video for that, it’s about WHY you need to use the CRM.

You need to create a compelling why, so that every manager, associate, senior associate and partner understands the benefits for the client, themselves, the firm and their own financials if they’re using a CRM collaboratively. They need to feel like they will be missing out and at a disadvantage if they don’t use it.

Good luck and if you want to review your system and its use more effectively then please do get in touch: hello@thegrogroup.com

Talk it through on: 0333 7722 061 it might just save you some time and money. And pain!