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An Apple a Day Keeps CRM Failure Away


Everyone has heard the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”.  OK, now I know some of you are wondering what the heck that has to do with CRM success.

Sometimes it is the little things you do each day that really contribute to CRM success: taking a half hour to train new users at their desks, working with an assistant on formatting a letter, attending a practice group meeting to better understand how CRM could help the attorneys achieve their business development goals, communicating small wins to the entire firm. These little things really do add up.

Here are some of the little things you can do to make CRM more successful… and something about apples.

A Bad Apple?

An Apple a Day Keeps CRM Failure AwayIn the past, you may have heard stories about CRM failure and disasters. CRM has been branded as an over-hyped, overpriced technology with poor adoption and little or no ROI. It’s a bad apple, rotten to the core. In fact, some people have even proclaimed that CRM is dead.

In reality, this is more of an apple and tree issue. It’s way too easy to blame CRM failure on the technology. In reality however, when CRM fails to meet expectations, the problem is usually not about the technology at all. It’s about the expectations.

Firms install CRM systems and suddenly expect them to solve world hunger – or at least help to feed all the hungry associates and other attorneys who need more work but have been unable or unwilling to focus on business development. End users are mesmerized by the dog and pony show and plan to implement all the bells and whistles all at once. There is no plan or strategy for success – and, as a result (shocker) no success. But it doesn’t have to be that way…

The Apple of Our Eye

The Apple of Our EyeSure, there are plenty of stories about CRM failures. But in reality, when rolled out successfully, CRM has tremendous potential. It can actually help a firm to improve communication, coordination and client service. If you think long and hard about it, I bet you’ll have little trouble coming up with a list of really important stuff we do in a law firm that doesn’t involve at least one of those things. That’s because law firms are relationship businesses and relationships take a lot of communication, coordination and service.

Here are just a few of the things CRM can help us to do:

  • We can de-duplicate our contact lists so we don’t send the same people multiple communications.
  • We can generate lists that can be segmented by key categories to ensure that we can target information to the people who can benefit from it.
  • We can alert potential clients of important changes in laws or regulations that can affect them.
  • We can coordinate client team meetings and efforts.
  • We can share information gathered from client surveys about client service preferences.

All of these things can help CRM become the apple of a firm’s eye. Then, there are even more important things that CRM can do…

The Golden Apple

Arguably, the most important thing a CRM system can help a law firm with is business development – attracting and retaining top Clients. This is the reason a lot of firmThe Golden Apples invest in CRM systems in the first place. Actually, this is the reason a lot of firms do a lot of the things they do.

The problem is that, after the fact, those same firms often complain that their CRM systems are not providing a return on their investments. The reason has less to do with the CRM technology and more to do with the fact that the system either isn’t being used properly – or at all – or that the firm hasn’t found a way to adequately measure ROI.

Here are a few measurable things that CRM systems can do to enhance the firm’s business development efforts:


  • Communications can be targeted to key clients and prospects to provide opportunities to generate business related to changes or developments in laws or regulations.
  • Invitations to events can be distributed to key prospects to provide opportunities to get face-to-face to discuss key issues and strategies for addressing them.
  • Client team meetings can be planned and scheduled to identify cross selling opportunities.
  • Information from Client surveys can be communicated to improve Client service and retention.
  • Reminders can be set to enhance follow-up after events.
  • Pipelines can be created to track business development progress with Clients and prospects.
  • Financial information can be shared to help determine who the firm’s top Clients are so that the firm can serve them better and try to grow them – and to help identify who the firm’s at risk Clients may be so that the firm can serve them better and try to retain them.

One other thing to remember when it comes to ROI on CRM investments: CRM is about people, process and technology – and when it fails to deliver ROI, it’s more often an issue caused by the people, not the technology. All the technology in the world isn’t going to get business in the door if the attorneys aren’t willing to walk out that door and go get face-to-face with Clients.

Slicing the Apple

Slicing the AppleWhen it comes to CRM success, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are, however, some almost universal ways to fail. Trying to roll out the software to everyone in the firm all at once is one good way. Trying to get lawyers to sit through point-and-click classroom training is another. Also good: trying to deploy every bell and whistle, feature and function during the initial rollout. These are some sure-fire ways to create frustration – and maybe even cause a minor mutiny among the key stakeholders. Ask any of the firms who have done these things – although they probably won’t have time to talk to you because they are in the middle of trying to roll out their system for the second or third time.

In reality, the most successful CRM implementations are achieved one small bite at a time. For instance, because CRM has so many different features, it can – and often should – be implemented differently for different groups. For one practice area, it might allow for tracking activities, for another, opportunities. One group might want to send out e-alerts while another may want to manage events. One practice might want to create an experts database while another wants to track referrals.

The great thing about CRM is that it can be many things to many users. But the most important thing is to understand that success is also defined by those users. This means you have to engage your end users early and often. But don’t expect them to tell you what they want the CRM to do. In most cases, they couldn’t… because they have no idea what it can do. Instead, you should inquire about their business needs and issues. What problems are they trying to solve? What processes are they trying to automate? What objectives do they want to achieve? It’s our job to think of all of the ways CRM can help. If we slice the apple this way, then there will be plenty of CRM success to go around.

A Second Bite at the Apple

A Second Bite at the Apple- CRM FailureIf at first you don’t succeed at CRM…  then what? Should you just give up? Throw in the proverbial technology towel? Admit defeat and go look for a job doing something easier – like maybe becoming a lion tamer or crash test dummy? No, don’t even think about it.

You should never give up because it’s never too late for CRM success. Besides, you are not alone. There are plenty of firms who have had failed CRM rollout attempts. In fact, research suggests that up to 70% of CRM systems may fail. Some law firms have even had to roll out their systems a second time… and even a third.

This is because, at its core (don’t forget our apple theme), CRM is about people, process and technology – and when it fails it’s not usually the technology that’s to blame – and it’s certainly not you. It’s the people and process issues. So to succeed with CRM, all you have to do is create processes and fix the people. How hard could that be in a law firm? (OK, stop laughing and get to work.) To do this, just stop focusing on the technology and start finding ways to solve problems and help your end users and firm to accomplish business objectives.

Don’t try to do too much or to do it too quickly though. If you try to achieve perfection, you will always be in for disappointment. Never strive for things like 100% adoption or 100% data quality. That’s just setting yourself up for failure. Instead, try to achieve small successes. Help one attorney to communicate his or her expertise to a key group of targets. Help one practice group improve their success on pitches. Help one client team with cross selling. And when you accomplish these things, share the successes.

The best recipe for ongoing CRM success is to get a good result, communicate it, repeat. Once you do this, you’ll find the next group of willing attorneys lined up at your office door. And then your problem will be getting enough staff and other resources to handle the demand. Frankly, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

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