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Diving Into CRM


Have you ever heard the saying that you have to walk before you can run? It’s usually being spouted off by one of those really annoying self-important know-it-alls with all of their clever little sayings. You know, the ones who are usually all talk. Anyway, I’ve heard them say this about CRM too, but I disagree. Instead, I would say that CRM rollout is more like a triathlon: you have to swim before you can run (ok, a triathlon without the biking – and after swimming and running, most of us would be too tired to care about the biking anyway).

OK, I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck all that means. It means that different firms approach CRM rollout in different ways. Some firms dive right in head-first with both feet. Of course, those firms often later need someone to toss them a life preserver. Some even require resuscitation, which is what some people call it when they attempt to roll out a CRM system for the third time.

Other firms commit to only a toe. They walk up to the pool with their water wings on and do as little as possible for fear of drowning. Years later, you can often still find them by the side of the pool watching all the cool kids splashing around and wishing they had the courage to go in. If they could only conquer that fear, they might have a great experience and may even learn new things.

Getting in the CRM Pool

It doesn’t matter how you end up getting into the CRM pool. Whether you step, walk, jump, dive or even belly-flop into the water, once you are there it’s sink or swim. Soon after you’ve taken the CRM plunge, it suddenly becomes very important to find a way to stay afloat. Once you have made the CRM investment, you’re committed, for a lot of reasons. (By the way, if you haven’t done any of the following things yet, you need to – right away.)
  • You’ve spent a lot of time, money and, often, credibility.
  • You’ve convinced the firm of the importance of purchasing a system.
  • You’ve juggled budgets to get the money for the necessary software, hardware and staff.
  • You’ve entered into a multi-year ongoing relationship with a CRM provider.
  • You’ve partnered with IT to utilize some of their resources.
  • You’ve hired an internal or outsourced data steward.
  • You’ve had your data quality evaluated to figure out how much it will cost and how long it will take to clean up.
  • You’ve put communication and training plans and incentives in place.
  • You’ve committed to the change management that will be necessary to successfully roll the system.

Wow, have you gone off the deep end?

That Sinking CRM Feeling

After you realize how much you have sunk into a CRM project – the time, money and, especially, credibility – it’s easy to start getting nervous. You dove right in and purchased the system, you started off with a smooth stroke on the installation, you had made several laps toward getting users installed, and then, something unexpected happened.

Maybe the attorneys didn’t show up for training. Perhaps secretaries planned a revolt after realizing that a lot of the work was going to be on them. The IT department got caught up in their other projects and fell behind on the installations. The CRM data stewards bailed when they discovered that merging tens of thousands of duplicates for hours each day just wasn’t as glamorous as they thought. Whatever may have happened, you are starting to feel like you are all alone in the CRM pool – and you begin to realize that you may be in over your head. Suddenly you get that sinking feeling…

The Deep End

It’s a scary feeling: realizing you have – perhaps inadvertently – ventured out of the safety of the shallow end of the CRM pool. Suddenly you start to realize you can no longer feel the solid bottom under your feet. Now is the time you really will sink or swim. Not to worry. Every seasoned swimmer, at some time or another, has been where you are – in the deep end. And many of them ended up as better swimmers because of it.

Sure, plenty of firms are perfectly content to splash around in the shallow end of the CRM pool. They purchase systems to help solve problems with mailings and events. Even though you should never underestimate the challenges associated with Client communications in a law firm, this is really just putting a toe in the water. Others want to utilize CRM’s “who-knows-who” functionality to enhance business development efforts. Again, this is beneficial and can certainly justify the purchase of a system, but it’s still basically dog-paddling. To really get to the next level of CRM success, you have to take some risks – and that requires going ‘deep.’

Deep means utilizing the CRM system strategically. For instance, CRM can be used to support Client teams by tracking associated activities and scheduling follow-up reminders. Industry information can be imported to better segment Clients and prospects. The system can be tied to time and billing to share financial information so the attorneys can make informed decisions and profile top Clients or even those that may be at risk of defection. The system can be utilized to enhance Client service by sharing information gathered from Client surveys. You can even invest in integrating outside data sources to populate company contact records with key business and financial information.

Like the first time you venture into the deep end, all of these things can have the unfortunate potential to cause a little uneasiness. They frequently involve significant investments of time, money and staff and can sometimes even have political repercussions. But they also have the potential to help your firm become a stronger CRM swimmer, and as a result, enhance business and improve profitability. So once you are in the deep end, you may find that it can actually be a great place, assuming you are prepared to take the plunge and start swimming.

The Lifesaver

You thought you were ready, so you took the plunge and dove right into the CRM pool. You had a plan, prepared adequately, worked hard, committed resources, staffed up and seemed to be paddling along smoothly. You headed directly for the deep end because you thought that was where you would best be able to provide real value to your firm. But at some point along the way, you started to get a CRM cramp and suddenly you realized you could be in real trouble. You got a little scared and weren’t sure what to do.

First, relax. Whatever you do, don’t start struggling or flailing as that will only make things worse and wear you out. Plenty of marketing and CRM professionals before you have done this and ended up drowning in the CRM pool. Maybe that’s one reason why their average tenure can sometimes be less than 18 months.

You can also take a deep breath and try to float for a while, assuming that if you don’t stir the CRM waters, you won’t cause any more ripples – and maybe the whirlpool will finally calm. While I know it can be tempting to take the easy way out when you run into CRM issues and just let the current carry you back into the basics, you will likely lose control of where you end up. Ultimately, if you float too long you are likely to end up just treading water or worse, circling the drain.

So don’t give up. Instead, you may find that if you just signal for help, someone will often throw you a lifesaver. Call up your peers, colleagues or your CRM provider for support and ideas. Reach out to industry associations like the Legal Marketing Association where there are articles, white papers and presentations on CRM success. Join a LinkedIn user group for law firm CRM systems. Several top CRM providers including ContactEase, CRM4Legal and InterAction have these types of groups where you can post questions and learn from other members. Subscribe to blogs like this one that focus on CRM best practices. Finally, don’t forget that you can always contact a CRM consultant. We’re always happy to throw you some helpful information, ideas or other ‘flotation devices.’

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