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Moving Beyond Technology: CRM As A Strategy


The rapid pace of technology development can be dizzying. In the professional services arena, technology is accelerating change in every department and practice and affects almost all roles and responsibilities. In particular, marketing and business development professionals today are being tasked with implementing and understanding an increasingly wide array of technologies including CRM and ERM, digital marketing and event management tools, websites and blogs, proposal and experience systems and sales pipelines and other related and integrated systems.

A New View of CRM

CRM or Client Relationship Management is often at the center of the technology landscape. This is not only because CRM has been a core technology for decades but also because CRM, as a concept and a system, has a vital, central role for all professional services firms. As a result, as the landscape has changed, it’s also time for our thinking to change. In the past, CRM might have been thought about as a single, and often one-dimensional, technology tool. However, in our increasingly client- and technology-driven market, we need to start thinking more broadly and consider CRM as a solution that may encompass multiple tools and technologies. We should stop thinking of CRM as a technology and instead start thinking of it as a strategy.

Understanding Needs and Requirements

Embracing CRM as a strategy starts with a keen understanding of firm and professional needs. This is accomplished through meetings with key stakeholders whose input and participation will be critical to success. Rather than a conversation about specific technology, the focus should be on topics that are critical to firm success and pressing concerns for professionals and other system users such as:

  • Solving problems
  • Automating processes and increasing efficiency
  • Identifying and enhancing relationships
  • Improving communication, coordination and client service
  • Identifying opportunities and enhancing business development

System(s) Selection

Once your key goals and needs have been identified, matching the organization’s most important requirements to a specific technology becomes a much simpler and more manageable proposition. CRM and related systems boast a lengthy list of capabilities, most of which could be useful for almost all organizations. However, it’s important to remember that while a CRM can do a thousand things, initially it should probably only do two or three, and those will vary by firm, and sometimes even for groups or individuals. This means that gaining consensus on goals will be an essential element of your strategy.

Don’t Let Software Dictate Strategy

A standard part of the technology selection process often involves sitting through demonstrations of myriad features and functions of various systems. It’s easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles during these presentations and lose sight of your goals. This is why it’s imperative to create a demonstration ‘roadmap’ that tracks to organizational needs and guides presenters to focus on only the requirements and core goals that you have identified. It’s also helpful to create a related scorecard to ensure an objective assessment of software options because after multiple demonstrations, it can be dizzying to remember the unique attributes of each. By applying structure and methodology to the CRM selection process, you can ensure that your strategy is driving the software decision and not vice versa.

Benefits of a Successful CRM Strategy

A successfully implemented CRM strategy, supported by the right technology tools, can provide significant value to individuals and ultimately enhance firm growth and revenue. It can create efficiencies for marketing and administrative teams, streamlining previously labor-intensive processes. It can provide business developers and other professionals with valuable insights and information to help them identify and target the best opportunities. It can help practice, industry and client teams to identify opportunities and relationships and better manage their strategic objectives. It can help track return on investments related to events, sponsorships and contributions, allowing more objective assessment of the value of business development and marketing activities.

To Integrate or Not to Integrate…

Often, integrating key marketing and business development technology can increase system value exponentially, creating a powerful engine needed to drive firm growth. However, integrations can be costly in terms of money and time, so performing a cost-benefit assessment for each integration is extremely important. Here are some benefits to consider:

  • CRM systems can be integrated with
    • Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM) Systems to identify relationship connections and strength, create contacts from the signature blocks of emails and improve the efficiency of data stewarding.
    • Email Marketing / Marketing Automation Systems to quickly and easily generate lists, distribute communications, track related activities, capture subscriptions and facilitate the flow of information and analytics related to campaigns
    • Event Management Technology to quickly and easily generate lists, collect RSVPs, create related activities and improve event management processes
    • Time & Billing Systems to identify clients and top clients, relationship attorneys and revenue trends
    • Pipeline Management Tools to track opportunities and activities to improve business development success rates
    • Human Resource Systems to create CRM system users and publish and update firm directories
    • Expense Tracking software utilizing existing expense reimbursement workflows to create BD activities that would be challenging – or impossible – to capture otherwise
  • Experience Databases can be integrated with Time & Billing systems, proposal generators and websites to track the most relevant knowledge of professionals, identify opportunities by practice or industry, create more targeted pitches, more effectively respond to RFPs and publish and automatically update professional biographies.

While all of these endeavors sound valuable, before jumping into a decision about any integration, the pros and cons should be carefully weighed. The costs of an overly ambitious or aggressive integration strategy can easily outweigh the benefits, especially if the data sets in both systems are not well maintained.

Final Take-Aways

Without a solid strategy, the risk that CRM will fail to meet expectations increases dramatically and can result in a significant loss of time, money – and credibility. But following a few simple steps can greatly improve the odds of success:

  1. Involve key stakeholders and system users early and often throughout planning, system selection and implementation processes
  2. Asses critical needs and requirements before software selection
  3. Focus on needs and requirements, not bells and whistles
  4. Pay close attention to people and process issues and change management challenges
  5. Assess the costs and benefits of possible system integrations
  6. Dedicate necessary required resources including time, money and people

Finally, don’t do it alone. Peers and colleagues will often let you learn from their experiences – good and bad. Technology providers are available to answer questions about their products. Consultants can share ideas and best practices for success gathered from hundreds of similar implementations.

At CLIENTSFirst Consulting, we are always happy to help you develop a successful CRM strategy. We have spent more than a decade helping professional services firms successfully select and implement CRM systems to maximize value, adoption, and return on investment. Contact us at 404-249-9914 or

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