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CRM Success Steps and Strategies: Part 1 – Laying the Foundation


Yes, you read that title right. The words CRM and success were just used together. That’s because whether you are rolling out a new CRM system for the first time at your firm or are trying to enhance adoption of an existing system, success is possible!

But that doesn’t mean CRM success is simple. You can’t just install the system and expect clients to line up at the office door with bags of money. In fact, compared to other technology implementations, CRM can actually require extra effort because (ideally) the lawyers actually use the system. Also, even though the ultimate goal of CRM is to make things easier, some initial work is required. All this makes having a strategy even more important. On the road to developing your strategy, it can be helpful to follow a few steps that have helped other firms achieve CRM success.

Analyze Needs and Set Expectations

Research tells us that, too often, CRM implementations fail to meet expectations. What they don’t often tell us is that too often this is because those expectations were wrong. Before buying CRM (or any other) technology, make sure to set proper expectations for success. The best way to do this is with a CRM success assessment. Take the time up front to interview key stakeholders and get their input about how the CRM could help them. These should not be conversations about features and functions. This should be a dialogue that explores ways in which the technology may be able to help the firm and individual lawyers with things they care about like solving problems, improving processes, reducing costs, and developing business.

Involve Key Stakeholders

CRM is often more about people and process than technology, so success starts with your users. Involve them early and often. Special attention should be paid to the assistants, because often they are expected to do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of contact entry and maintenance. If you want their participation, make them feel like part of the process. To get the lawyers to buy in, find ways to make their lives easier. Additionally, CRM won’t succeed without another key group: firm leadership. Their conspicuous, consistent support is required to prevent CRM from being perceived as optional when the real goal is to make CRM usage habitual.

Vet Systems and Vendors

Only once you have clearly articulated needs and agreed upon goals, you can begin identifying potential systems to address them. Properly deployed and supported, CRM systems are invaluable because they can do so many things. Even the most basic implementation can provide a centralized repository of clean and complete contacts that can be easily updated firm-wide. They can also assist with core marketing activities such as e-mail campaigns, event management, relationship intelligence, activity tracking, and categorization and segmentation of key contacts.

The real challenge is that CRM should probably only do a few things initially, and those things are often different for each firm, office, practice, or even individual lawyer. This means CRM selection must be strategic. During CRM demonstrations, don’t be sidetracked by bells and whistles. Instead, to prevent losing focus, it can be helpful to create a road map in advance of demos to thoroughly assess the relevant functionality. Have the providers dig into the features you really need.

Be sure to also spend time on critical details, including privacy and security, how data changes are handled, and how the system is hosted. While many corporations have embraced the reality that external hosting may actually be the most secure, at law firms allowing sensitive client data to float beyond the firm’s firewall into the cloud requires significant discussions.

Once you have narrowed the potential products, it is absolutely essential to check references for providers. The ideal relationship with a CRM provider will be ongoing and, as with any long-term commitment, it’s important to know what you are getting into. Find out how many implementations the company has and how successful they are. Ask about their experience in working with law firms; their training and implementation resources; their documentation, processes, and best practices and; most importantly, their dedication to customer service.

When following up with references, prepare questions in advance. Here are a few reference checking questions that may be helpful. Also, be sure to reach out to other legal marketers for more candid opinions. I still remember a reference checking call where a marketer broke down in tears over a failed two-year implementation. No one wants to end up in that situation. Ask the right questions to make a smart selection.

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