top of page

CRM in professional services is dead. Long live CRM

The client is king right? Now more so than ever, and everyone gets the importance of client relationships from Senior Management down so why do so many CRM initiatives end up as white elephants?

CRM (Client Relationship Management) systems have been around for over a decade now in professional services with arguably four main types of solution;

• Bespoke – in house development

• Adapted for the vertical - e.g. Microsoft Dynamics (with professional services bolt on)

• Out of the box like it or leave it – e.g.Goldmine

• Bolt on module to ERP system

The more sophisticated, bespoke solutions have evolved to reflect well the nature of the way a professional services firm does its business, with the focus on the strength of the client relationship rather than just an electronic rolodex, but are they effective? Ask a lawyer or an Accountant and you are likely to hear disparaging comments from ‘white elephant’ to ‘downright waste of money’. Ask a BD or Marketing Director and, well that’s like asking a fat, white bearded bloke who dresses up as Santa to vote for Xmas.

So if the firms get the importance of the client relationship and the software solutions, at least in functionality terms, are in the main good, why is CRM not enjoying the successful take up that you might expect?

In my view there are three main issues; the psychology of the user, the quality of the data and the complexity of the system.

It may be a sweeping generalisation to some, but the common view is that a large number of users operate with a ‘my client’ mentality, usually comprised of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘why lose control of the client relationship by sharing with the other guys’ ideals. This not so forward thinking is a real challenge and unfortunately often promoted by the traditional ways that fee-earners are measured, i.e. by income generated and/or their ‘following’, especially when the latter is used as the primary negotiating tool when moving firms.

So what’s the answer?

It’s easy to pick holes in CRM systems and strategies, and frankly not particularly helpful so in an attempt to be constructive I offer four key adoption criteria;

• Institutionalise participation

• Deliver tangible value

• Gamification

• Single Client View

Institutionalise participation

There are a number of ways firms can embed active participation in client relationships. A non-technical approach might be to allocate five clients and five prospects to every junior member of staff in the firm. They will be responsible for the ‘keep in touch’ part of the client relationship as well as constantly reviewing and inputting intelligence on the client specifically and the industry it is part of. The assigned prospects will be tracked, invited to events and marketed to appropriately. All activities will be monitored by Senior Staff, assessed at appraisal and used as part of a career development programme.

Technology can also be better used to embed participation. Any system that requires a busy fee-earner to take the time to independently launch it, add data, check data or consume data is doomed to fail. There have been some attempts by the better known systems to integrate behind the scenes with user touch points such as synchronising Outlook Contacts and diaries but these still have limited success. There is the reasonably successful ‘stick’ approach which for example might require all expense claims to be accompanied with valuable CRM information but for significant value to be realised there must also be some form of ‘carrot’. The new generation of systemised CRM needs to work intelligently behind the scenes ‘scraping’ information from day to day user activity and intelligently processing this information in a system that will then pro-actively deliver that information in context, digested to a ‘just enough’ size and at the appropriate time.

Delivering Tangible Value

The more valuable the data generated by a system, the more the system will be appreciated and therefore greater importance placed on the quality of data going in. That seems obvious but doesn’t prevent ‘bad data’ being the single most stated reason as why CRM systems fail. However, even when the data is ‘good’ if the professional user has to go get it, the system is still falling short of delivering real value.

Capturing, contextualising and delivering client intelligence are all critical to the value proposition. Every firm has processes that due to their required nature, present themselves as opportunities to capture good quality client intelligence. These processes may vary from firm to firm but typically business intake, client billing and expense capture are all processes that require fee earner input and can be taken advantage of.

The question is how many firms actually do? Perhaps an example of how this theory can be put into practice would be to capture key information such as industry and work type in compulsory fields during the Client Inception process and then on completion an email arrives in the users inbox with an easy to read digest of similar clients in similar industries, recent wins, recent pitches and who in the firm knows them. In addition a couple of boiler plate documents are attached that are relevant to the previously stated work type. Seems obvious but how many firm’s actually do this?


Gamification is essentially applying the social and behavioural aspects of game playing to a business process or function.

An interesting recent development has seen the use of behavioural science and social media to achieve a more lasting form of behaviour modification through the use of gamification. This does not mean simply adding a few gold stars onto the time recording system, rather, the desired behaviour is identified (eg record more time) and then analysis of what the barriers are to that desired behaviour. The goal is to identify the gamification techniques and elements that help professional users and staff break down those barriers and design a system that motivates participation and engagement.

So in CRM terms the following questions may form part of the behavioural analysis;

Who is adding the most contacts?

Who is adding full and relevant client information?

Who is converting their contacts into clients?

Who is generating profitable work?

Who is updating client information?

Who has recently made contact with a client?

Who has sent the client information?

When introducing gamification as part of any process, engagement is critical. The game itself must be so compelling that participants continuously opt to stay engaged. Further, you need to be sure that the rewards you provide through the game are consistent with internal policies and established organisational reward arrangements, financial or otherwise. Finally you have to ensure that the challenges are not beyond the reach of the average player or common incentives such as leader boards can end up dis-incentivising those that appear in the lower rankings.

Single Client View

Unlike traditional CRM which is typically a standalone system that may or may not integrate with other systems and almost definitely requires user participation, a well thought out SCV solution will simply be a client centric, intuitive core of a firms business system where interaction is second nature.

With a single client view, the key taxonomy for the firm becomes the client (and/or prospect), its industry and its geography. All other classifications whilst they exist are secondary to the primary view and navigation of data. Instead of going to a Document Management System to find documents relating to a matter, the lawyer selects the client from the SCV and then selects contextual matters and documents. Instead of going to a Practice Management System, financial data is again found under the client view.

Once the standard Client Data Page is designed, all other systems become irrelevant to the user as their single role in life is to feed appropriate data into the SCV. This has a secondary benefit of allowing the solution vendor to focus on the functionality and performance of the product rather than the user interface which is now irrelevant. In time, instead of constant DMS, PMS, CRM, KM upgrades and swap outs, the only change experienced by a user will be functionality which is in turn based on any changes to the way we do business, such as alternative fee modelling, knowledge management, project management etc.

In addition some intelligence should be applied to incoming data streams such as email, telephone, Twitter etc whereby with one click the Client Data Page dynamically adapts to the incoming data to provide the most appropriate view for the user. Imagine the scenario whereby an important email comes in from the GC at Barclays and with one click on the ‘SCV now’ button the entire view relates to all things Barclays having detected the in the email. In one click the lawyer has contact, relationship, financial and matter based information in a client context in one screen. News feeds and Twitter inform of recent client activity and contextualised industry news enables pro-active discussion.

The client data will have a direct link to Social Media tools such as LinkedIn whereby any updates made by the client themselves is automatically imported. This, by the way, would make huge strides towards resolving the usual data quality issues. There is no better data than that which the client provides themselves.

So is CRM dead in professional services? I would argue not, but it is not new systems we need, it is new thinking.

19 views0 comments


bottom of page