In the last blog I started to talk about the fact that those of working on CRM systems really had to start raising our heads above the parapet and finding out what was going on in the rest of the firm.  In today’s blog I’m going to explore in a little more depth one of the challenges that you might find when you do that – dealing with firm mergers.

There have been a number of significant firm mergers recently:

  • Norton Rose and Ogilvy Renault;
  • Denton Wilde Sapte and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal;
  • Squire Sanders & Hammonds
  • Beechcroft and Davies Arnold Cooper
  • McGrigors and Pinsents

This has made us think whether this is likely to be the start of a trend or a “flash in the pan” aimed at satisfying these firms’ expansionist ambitions, or simply a reaction to more depressed economic growth .

My feeling is that it’s a combination of all of these, but whatever the reason managing the CRM system (s) for firms going through a merger is a complex task.

Whilst mergers offer a great opportunity to expand into new markets and territories, there are huge systemic, cultural and process issues to overcome, not to mention the impact that “new owners” might have on client relationships.

Professional services firms of every type thrive on a combination of local client knowledge and cross practice/ market referrals.  So we need to understand what impact merging with a global firm might have on the national firm.

Consider these questions:

  • Will international professional services firms still refer work to the national arm of one of its major global competitors, as opposed to an independent local market specialist?
  • Will all clients see this is a wonderful opportunity to expand the relationship with their professional advisor in to new jurisdictions, or see it as further evidence of the relentless wave of global corporatisation?

Research in to client retention has repeatedly shown that firms keep their clients because they are able to narrow the gap between their clients’ expectations and what they deliver.

So firms should evaluate how well aligned their CRM and Client Listening programmes are.  It is absolutely essential for the firm to fully understand the impact that mergers have on your clients, and most importantly what they think about it.

Growing internationally needs to be an opportunity for clients, so we need to be careful not to make our clients the victims of our success.  To that end getting the CRM strategy right should be at the forefront of our minds when a merger is first announced, not a last minute panic!

Of course there are other forms of combination which make the challenges for those responsible for the firm’s systems and processes.  The Swiss Verien model places restrictions on the sharing of client information which can make working out a strategy for how to conduct CRM for the combined firm even more complicated.

So we shouldn’t underestimate the challenges arising from the merger of firms in terms of bringing together different systems and processes.  Having worked on the merger of CRM systems for a number of international clients, these challenges are something I understand well.

The devil is in the detail.  As well as considering the fundamental issues such as:

  • Where is the system going to be located?
  • What are the data protection implications in allowing non EU users access to our data?
  • Which marketing lists will need to be reviewed and rationalised?
  • What is the process for sending out “joint” campaigns?
  • Will the firm need to revisit its definitions for its key audiences?

The firm will need to consider the wider business development implications around client relationships. Times of change should mean that we rely on core client relationship principles more rather than less.  When it comes to the merging of CRM systems it is a question of being really clear what it is you’re trying to achieve and keeping it simple.

In my experience firms need to tackle first of all the question of harmonising disparate marketing operations, so that client communications can be consistent and then the longer term goal is to undertake a review  of global key client and industry sector programmes but these latter objectives cannot come until a firm’s staff and processes are aligned.

In the 3rd and final blog in this particular series, I’m going to ask you to consider if you’re ready for the challenges that lie ahead when it comes to the changes that we face in delivering successful CRM to professional services firms.