In this, the first of a series of blogs, we’re going to explore relationship management in professional services firms. Although it’s a complex issue, quite honestly relationship management is less about human nature and more about animal instinct!

 One of the key challenges to getting any CRM system to work effectively is encouraging your professional users to share their contacts. After all this is the key benefit that was used to sell the system in the first place, the ability to see who knows who and understand what activity is taking place across the firm with shared business contacts.

The reality, however, seems to be somewhat different. In the work that we have done analysing the use of CRM systems in professional services firms we’ve found that there are huge variations in a number of key areas:

  • The way in which people use Outlook contacts
  • The way in which they share their contacts (or don’t share their contacts)
  • The volume of contacts with whom they have relationships

It seems that whilst project teams deploying CRM have tried to create best practice and to a certain extent a “one size fits all” approach to how to manage contacts, the reality is that everyone manages their contacts and relationships differently and a “standard” approach doesn’t work.

We’ve identified a number of different groups amongst the professional users categorised by the way in which they manage their contacts, which we’re going to describe throughout this series.

“The Magpie”

The magpie is a hoarder. They hold on to every business card, every conference delegate list, in fact every contact that they have ever met. They are identified by the sheer volume of contacts that they have in Outlook, often in the thousands. I’ve seen some users who have over 10,000 contacts in their Outlook.

They generally are fairly open when it comes to sharing their contacts and don’t seem to have an issue about accepting changes made by colleagues to shared contacts, although this latter point is probably driven by the fact that the volume of contacts that they have means that they can’t possibly manage the information on more than about 10% of them.

For this group being able to produce easy report lists is critical so that they can quickly and easily see their contacts. Also running reports to determine the accuracy of the information and also levels of activity will be useful so that on a regular basis, contacts that have moved on or who are not responding to communications can be removed or archived.

“The Lion”

The Lion has one view of contact management and that is “eat what you kill”. Contacts are valuable when they represent a potential source of business but the contact belongs to the lion until the lion sees no further value in that relationship. Typically they won’t have a large number of contacts, only those that represent a genuine opportunity to bring in more work.

The lion doesn’t generally have an issue with sharing contacts, although some are definitely on the cusp between the lion and the secret squirrel (of which more later) and prefer not to share. However sharing is not so much an issue as the lion is typically a major business winner for the firm and therefore often their contacts are not known by lots of other colleagues. The lion does not like changes to be made to their contact data as it belongs to them.

The main issue with the lion, is that the reason they don’t feel strongly one way or the other about sharing, is that they don’t really care about CRM. They’ve waited long enough for someone to demonstrate that the CRM system would improve their business development and not been convinced. Therefore the chances are the lion is not really participating and will show very low levels of activity. That doesn’t mean that they’re not doing business development, it just means that they don’t bother to record it on CRM, as they see no compelling reason to do so.

With the lion, real effort has to be put in to quality reporting, specifically in identifying cross selling opportunities. The lion is likely to be a heavy user of Linked In and so finding ways to integrate their Linked In data with CRM is critical. I don’t just mean switching on the feed, I mean BD people spending time with the Lion, identifying their second degree connnections and helping them build bridges and paths to new business. Depending on the markets in which they operate, 3rd party tools like Boardex and Relationship Science could be worth exploring.

“The Secret Squirrel”

In many respects the secret squirrel is very much like the lion when you first look at their profile on CRM. Very few contacts, very few activities. But the motivation behind this behaviour is completely different. Unlike the lion, who is not motivated to use CRM because there is no benefit in doing so, the Secret Squirrel deliberately conceals their business contacts for fear of colleagues messing them up or stealing their relationships for their own benefit.

The secret squirrel believes that no-one else knows the contacts with whom they have relationships and therefore are often surprised when their contacts end up being invited to events or having meetings with colleagues. They like to work on spreadsheets and particularly like printed reports.

The key to convincing the secret squirrel to participate is in being able to illustrate to them the benefits of sharing information. To help them to understand the depth of relationships that may exist across the firm with their contacts. It’s also important to make them understand that keeping their contacts separate from the CRM system in order to prevent others doing anything with them, is more than likely to have the completely opposite effect. Colleagues almost certainly have relationships with their contacts already shared on CRM, the only thing that doesn’t exist on CRM is the squirrel’s preference for how their contacts should be communicated with (or not).

Watch out for the next in our series of the Relationship Ranch, coming soon.