It’s hard to believe that CRM technology in a professional services environment has been around for the best part of 2 decades. What is probably less difficult to believe is that most firms have not advanced beyond the use of that technology to manage basic contact information and marketing events.

Now that we have recovered from the recession there is a greater need than ever to generate a return on investment from critical systems. CRM projects increasingly include partners, which was definitely not the case 5 years ago. The other key change is that “sales” is no longer a dirty word in most firms.   Partners want the CRM system to generate revenue.

The reality is that the world has changed since 2008, and not just because of the recession. Firms have realised that business doesn’t walk in through the door. They are finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves from their competitors. But probably most significant of all is that partners are realising that technology can help them manage their network.   Most professionals, in any industry, have an “inner circle” of key contacts and referrers, representing anywhere from 50-90% of all the work that they will ever win or that is referred to them.   Professionals are now starting to think about the real value of adding more members to that inner circle and nurturing its existing members. They realise how valuable technology can be to support that process.

The other development is that professionals are starting to understand the value of hunting in packs, rather than behaving like a lone wolf. There is a recognition in firms that different people are good at managing relationships at different stages of the BD Cycle.

There are those professionals who are superb at knocking down doors and closing deals, whereas equally there are those that are much stronger at nurturing the relationships with loyal existing clients and identifying cross-selling opportunities.

Traditionally where professionals have taken a very “sole-practitioner” approach, the success of the practice depended on the business development skill set of the key partners, but by sharing contacts within and across practices and by recognising that firms need a combination of rainmakers, deal closers and relationship managers, there is a real possibility that firms can cover all stages of the BD Cycle.

Putting this in to practice is challenging. There are still too many BD Managers who see using CRM as an administrative task which can be delegated to secretaries or the “data team”, but gradually the professionals are understanding the need to share contacts and download their actions when they get back from a client meeting.

As with all things in life, most people are not going to provide inputs unless they are clear on what the outputs are going to be, so a critical part of success has to focus on providing professionals with valuable and actionable reports.   The other critical success factor has to be in working with senior professionals with a positive attitude towards BD rather than trying to win over the sceptics.

In my experience the following works well.

  1. Identify a practice (s) that already have a reasonably good culture of sharing information and of meeting to discuss business development
  2. Identify a report (s) that they currently produce that drives these conversations, preferably one that takes a reasonable amount of effort to create manually, and identify how you could replicate that report in the CRM system
  3. Focus on understanding what the key inputs and outputs are at each stage of the BD cycle and most importantly what moves a client or prospective client from one stage to the next e.g. when there is an activity, or a meeting or a proposal. The reason that this is so important is that by understanding the triggers and processes, you may be able to automate the process of moving clients from one stage to the next.
  4. Work with the secretaries initially to help with the capture of the basic data and in managing the professionals. Introduce a “score-card” of 5 basic pieces of information that are needed to segment clients and then measure the completeness of this data to drive behaviour.
  5. Don’t underestimate the importance of providing reminders, but don’t overwhelm users with emails otherwise it will just become noise and they will start to ignore them.
  6. Ensure that all of this is presented in terms of CRM technology supporting their existing plans and processes. You are much more likely to succeed with a practice group that already has a BD initiative or process e.g. Client Care or Account Planning. Trying to create something from scratch will be much harder to do.

You will not change the world over night so celebrate small victories and publicise them. Getting people to use CRM is the greatest sales job you will ever have, so you need to take success where you find it.

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