And why does it matter to CRM?

Increasingly firms are starting to understand that the techniques and strategies being deployed by organisations outside professional services can be readily applied within our sector.  Crowdsourcing is defined by Wikipedia as:

“the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”.

But how can this concept be applied to professional firms?

Two ideas that immediately spring to mind are the idea of cross-selling and the need for cross-fertilisation of relationships within a firm.

Whilst these are not exactly the same as crowdsourcing, as defined above, there are some similar underlying concepts that we might apply to the way in which professional services firms work.

Ultimately the goal of crowdsourcing is for organisations to widen their reach as far as possible in order to achieve a specific goal, normally funding or idea generation.  But isn’t that the same concept with cross-selling?  What firms are really trying to do is to identify within the firm those professionals who have the relevant experience, credentials and expertise to assist with an identified opportunity.  The scale on which this concept is operating may not be the same as the traditional crowdsourcing model, but the objective—to gather around a single cause, the most relevant and helpful people to address the challenge—is.

Which is why it is so incredibly important that firms address two fundamental issues in relation to the categorisation of their information.

Firstly information about the work they are doing for their clients needs to be segmented in a much more accurate and consistent way.  Secondly the taxonomy used to segment that work needs to match up to the way in which firms categorise the information about their professionals in terms of experience and expertise.

So many firms struggle with BOTH of these issues.

The problem is that Marketing & Business Development (who are the consumers of this information for the purposes of cross-selling) are not the generators of the data.  The data is owned and managed by other departments—namely HR and Finance—and is gathered for purely administrative purposes which has nothing to do with the business development and marketing process.

And there fundamentally is the problem. Data gathered as part of one process is very rarely seen as being of benefit to another.  This needs to change.

For a firm to be truly successful when it comes to identifying cross-selling opportunities and then to identify who are the best placed people to help them exploit them, based on the matching of experience to that opportunity, it has to harmonise the data it holds across the firm.

This is where CRM can come in. But CRM has to be deployed with an integrated information strategy not a silo’d approach to system implementation.

As with all things it’s always best to start small.

Ensuring that the data on your top 200 clients and your top 50 billing timekeepers is probably the best place to start.  Don’t be tempted to try and tackle a “taxonomy” project firm-wide, or you risk drowning in the sheer scale of what needs to be done to align your critical business systems.

Technology can really help here too.  Products like Integration Builder from Intapp, which were designed with the “silo’d” system deployment in mind, enable you to manage data differences and business rules in an (almost) “point and click” format.

Data is at the heart of better business decision making

However technology aside, fundamentally firms MUST recognise that data is at the heart of better business decision making and if they cannot even align the industry codes used in systems across the firm, then they have got a problem.

Successful CRM programmes are characterised by a number of critical features.  If firms don’t have all of the following in place then it’s unlikely that they will succeed.

  1. A clear statement of how tangibly the CRM system can be tied to business objectives.Saying that “the CRM system will support our key client programme” is not enough, you need to know exactly HOW it will do so.
  2. Cross functional stakeholders are members of the core project team.Business Development (BD), Marketing, Finance, Knowledge and HR must all be involved and must be the owners of their own workstreams, not just “guests at the party”.
  3. Mapped out business processes that will be used for training.How will users work with the CRM system in respect to, new client take-on, expense management, account planning?  All of these need to be mapped out in detail.
  4. A realistic roadmap with achievable deliverablesand measures broken up into phases no longer than 6 months in duration.

As the techniques and strategies for CRM from outside professional services start to influence the approach that firms are taking, there is a huge opportunity to re-launch failed CRM programmes.  The challenge that firms will face is that professionals might take an “I’ve seen this all before” attitude, which is why it’s so important that clear and tangible goals, that are supported across the firm, are at the heart of the project.

Stanton Allen have worked with many firms on the reinvigoration and integration of CRM systems. We understand the factors that cause implementations to fail, and we have the resources to help you succeed. Let’s talk.