Let’s face it, most firms have not achieved the objectives that they identified when they implemented a CRM system.

Technology to manage client relationships have been a part of the scenery in most firms now for coming on for 20 years, but we still seem to be adopting a traditional model for managing our client relationships, at least as far as technology is concerned.

Most professionals are looking for the ability to quickly and easily find out who knows who, look up addresses and phone numbers and see recent and forthcoming activities. Great news if they can do this in Outlook, even better if they can now get it on their mobile devices (although Blackberry of course makes everything look ugly, despite the security benefits). And of course, totally wonderful if their secretary can do it all for them!

But for the money that firms spent, and continue to spend, is this “level of success” really enough? Yes, there are firms who are using CRM to manage their pipeline reporting, although this is despite not because of the reports that most of the leading systems provide. There are those that are tracking projects, jobs and matters, but these are the few, not the majority.

Marketing and Business Development are generally (although not always) bought in, but as far as the professionals go, there doesn’t seem to be anyone crying out for functionality and so most CRM champions find themselves “pushing the rope” when it comes to CRM technology to manage relationships.

But are we on the verge of a seachange in approach? It certainly feels like it. With the arrival of Oracle/Eloqua on the professional services scene, the champions of marketing automation outside our sector, are the traditional CRM vendors in the professional services space going to have to up their game? It looks like it.

Lexis Nexis are pouring all their effort in to their improved InterAction for Microsoft Outlook and their mobile device has come on leaps and bounds in the last 12 months. There also seem to be some really exciting developments in the pipeline with their rather tired looking Opportunities module, and there are developments to deliver InterAction content to websites, so for example, users browsing in LinkedIn can get pop up InterAction content. It seems that CRM might well come to the web rather than the other way around.

Thomson Reuters Business Development Premier, promises much. The cornerstone of their offering, the excellent Contact Net, has been re-engineered to harvest more than just relationships. It looks like they are gearing themselves up to respond to Oracle’s gauntlet with their Data Engine, out first look at data management automation perhaps?

Aderant are pouring their development effort into their 2013 version of CRM for Legal. The product which already offers law firms a less “Dynamics” version of Dynamics, by softening some of the sales-functionality and adding in data change management and legal workflow, should allow the firm to exploit their extensive legal market knowledge with a revamped offering.

Of course there are other products that can dramatically enhance a firm’s CRM programme. gwabbit which, as nearly 50% of the AM-Law 100 can demonstrate, can revolutionise the way firms manage their data. Of course “eyes” always need to be put on data changes to ensure the perfection that our professionals demand, but gwabbit are proving that firms can manage with far fewer eyes if their solution is implemented in harmony with CRM.

Intapp’s Integration Builder seems to be the product the professional services market was always waiting for. For those firms who have adopted a best of breed strategy for their line of business systems (or who have just gone off and bought systems in blissful isolation from any other project in the firm), there is now a product specifically designed for them to pull their information together and take firms a huge way down the road to the “single client view” of which so many dream!

So what does all this mean? I guess what I’m saying is that for the first time technology actually does exist to help us achieve our CRM objectives. However are firms still setting the bar far too low when it comes to what they’re trying to achieve?

It’s an incredibly tough market at the moment and firms seem to have one of two choices.

1. Revolutionise the way you manage and exploit client relationships.2. Die.

Doing the same things that we have always done and expecting the outcome to be different is just not good enough any more. Freud had a definition for what that was… insanity!

Firms need to engage at the most senior levels. This is not a question of having good technology to send marketing communications and run events anymore. It’s not even about being able to track the outcomes of pitches or understand what your clients think about you by integrating your client feedback with CRM.

It’s about recognising that CRM technology is at the heart of EVERYTHING a firm does. At the end of the day, why is a firm in business? To make money. It’s as simple as that. If you accept that, then the CRM system is the MOST business critical system you have, not the least.

I’m genuinely excited about the next few months and years. Conversations I’m having with some firms makes me realise that at the most senior levels in those firms there are those that really get it and are preparing to put their money where their mouths are.

The game’s afoot!