CRM Success in professional services firms – It’s all about striking the right balance.

Now that the holiday season is over and we have all over-indulged and taken much needed time away from work, we probably all need a bit of balance back in our lives. In this, the 3rd in a series of blogs on balance, I shall be exploring the need that firms have to ensure that they buy technology with which their professional users will be comfortable without completely re-inventing a wheel that other sectors are already using.

Balance

As humans we are all unique. It’s also a natural human instinct to think that we are special and different.   The approach that many firms have taken to the implementation of IT systems seems to reflect this thinking, namely that professional services firms are different from other sorts of organisations and therefore as a result they need “special” and “different” applications that can only possibly meet their unique requirements.

If an IT provider came to you and suggested that they had an email solution that was built specially for professional services firms and that you shouldn’t use Outlook, you would probably think they were mad. And yet that is exactly the approach that firms have taken to the selection of most of the line of business systems that they operate. For accounting and time recording, for document management and of course for CRM. There seems to be a view that managing relationships and running marketing and business development is so different for professional services firms that they can’t buy global standard applications.

The reality is of course that there are certainly unique aspects to the way in which professional services firms do business but there are more similarities with other sectors than there are differences.  For example computer:

  • sales people paid on commission are pretty reluctant to share their client and contact information
  • organisations selling services need to build brand reputation to differentiate themselves in the market where there are no tangible products to touch
  • organisations involved in business to business sales and marketing need to understand the multi-layered relationship structure that exists between their organisation and their clients

From a CRM perspective it’s also certainly true. Most businesses need to be able to hold information about companies, contacts, addresses, industries, sectors, practices etc. So why is it that we have felt that only a CRM system built for our industry could meet these basic needs?

The answer is that it isn’t true that only systems built for a specific sector are capable of meeting that sector’s requirements. The challenge is striking a balance between the experience and knowledge that a sector specific application can provide, taking advantage of wider best practice and just as important, not re-creating basic functionality such as the underlying system entities.

This reality is now starting to be more widely understood in the professional services market. More and more providers are working with standard applications such as Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce as the starting point for their CRM offering. That’s not to say that proprietary models such as InterAction, are not a good solution, but as the diagram below is trying to illustrate, there are advantages and risks for each approach that you might take.

With a proprietary solution you are potentially more likely to get a closer fit out of the box to your industry specific requirements. This is a good thing if you don’t want to invest in designing a lot of business processes or don’t have the resources to work out what you are trying to achieve and then build a system up from scratch to deliver it. The downside is that it limits the number of potential solution providers from which you can obtain support and as a result you are a hostage to their IT platform strategy. If they decide to develop in a particular way then you have no choice to follow irrespective of its compatibility with your other applications.

The advantage of working with a solution provider who has taken the best of another application and then enhanced it is that you are not having to re-create the basic functionality but can focus on the deployment of the industry specific needs. However this approach is not without its risks, who can predict what Salesforce or Microsoft might to do their underlying platforms and how that might impact your overall IT strategy.

Of course you might decide to buy a completely “vanilla” version of a CRM application. The reason that firms choose this route is because they decide that they don’t need all the industry specific functionality built by another 3rd party.   The risk with this approach is that you may end up paying a consultant to configure the system for you.

The critical factor in all of this is that you must be clear what it is your need your system to do. It is only when you have defined your objectives that you will be able to determine if the system you need is one that comes pre-built for your industry or if you need to build something from the ground up.

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