The topic of CRM (customer/client relationship management) has become a popular topic at accounting firms. In the past few months, I’ve had the same conversation with several middle-market accounting firms regarding CRM. Bottom line, each firm wants to know: “Do I need CRM?”
The short answer to the question is, “Yes, you need CRM.”
Let me explain. CRM is made up of two distinct components: process and software. From my experience, the process is the most critical component. Managing your client relationships means keeping track of vital interactions for the purposes of marketing, educating, engaging, serving and reporting. Without a good process in place, it doesn’t matter what system you use, you won’t truly achieve CRM.
So, yes, every firm needs a CRM process.
This can be as basic as verbal communication for very small firms. However, most firms with more than 20 people should include some form of software support and reporting to be most effective.
CRM software comes in all sizes and formats, from using a combination of Microsoft Outlook and Excel to implementing a system as sophisticated as Salesforce.com. There are also dozens of choices in between.
Here are some factors to consider as you develop your CRM process and select CRM software.
Do You Already Have a Marketing and Business Development Plan in Place?
Are you tracking opportunities and RFPs? Where do you save relevant information? Who is notified when a new opportunity comes into the firm? If you hesitate in answering any of these questions, you will first want to explore what growth plans the firm has in place and identify the roles and responsibilities of various people within the firm, including shareholders, marketing, finance and IT. Explore the process before even looking at a single piece of software.
Is Your Firm a Heavy User of Microsoft Outlook?
Most businesses today are using some form of Microsoft Outlook for contact management, calendars and e-mail communications. One might argue that Microsoft Outlook is a CRM software of sorts. It can keep track of contact information, schedule appointments and send reminders. But when you’re ready to start e-mail marketing or reporting on your activities, you will need to expand your CRM software beyond Outlook. You may want to explore the many CRM software options that integrate with your Outlook contacts, calendars and e-mails.
How Many People at Your Firm Are Active in the Marketplace?
The answer to this question will help guide you to the number of licenses you need and how sophisticated the software needs to be. If you have 50 people in your firm, but only 5 are interacting with clients or prospects, then you may be able to reduce expenses by getting a small number of licenses or using a cloud-based system that requires minimal back-end maintenance.
Do You Have Strong IT Support?
My advice is to keep the software as simple as possible. If there is a lot of customization or bells and whistles, you will need a lot of back-end support to keep the system running. This will also help to determine how many other systems you will want to integrate, such as practice management and document storage. The more you integrate, the harder it will be to maintain.
What Kind Of Reports Do You Need?
Microsoft Excel is a powerful tool, and one that many accountants are already comfortable with. Depending on the information you need for your marketing and business development reporting, you may be able to skip the built-in reporting in CRM Software. But it is worth exploring how much automation you can afford—more automation may mean a small investment upfront for less administrative burden.
Stay Focused and Calm
Some people feel that “CRM”—whatever that is—will answer all their marketing needs. They have heard it is a panacea for marketing and business development, removing stress and operating with almost no effort. Others picture CRM as a scary unknown that will place a burden on their already limited administrative budget and hours. As with most things in life, the true definition lies somewhere in the middle.
It is easy to feel quickly overwhelmed by the idea of developing a CRM process or selecting CRM software. I recommend forming a small internal team of shareholders that can assess your CRM process and software needs. If you have marketing and IT personnel, you will definitely want to include them in the group. I also recommend involving an outside consultant that can facilitate discussions and share what they have learned from other firms that developed a CRM system. Keeping your focus and sharing ideas will help you to stay focused and calm as you research your CRM options.