• July 20, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

A Lot to Manage

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Professional services organizations share a symbiotic relationship with CRM solutions because, for any professional services firm—whether it’s an architectural or engineering firm, accountant, attorney, ad agency, real estate management firm, business consultancy, financial planner, executive search provider, or IT management firm—the most valuable asset is relationships with clients.

Like their customers, professional services companies face stiff competition, cost pressures, and shifting markets. Because these firms sell and deliver an intangible product—their expertise—rather than a physical product, they must leverage CRM solutions to ensure projects are accurately estimated and completed on time and in line with the customer’s expectations. They need to balance moving parts, including project details, deadlines and timetables, specific task assignments, resource allocation, and billing, all while meeting customer expectations.

Complicating the process, “the sales cycle is so long, and it can take five months or more to get a project off the ground,” says Mark Loos, principal consultant and founder of Consulting Services Methodology, a private consulting firm to other professional services organizations, and author of Consulting Best Practices: A Complete How-to Book on Building a Services Delivery Business.

During that time, job titles and responsibilities at a potential customer’s site could change, making it difficult for a professional services firm to get its foot in the door, Loos says. “Sometimes it’s hard to understand how many people are involved, and hard to know and keep track of who’s in what role,” he explains.
According to Loos, many professional services organizations use proprietary CRM systems that they developed in house, putting those firms at a disadvantage “because they’re not taking advantage of all that is out there.”

As an example, many CRM systems now make data searchable, which provides unparalleled advantages in terms of speed and availability of information, Loos points out. That’s not a feature that is built into most in-house systems.

Many other firms have invested in CRM and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to manage their pipelines and business operations, only to use desktop productivity tools and spreadsheets to manage project execution. As a result, the information needed to manage projects is captured in different systems, in different formats, and at different times, leading to reams of unstructured and siloed data.

Another problem is that in many professional services firms, much of the work is done away from the office. Yet, if the firm’s system is available only in one location, or accessible only by a limited number of people, the result is duplicate, inconsistent, or inaccurate data.

A proper CRM system, Loos says, “allows multiple salespeople to view the same information, create documents, and populate them with data that then becomes a central repository that everyone has access to.”

Because much of their work takes place outside the office, Loos recommends that professional services organizations explore cloud-based offerings, which he calls “a good fit.” And through hosted solutions, companies “can leverage the work that other firms have done and use it to make their own sales forces more knowledgeable,” he says.

But companies don’t have to limit themselves to the cloud. Loos recommends that professional services firms at least consider Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which has special modules built for professional services organizations. “Microsoft has come a long way, and most companies are already running other Microsoft applications within their offices,” he says.

But, regardless of which solution is selected and how it is deployed, when used properly the right CRM software unifies all of the data about a project or client into one point of reference. It would include every person involved with the project, appointments, tasks, deadlines, correspondence, and billing information. With a few mouse clicks, any authorized user should be able to find the status of a given issue. 

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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