Recently, I was in a meeting of senior accounting marketers. As we were discussing challenges, ALL were bemoaning the use of—or the lack of the use of—their firm’s CRM system. I heard complaints like:
- “It’s like pulling teeth to get our partners to use it. “
- “It’s too complex.”
- “The partners don’t want to share their contacts.”
- “The data is never right.”
- “We don’t have emails for half the contacts.”
- “We have tried everything to get them to use it, but nothing works.”
I wasn’t surprised. I have uttered many of these same comments or heard them from firms big and small for 20 years. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that this sounds like your firm too. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your current satisfaction with CRM?
According to Software Advice, only 37% of small business users (500 employees) are satisfied. If you have implemented CRM in your firm, how many times have you switched providers (from ACT to Goldmine to a proprietary system to Microsoft CRM to Salesforce,) searching for a panacea? If you have switched more than once, how is this last one working for you?
The promises of CRM in professional services firms are magnificent. CRM provides wonderful dashboards that detail pipeline, revenue projections, highlight relationships and provide much needed oversight. The most impressive thing about CRM systems is their providers’ sales guys. Man, do they sell the benefits and make it look easy to use! That is why they get those big commission checks.
I have developed, implemented, upgraded and integrated systems in every firm I have worked. I have concluded that ALL CRM systems suck and are a pain in the ass. But, nobody will tell you that. If you want to pound through the pain and get to the promises, you have to overcome two issues. And let me be clear: you, as managing partner, are the only one who can address them—not your marketing leader, sales leader, sales ops or CIO. If you don’t want to address the two key issues, then it may be better for your firm to just punt CRM.
The first issue is operational. You likely don’t have a clear, meaningful purpose and process for CRM. This is why people complain about the quality of data and GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). Fortunately—or unfortunately—there is only one way to fix it. You and your leadership team MUST use the information in CRM to strategically manage the business.
When implemented and used strategically, CRM allows you to forecast headcount needs, assess competitive performance, identify industry shifts, determine marketing effectiveness, manage the entire revenue cycle and exploit and correct sales strengths and weaknesses. None of these advantages come to fruition unless you expect—no, demand—them. If you find yourself unable to make decisions because of bad data and are asking yourself whose fault it is, look in the mirror.
Try this experiment at your next leadership meeting. Run a pipeline report or two and regardless of its validity, treat it as if it were 100% accurate. Ask questions about revenues, headcount and sales performance. Begin reallocating budgets and resources based on the information. When your leadership team and their direct reports start complaining, ignore them and keep going. You will be amazed at how the data quality will improve. Whatever you do, do not blame or capitulate, or your people will too. You must set the example of commitment and ownership. This leads us to the second issue.
The second issue is cultural. If the use of CRM is less than stellar, you probably have a culture that lacks collaboration, is recalcitrant or rewarded for not engaging. I understand that partnerships are politically sensitive. No one wants to rock the boat or push too hard. As long as a partner “hits his/her number,” it is easy to live and let live. But the fact of the matter is that if you have a culture of optionality, you will never successfully implement CRM and realize its competitive advantages.
Human beings take the path of least resistance. Partners do not want to have “Big Brother” watching them or to be called out in public about sales performance. It is much easier—and safer—for them to just avoid getting started. Additionally, if you have not established trust among your partners and your marketing team, no one is going to want to expose “important” relationships to spam and sales pitches. You again must set the tone by demonstrating these important qualities.
My advice to that group of marketers was the same advice I offer you. If you are not going to address operational and cultural issues head-on, pull the plug on CRM. Let your partners maintain their contacts in Outlook and manage their pipelines in their heads. You couldn’t do any worse than you are right now. Eliminating CRM would save money, increase productivity and improve morale. Here’s an idea. Give the CRM seat license budget to your marketers. They can invest it on a better marketing automation platform that drives marketing-qualified leads for the partners and adds upstream, useable insights that make CRM even more valuable to individual users. With marketing automation, willing clients and prospects can engage your firm as they want, maintain their correct contact information and manage all those blast emails for themselves. Most importantly, with the pain gone, you can focus on serving clients and everyone will be happy.
Jeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion. His strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value. Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.