Seasoned Marketer

Set Your Firm Up for CRM Success

Chris O’Day, Marketing Director, ALL CPAs

After years of trying to get your firm’s partners on the same page with business development, you have finally found the solution: a new CRM (Customer Relationship Management system). You return to your office glowing with conference pixie dust, telling everyone about this fantastic “deus-ex-machina-like-CRM” that will solve all of your firm’s business development and accountability issues.

You get your equity partners to agree to a presentation on the new product. Although they are not as enthralled with it as you, they see the potential and agree to do a trial with a select group in the office. You gather the group, explain the CRM and all the wonderful things it can do, and how it will be a great addition to your firm.

You expect to hear cheers, but instead you are met with eye rolls, skepticism, and excuses. You hear, “I already do this. Why do I need to put it in this system? Seems redundant,” and “It seems nice, but I think it will take too much time.” You answer the critics, telling them that it is great that they already do business development, but this will keep track of their efforts, help them, and that it will only take a few minutes a day to do after training.

Everyone eventually agrees to the trial, but you do not know that you have already set yourself up for failure. People skip training and the meetings, no one is using the tool, and no one is being held accountable for not doing the work they agreed to with the CRM. You are about to pull out your hair, and after the end of the trial the partners decide to not move forward. The CRM has failed.

All of the other firms using the CRM at the conference had amazing results. Where did you go wrong? Let’s explore.

A CRM is a Tool, Not a Magic Pill

“A CRM is a tool. It can be a very powerful tool at your firm for marketing, business development, and client relationships, but it is still a tool, not a magic fix,” explains Jennifer Cantero, Director of Marketing and Sustainability at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. “Just like if you buy hand weights and do not workout with them, you would not expect to gain muscles, so you should not expect results from your CRM by just getting it. You need to have a process and plan set in place for your CRM and work it to see real results.”

When Cantero’s firm started looking to implement a CRM, she did not imagine or plan for overnight success. “If you want your firm to successfully adopt a CRM, you have to go in knowing it will be a long process with many steps. You cannot rush the steps or you are just setting yourself up for failure.”

The first step for Cantero was not even to select a CRM. First, she and her team developed a sales process, a client profile, and completed a client journey through their whole sales process. They then evaluated CRMs and looked for one that could aid their sales process, not create it. They were not trying to build business development at their firm around a CRM, but rather the goal was selecting a tool that would work with what they had already built. They eventually landed on Symphony, a CRM focused on professional services.  

Get Stakeholder Buy-In and Turn Critics to Advocates

When asked about keys to success for firms adopting a CRM, Jeff Pawlow, CEO and Managing Member of The Growth Partnership and the CRM ABLE shared, “Adoption has very little to do with the software you ultimately select and everything to do with the culture of accountability within your firm. Intellectually, most practitioners understand the benefits a CRM system can provide, but lack the discipline to adopt new habits around using the system. As we work with firms to adopt ABLE, we see the greatest success when internal champions are leading the way, and adoption is in some way tied to each individual’s performance measurement. A great example of this discipline can be found at BMSS where they have created a culture of engagement around ABLE.”

When John Shank, CPA and Managing Partner of BMSS Advisors and CPAs (the firm Jeff mentioned), rolled out the CRM ABLE at his firm, he knew he had to get early adoption with his fellow partners for the CRM to be successful. “The product was intuitive, and it had everything we were trying to do with tracking business development and our pipelines. We had previously tried another CRM that was too difficult to use, and it became a flop. I knew I had to get people at our firm using ABLE for it to be successful.”

And how did Shank get his team on board? “We started using the motto if it’s not in ABLE, it doesn’t exist. You had to record client contacts and prospect meetings for it to count towards business development goals. I figured we already had to key our time in everyday, so spending a few minutes recording BD activities in ABLE would not hurt, only help us,” Shank said.

Having your managing partner hold people accountable for CRM adoption is an ideal situation, but it is not the only way. When Cantero was getting ready to roll out Symphony at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, she selected a trial group that included stakeholders from every business line as well as people she knew would be skeptics about using the CRM.

“Getting skeptics to be part of your trial group and use the CRM early will make the process that much easier,” she says. “As they start to use the CRM and see how it can help, they slowly start to turn to advocates. Once they become advocates, they can help you build adoption from others at the firm who may be reluctant to get going with the CRM.”

Gamify the Business Development Process with your CRM

The competitive nature of CPAs is what has helped many progress throughout their careers. So it is no wonder that when John Shank decided to gamify business development with the aid of his CRM, his firm saw great success.

“We run a contest every year from April through May 31. Our team gets points for doing things like speaking at an event, writing an article, hand delivering a return to a client, or taking a prospect out to lunch. All the points are tracked through ABLE, and we review them monthly. We give out quarterly prizes and then a grand prize at the end of the year: two plane tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S., a four night stay at a Hilton, and $1,000 in spending cash.”

Shank says the contest has helped people get started on using the CRM, and that the CRM has helped the firm easily track progress and give their team members tangible business development goals to work towards.

Make Partners Lives Easier

Both Cantero and Shank stated that the CRM needs to make partners’ lives easier for it to be successful. No one is looking to waste time inputting tedious data that will not be useful.

Cantero advocates integrating the CRM with other software your firm is already using. Their CRM has an API that talks to their programs. That way, emails, notes, and messages about clients are all stored in the CRM without having to do extra data entry. This useful information is already waiting for the partner when they open the CRM.

It is also useful to get administrative staff on board early. “You should definitely get your administrative staff trained on the CRM early,” Cantero adds. “Chances are they will be using the system at first a lot more than the partners and will be able to help the partners as they start to adopt the CRM.”

Progression not Perfection with Adoption of your Firm’s CRM

Getting 100% adoption with your CRM may be a pipe dream. “There will always be a few holdouts, people who are just old school and like to only use pen and paper. You shouldn’t waste your time trying to convert them (especially if they are close to retirement). Focus your energy on the other 90% that are using the CRM or who are open to using it,” said Cantero.

Cantero also added that it is very useful to have an admin whose job is to run and maintain the CRM rather than have it be just another job that falls to marketing.

Shank, whose firm BMSS is in its third year of using ABLE, said that every year they have had more staff members adopt the system. And he agrees with Cantero that a firm’s CRM may not ever be used by everyone at the firm, but done right, it is a powerful business and marketing tool.

Successfully implementing a CRM takes lots of planning, patience, and preparation, but done right, it will be an investment that in time will pay off. After all, CPA firms are built on relationships, and what better way to manage those relationships than with a customer relationship management system?