This blog post is first in a series by Colin Abercrombie, INCo’s CCO. A Chartered Accountant for over 30 years, having had his own practice, Colin was also a Partner in a mid-tier accountancy firm for 5 years.

How you answer the above question will, to a large degree, be dictated by your personal experience. If you are lucky enough to work in a firm that has deployed a CRM, either exclusively in Marketing, or throughout the firm as a service enhancement platform, then you will probably wonder how you survived without it! If you are in a firm that has failed to get their project off the ground, then you may well take a very sceptical position on CRM and have the scars to justify this. If you have never had first-hand experience of CRM, then you are almost certainly wondering - “what is all the fuss about?”

Where Do You Start?

A well-conceived CRM project has the potential to totally change the way a firm operates, providing a platform for growth enablement, enhanced visibility of internal and external communications, improved data accuracy and compliance, more efficient service delivery and eventually for the automation of low value services. Unfortunately, many CRM projects are vendor driven and commence without the firm having a clear expectation of outcome and a plan to get there. There are many reasons for this, including:

-External project management doesn’t understand the profession;
-Legacy data volumes can be overwhelming;
-Absence of partner level “buy-in”;
-Attempting too much too quickly.

I have personal experience of several successful CRM implementations and the one thing that they all had in common was - we started with a very clear objective - simple.

For any firm contemplating this journey, the advice should be to get yourself a project leader who has done this before, who understands the internal challenges of the profession and who will quickly identify your initial, clear, objective.

By all means have an aspirational plan, but start somewhere simple - in my opinion this should be within the sales and marketing function. From this clear beginning, you can look to involve senior members of the team in the utilisation of the platform, restricting its scope to Business Development (BD) responsibilities and activities and thereby keeping the complexities of “service line management” for a later phase. By the time you look to develop the extended use of the CRM into client service delivery, your senior and mid-level team should be experienced in its use as a BD platform, and this simplified approach will ease any future roll-out. It will also allow you to control licensing costs until you can understand and justify the benefits.

The Importance of Data

The other area that causes greatest anguish in any CRM project is the data. An empty system is no use to you, but a system with the wrong data in it will be a huge cause of frustration and lost time. Again, there are simple ways to avoid this. Start with a basic data quality assessment and then isolate the key data sets that are likely to enable marketing activity - be ruthless and prioritise carefully as this exercise has the potential to bring your entire project to a standstill. Again, you should look to get yourself a project leader who has done this before.

A successful CRM implementation will enable management to drive genuine business growth from within the portfolio, referral network and wider prospect community. Get this aspect working quickly and you will easily get firm-wide buy in for the wider CRM project.

If you’re thinking about implementing a CRM platform within your accountancy firm and would like to have a chat about my experience, or you want to learn more about how a CRM platform could add value to your practice, get in touch.

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