What is the role, if any, of accountants in installing Customer Relationship Management systems? Can they be effective consultants in re-engineering and workflow?

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There is definitely a role for accountants in the CRM implementation process. However, that role should be restricted to areas where the CRM system integrates or overlaps with accounting. Depending on the complexity of the system, the accountant could be involved in integration or design of quoting systems, invoicing, sales orders, maintenance agreements, support contracts, and processing of returns.
Patrick Lewis
RightWare Solutions,
Portland, Ore.

I feel that accountants can certainly provide strong advice regarding what data should be shared with the front-office system from a back-office (accounting) system. As far as workflow is concerned, knowledge of sales cycles and methodologies is king, and that type of work experience would dictate an accountant’s effectiveness here.
Aric Shelko
Shelko Consulting
Ridgewood, N.J.

It’s possible for CPA firms to hire the appropriate sales-oriented individuals to handle CRM projects. However, many firms, even after more than 20 years of PC-based accounting firm resellers, are still struggling with the cultural and management issues around having consulting practices within their firms. Adding sales-oriented consultants, who are even further removed from the accounting functions, will be an even bigger challenge.
Michael Shapow, CPA
Robert Half Management Resources
Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Partner Insights

So many times, we have implemented systems where the accountants do not play an active role in understanding the business processes. With all due respect to CPA firms, the accountants take an active role in preparing governmental reporting and giving borderline legal advice, but the knowledge of sales, marketing, inventory management, and core business reporting is generally overlooked. Implementing a CRM or ERP systems has to be done with an understanding of how business works. Some accounting firms have consultants who can understand what businesses need, but the vast majority focus too much on the reporting side.
Donavan D. Lane
ABC Computers
Waupaca, Wis.

I have not found very many accountants who understand the effectiveness of a properly deployed CRM application. The debits and credits associated with CRM are hidden to the naked eye. They are a realized debit and credit. Accountants can, however, play a role in the overall implementation of CRM in identifying those components of the company that can be harvested for information. Those would essentially be Accounts Receivable, Inventory, Order History, Manufacturing Scheduling, and Shipping.
Don Reeves Jr.
SCSI Business Solutions
Brentwood, Tenn.

The accounting discipline brings to the table an understanding of business strategy. The highest value of CRM is to have a part in promoting  business strategy. A well-architected CRM system can reveal customer purchasing habits, key factor analysis by customer, and regional sales deficiencies, to name a few. If a company wants a glorified address book, then they don’t need an accountant involved in the installation. But if the goal is to serve customers and sell product in a more intelligent manner, then an accountant can provide easily understood steps to rise from mere data reporting to strategic information delivery.
Peter Henley
Clark Nuber
Bellevue, Wash.

CPAs can be excellent consultants in the areas of business process re-engineering and workflow. They just have to take the skills they know in the accounting area and expand them to look at the full business. Accountants can drive the CRM projects. Accountants in traditional practices have generally more complexities than commercial businesses regarding CRM. They can do a fine job at asking the right questions to be sure commercial businesses capture the proper elements.
Bruce Andersen, CPA
BTA Consulting and Training
Los Angeles, Calif.

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