Getting — and Keeping — Clients
As difficult as it is gaining a client, keeping them involves more than just servicing them. Clients can often forgive an occasional mistake.
What every client wants is to feel that they are the most important client you have. Make them feel that way and you’ll have a happy client, one who looks for reasons to stay with your practice because they know that you value them, rather than a client who is constantly questioning the value of your services.
NO ONE SINGLE THING
For the most part, when people hear “client relationship management,” they think of sales. That’s not surprising — like it or not, most CRM systems are sales-oriented. But CRM didn’t start out that way, nor is it solely used for prospecting for new clients.
While CRM software is fairly new as a software application, knowing who you are dealing with is not. Neither is keeping track of client information. James Farley, who was Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager and later his postmaster general, is famous for maintaining a file on everyone he met as well as whoever Roosevelt met. When Roosevelt was to meet with this person again, Farley could brief him on personal details such as knowing the names and ages of the person’s spouse and children, and what had been discussed at earlier meetings. FDR and Farley used these files to great effect.
Today’s CRM applications use this same basic foundation. They help you to collect information about the client and their business, and put this information to use. In many cases, the use is to obtain them as a client, but CRM is also a useful tool to strengthen your relationships with your existing clients.
Along with helping you manage e-mail, social media, and other methods that you use to stay in contact with clients and potential clients, CRM can also, in some cases, offer features to remind you of due dates, or remind you of a promise to touch base with a client.
One underlying foundation for good client relations is collecting data on the client (which is significantly easier now, thanks to social media and the Internet), on your past and current dealings, and what work you have in progress for them.
Software can help you collect this information, store it, and use it. Client relationship management boils down to a single core precept — know your current and potential clients and don’t disappoint them. Paul Petersen, vice president and general manager of Goldmine, a popular CRM application, points out the core functions that he believes CRM should provide, including a “central database to hold all prospect, client and referral sources in one place with the ability to quickly add custom fields so you have ‘firm-o-graphic’ data on each contact that can then be used to search and filter for industry or other attributes: helpful to build mailing lists, find individuals as speakers or candidates.” Another, he added, is “activity management to track interactions by all in a firm so info can be shared about scheduled items, completed calls and meetings with notes, and linked e-mails and documents — so that you have a complete online dossier.”
Finally, Petersen feels that a CRM system should have the “ability to build lists and then schedule calls, send personalized group e-mails, even upload to Constant Contact for events, newsletters, and communicating with clients and nurturing prospects over time.”
Sales is a major focus of Zoho CRM as well, and Raj Sabhlok, president of Zoho Corp., gave us a very similar answer when asked about CRM core functionality: “Modern CRMs can proactively help salespeople (and accountants selling their services) meet their quotas and other objectives by automating tasks, such as sending out e-mail responses to common requests from potential or existing customers and prompting the staff in charge of obtaining new clients to make calls and/or to complete other scheduled tasks.”
“The CRM can build forecasts based on the sales pipeline in the CRM,” he continued. “From there, the CRM can track and report key sales metrics like pipeline, forecasts and revenue, so that sales management and other executives can have drill-down visibility into the business. The CRM is also an important tool for marketing to determine the effectiveness of its campaigns.”
Zoho is just one of the tools that can let you do this. Robin Theme, CEO at Kensington Business Solutions, uses a CRM application called PipeLine Deals to keep track of the firm’s sales pipeline.
Given this sales focus, many accounting practices are using it for client prospecting. “We use Microsoft Dynamics CRM Cloud,” James Bourke, the technology niche practice leader at Top 100 Firm WithumSmith+Brown, told us. “We have primarily been using the CRM for lead management.”
TO SALES, AND BEYOND!
In reality, CRM involves more than just keeping track of your clients’ likes, dislikes and other personal information. It’s also more than just an application for marketing and sales. Frequently, it incorporates elements of practice management and, indeed, a practice management system may function perfectly well as a CRM app. While WS+B’s Bourke pointed out the prospecting aspect of their CRM, he also mentioned that they do integrate their CRM with the practice management software the firm uses.
In addition to enhancing your sales of new services and client acquisition by managing client relationships, social media, and marketing campaigns, most accounting practices will also need due-date monitoring, scheduling, and sometimes even project management. There are CRM applications that provide some of these additional features, while others are strictly sales-oriented.
Even if a particular CRM is basically a sales tool (and many are), it doesn’t mean the application isn’t worth considering. CRM can play well with other applications you use in your practice, including e-mail and accounting. Many of the CRM applications mentioned in the vendor sidebar integrate with QuickBooks, practice management applications, and other accounting programs to pull customer/client data into the CRM system.
For example, Roy Vargis, a tax and financial advisor with the Nexus Management Group in Schaumburg, Ill., uses Zoho’s CRM application, but doesn’t stop there. He also uses Zoho Books, Campaigns, Subscriptions, Mail/Docs, and other Zoho offerings. Vargis told us that he used Zoho CRM for prospecting, but also to share data on his clients with other Zoho applications that each client, or the practice, might be using.
Keep in mind that what’s right for one practice isn’t necessarily right for another. There are specialized CRM applications for different kinds of practices. For example, a practice that has a financial advisor division might be using one vendor’s CRM for the accounting practice, and a different one for the financial advisor practice. Junxure and ProTracker are two of many systems designed specifically to meet the needs of financial advisors.
Ray Beste, partner-in-charge of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Practice at Top 100 Firm Sikich, feels Dynamic CRM offers the features he wants for the accounting services practice. Beste told us, “The key features that any accounting practice needs in order to get the most out of a CRM package are ease of use — if it’s not simple, it doesn’t get used — as well as interoperability with standard productivity software such as Microsoft Office. If each user can access the CRM natively while living and working in Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel, overall adoption of the product will naturally increase.”
But Beste doesn’t just use CRM for prospecting: “Additionally, connectivity with practice management software is crucial. CRM is great at showing what might happen, but connecting to time and billing and other practice management software facilitates
real-time analysis and monitoring to show what actually happened. Activity management is also important. Finally, having a system to record all e-mails, phone calls, appointments and other activities means that everyone stays in the loop about interactions with clients and potential clients.”
SOME OF THIS, SOME OF THAT?
Choosing a CRM system that actually fits your practice needs requires some thinking. You need to determine what you want the CRM to accomplish — prospecting, keeping your client contacts current, interfacing with practice management, scheduling, due-date monitoring, or any and all combinations of these.
In making the choice, keep one thing in the front of your mind — the purpose of a client relationship management system is to help you get and keep clients. If it can’t let you do that in a timely and efficient manner, you are better off looking for some other kind of solution.
Commence Desktop, Commence OnDemand
Goldmine (a division of HEAT Software)
Method Integration Inc.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Nimble Social CRM
CRM for Professionals