What drives an accountant's business? Relationships. Many small- to mid-sized firms started building their businesses mainly by referral and word-of-mouth. One person or business was pleased with the service they received and passed along that information to a colleague, family member or friend, and the business grew.

But accountants, as trusted business advisors, surely know that when small businesses start to grow, more sophisticated tools become necessary. Migration from off-the-shelf accounting software to higher-end modules becomes common, partners or junior staffers are brought on to better handle the increased business, marketing and sales experts may join the firm, an IT staff is hired, and suddenly it's difficult to track those all-important client relationships that first made your business boom.

In the past week, vendors from two different companies, Interface Software and Time Matters, came into our downtown New York offices to preach the message of client relationship management software - a relatively new concept for accounting firms. Another company, Deltek Vision, also offers this new breed of software.

The prices are still a bit high for the very smallest of firms, but for mid-sized firms, the argument for this new application is compelling. And smaller firms should know what's out there, especially if they're ambitious and intend to grow.

While Fortune 500 companies have for years used customer relationship management software (better known as CRM) to automate their sales and call center information and track prospects, the idea that professional services firms can leverage similar technology to manage their prospect and client relationships is just starting to gain steam, and it makes a lot of sense.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to manage my Microsoft Outlook contact list. I have 844 people on my list, and I know that many of the e-mails, phone numbers and organization names are way out of date. I just haven't had the time or the energy to update them.

What these programs promise is to largely automate this function, transfer the entire firms' contact list to a central database, and allow firm management and the marketing staff to easily call up every contact name and instantly know everything everyone in the firm knows about them -- from whether they're related to a tax partner's in-laws, what school they attended, how much business they've brought to the firm…the list is endless.

And the real convincer is that this new breed of CRM for accounting firms can be linked to a firm's time & billing and accounting software. Imagine being able to immediately summon up your top 10 revenue clients in real estate and seeing a listing of all the work you've done for them, when they made their last payment, who they referred to the firm, and any specialization they have. Next, imagine the leg-up on the competition you'll have when a real estate prospect contacts the firm and you can dazzle them with all the real-time information you'll have at your fingertips.

As marketing becomes more pervasive and viewed as a strategic planning tool at smaller and smaller accounting firms, client relationship management is poised to become a valuable technology tool.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access