[IMGCAP(1)]The concept of Client Relationship Management (CRM) is starting to gain momentum in the tax and accounting profession. And if you ask several accounting professionals, you will get many different answers about what CRM “means.”

For some, it simply means entering client contacts and interactions into their practice management solution. This allows practitioners to record and track touch points with clients—that is, how many times they’ve communicated with a client, whether it’s just touching base or supplying information. For others, CRM means full-fledge tracking and monitoring of client and prospect activity across the organization.

In a recent AICPA survey, it was discovered that a few top concerns of today’s practitioners include “maintaining client relations effectively” and “bringing new clients in.” Maintaining existing clients and bringing in leads is driven through communication—consistent, frequent, effective interactions. Trust me, if you are not talking to your clients or reaching out to new leads, than your competitor is. This is where Client Relationship Management comes in and why the profession is starting to look to CRM systems.

I spoke with one of the profession’s leading CRM experts, Sam Saab of Results Software. He confirms the profession’s need for proven CRM systems: “Practice management systems are great tools that typically have built-in contact management capabilities. But for firms that need to extend visibility of data to the entire organization and set up a central data hub where all relationships can be easily managed, an integrated CRM solution is required. Integrated CRM takes relationship management to a whole other level because these systems seamlessly integrate with other mission-critical solutions like Constant Contact, Smartvault and QuickBooks.”

Peter Wolf, president of Azamba Consulting Group agrees, “CRM gives organizations the visibility and control necessary to create a consistent, high-quality experience to find, get and keep clients easier than before. This is critical in today’s fast-paced world where clients and prospects can find a competitive solution within minutes by posting to their social network of choice and getting feedback from friends and even relative strangers.”

The buzz around CRM is growing, and it means that it’s time for firms to evaluate how they’ve been managing their business relationships. It’s highly likely that lack of visibility to data has cost some firms some major opportunities for new business…or has even meant existing clients have left due to lack of interactions.

If practitioners expect to keep leads coming through their door, or maintaining their current clients for the long term, they have to maintain a clear picture of what is happening with each relationship.

With client retention and prospect generation being top of mind with many professionals, understanding these audiences is critical. By having full visibility to data, firms can better identify opportunities, create communications and interact with every contact that touches the firm.

CRM is worth investigating. While it’s a big shift in culture for most firms, the time spent understanding what CRM solutions offer is well worth it.

Jody L. Padar, CPA, MST, is a Certified Public Accountant experienced with Complex Federal & State Income Tax Compliance for Business & Individuals. Jody is an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College, where she teaches Taxation and QuickBooks Courses. She is part of Intuit Trainer Writer Network and speaks nationally on various Technologies and Taxation. She can be reached at www.newvisioncpagroup.com.