by David Whiteside, Director, Client Growth & Success and Chris Fritsch, President & Client Success Consultant
There is an old military adage that goes, “No battle plan can withstand the first confrontation with the enemy.” This references the fact that war is often unpredictable, and no amount of planning can account for all possible outcomes. And yet, to even have a chance of winning, planning is critical.
To try to account for this vast uncertainty, the military uses war games. War games allow military leaders to test the myriad possible outcomes that may result based on different factors inherent in a battle.
How solid is your CRM foundation? Once you have a concrete strategy and have formed a plan, you need to build a solid CRM foundation to ensure long term success. Doing this type of ‘groundwork’ will ensure that your CRM implementation and structure will stand the test of time.
During your CRM assessment you should have identified the core needs that the CRM can help to fill and problems it can help to solve — the concrete system value (aka, what’s in it for them). That value should form the cornerstone of everything you do moving forward to a build a solid base of support from your stakeholders and users.
Over the years, we have all heard way too many stories of CRM systems failing to meet expectations. What we don’t typically hear is that the reason why these systems didn’t meet expectations was often that the expectations were unrealistic. Indeed, people have been complaining about CRM systems for as long as…well, as long as there have been CRM systems (and these complaints are not limited to law firms.) Managing expectations is a key part of your CRM strategy.
CRM Strategy: Set Realistic Expectations
If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Few people have the extensive experience to successfully deploy a CRM system by themselves. Still fewer are excited about expending the effort to get this experience. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. You can reach out to CRM providers for assistance, engage experienced consultants or, even better, ask for advice from Legal Marketing Association (LMA) colleagues. The willingness to share knowledge is what makes the LMA community such a valuable resource.
CRM isn’t a project or an implementation. It’s a fundamental change – and improvement – in how your firm manages its most important assets – its relationships. As a result, CRM deployments shouldn’t end – they should evolve. There will always be new problems to solve and new business to bring in. So be sure revisit your CRM strategy, plan for the future and continually explore features, upgrades and integrations…
Customize Training for CRM User Groups
It’s important to develop training plans and materials targeted to the needs of key groups. Assistants should attend classes customized to their work routines, while training for attorneys should focus on business processes, not buttons to push. To really enhance attorney engagement, training should take place in their offices and should take no more than 30 minutes.
This training is often most effective when it’s done by someone who can communicate CRM benefits,
Once you have selected your system, you can begin planning for the CRM rollout. Don’t make the mistake of attempting a “boil the ocean” implementation, deploying too many features to too many people in too big a hurry. Firm wide rollouts are usually a bad idea because without taking the time to properly test the system, any problems or missteps you run into can be amplified exponentially.
Enroll a Pilot Group for CRM Rollout
Instead, begin with a pilot group of attorneys and assistants who have an interest in participating, are invested in system success and have time to provide the critical feedback that is needed to improve the rollout for the rest of the firm.
Only once you have clearly articulated needs and agreed upon goals, can you begin identifying potential CRM products to address them. Properly deployed and supported, CRM systems are invaluable because they can do so many things. Even the most basic implementation can provide a centralized repository of clean and complete contacts that can be easily updated firm wide. They can also assist with core marketing activities such as e-mail campaigns, event management, relationship intelligence, activity tracking and categorization and segmentation of key contacts.
Focus on CRM Functionality and Security, not “Bells & Whistles”
Engage CRM Stakeholders: Assistants, Attorneys & Firm Leadership
Special attention should be paid to the assistants because often they are expected to do a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ in terms of contact entry and maintenance. If you want their participation, make them feel like part of the process. To get the attorneys to buy in, find ways to make their lives easier. Additionally, CRM won’t succeed without another key group: firm leadership.
Yes, you read that title right. The words ‘CRM’ and ‘success’ were just used together. That’s because whether you are rolling out a new CRM system for the first time at your firm or trying to enhance adoption of an existing system, CRM success is possible!
CRM Success Makes Business Development Easier
But that doesn’t mean CRM success is simple. You can’t just install the system and expect clients to line up at the office door with bags of money. In fact, compared to other technology implementations, CRM can actually require extra effort because (ideally) the attorneys actually use the system.
A recent article in the ABA Journal proclaimed, “Boom years for law firms were an aberration.” The article quotes information from a 2013 Client Advisory report from Hildebrandt Consulting and Citi Private Bank which predicts that the double-digit rate increases that occurred from 2001 to 2007 are over.
As proof, the article summarized information in the report confirming that “productivity is down among income and equity partners, expenses are up, clients are demanding and getting discounts.” As a result the prediction is that future law firm success will be measured by “profit growth in the single digits.”
To succeed going forward,
I recently heard someone comment that CRM is a journey, not a trip. Truer words were never spoken. As many of my clients will tell you, I am fond of saying that CRM is not a project, an initiative or a rollout – it’s a fundamental change in the way that your firm manages and leverages it relationships. And these relationships are essential to the success of the firm. This therefore makes CRM essential to the success of the firm. That’s a pretty thought provoking syllogism… well, almost.
This also means that you can’t think of CRM as something that will ever really ‘end.’ It will be a necessary and even essential element of firm growth.
A question that seems to keep coming up more frequently in discussions with firms about their CRM strategy is whether success would be easier to achieve with a CRM system that was ‘in the cloud.’ ‘The cloud’ is a fluffy euphemism for hosting the firm’s CRM software and data on a server somewhere outside the firm. While this may have become the standard in other industries, and while a case can even be made that external hosting in a professional facility is actually more secure, most firms have not been willing to allow their sensitive client and contact data to reside outside their firewall.
Have you ever heard the saying that you have to walk before you can run? It’s usually being spouted off by one of those really annoying self-important know-it-alls with all of their clever little sayings. You know, the ones who are usually all talk. Anyway, I’ve heard them say this about CRM too, but I disagree. Instead, I would say that CRM rollout is more like a triathlon: you have to swim before you can run (ok, a triathlon without the biking – and after swimming and running, most of us would be too tired to care about the biking anyway).
It’s always nice when something we say is reinforced by really smart people like the folks at McKinsey & Company. One of their articles about change management suggests that there are four basic conditions that must be met before people will change their behavior in the workplace:
- A compelling story: They must see the point of change and agree with it, at least enough to give it a try.
- Role modeling: Admired and/or respected colleagues must be seen modeling the desired behavior.
- Reinforcement systems: Surrounding structures, systems, processes and incentives must be in tune with the new behavior.