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Client Relationship ‘Management’

Complaints abound about the failures of CRM, a.k.a. Client Relationship Management. Some of the popular ones include, “We’re not getting any return on our CRM investment,” or “You mean we actually have to spend attorney time on CRM?” and the ever popular, “We paid all this money for CRM and all we got was an overpriced marketing / mailing list.”

CRM Success is ALL About People

While some of the complaints about CRM may be valid, most of the lamenting neglects one very important consideration: CRM is about more than technology. Actually, it’s more about people and process than technology. And when it comes to CRM Success, it’s almost ALL about the people – busy, overworked and sometimes overwhelmed people – the lawyers.

These are people who are trying to balance Client demands (and, occasionally, demanding Clients) with significant billable hour requirements, while, in their spare time, being leg-ironed to their BlackBerrys, wading through a never-ending flood of e-mails and phone calls and trying to meet critical deadlines. Now they are even being asked to develop business. Let’s face it; if you’re looking for the definition of work-life balance, Black’s Law Dictionary isn’t the source you’d go to.

And because CRM success is about people, we should also take into account the lawyer personality: risk averse, incredibly autonomous and not always fond of sharing, to say the least. In fact, it’s been said that working with lawyers can be like herding cats… very smart cats… with opposable thumbs.

So the question becomes, how do you get these smart, busy, independent people to work together and focus their attention on one more thing during their packed 12-hour days – especially when that thing involves both technology (which they frequently like almost as much as math) and more work (which also happens to be non-billable). Again, the answer is people. The people have to take the ultimate responsibility for CRM success are the firm’s leaders. They have to put the ‘Management’ back in Client Relationship Management.

How would they do this? First, they would need to find a way to tie CRM to the firm’s strategic goals – and to utilize it as a tool for achieving them. Then, they have to make it a mandate that CRM is not only important – it is not optional – and they need to communicate this through both their messages and their actions. They should be the first to share their contacts and should reprimand other attorneys who balk at sharing theirs. They should support CRM publicly in announcements made to the entire firm – and privately in one-on-one conversations with individual attorneys. They should even consider tying CRM usage to compensation. Radical? Perhaps. Essential? Absolutely. Because by doing so, they change behavior by sending the message that CRM is not something that would be nice for people to do if or when they happen to have time. Rather it’s something everyone in the firm is expected to do to. In fact, it’s a priority.

So why would firm leaders want to make CRM a priority? Well, one reason could be that the firm spent a heck of a lot of money on a CRM system and might actually like to get some return on that investment. Another could be because the firm’s competitors are doing it. Those are a couple of pretty mediocre reasons that have, throughout time, motivated mediocre law firms to mediocre actions – with mediocre results.

CRM is a Priority Because it Helps Get and Keep Clients

But to come up with a really good – and persuasive – reason that CRM should be a priority requires focusing again on that crucial element of CRM success, people – the end users and their Clients. The attorneys need to understand and believe that they need to make CRM a priority because it will help them to get more Clients – and keep the ones they have. Instead of thinking of CRM as a mailing list, a technology system or, worse, an inconvenience or waste of their time, lawyers and support staff need to begin to think of Client Relationship Management as a strategy for improving Client service, development and retention – and the CRM system as a tool to support that strategy. Only then will they be willing to devote the time and effort required for CRM success.

While at first it may seem like CRM success requires a lot of effort from all of these people – they will have to cooperate, communicate and even share – it can be persuasive to remind them that they will be the ultimate beneficiaries. The attorneys will benefit from enhanced business development efforts, increased cross selling opportunities and improved collaboration, and their Clients will benefit from better service and stronger relationships.

Yes, to really succeed with Client Relationship Management does require commitment – of time, money and yes, even people. But for the firms – and their leaders – who are willing to make that commitment, the results can be significant.

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