(This is one of a number of posts on The Perfect CRM being published today. Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this one.)
I am not a technology expert by any stretch, but it doesn’t take an expert to be shocked at the frequency with which professionals complain of their firms’ CRM systems as burdens, rather than touting them as assets. I have worked with thousands of professionals at well over 100 firms and do not recall one instance of a general rave for a firm’s systems. I can’t recall one endorsement of a firm’s system by a user. But unsolicited complaints are loud and constant. This is true of professionals who lack technological sophistication, but also true of technology consultants who are in a position to assess a CRM system both as technologists and as users.
Some of these complaints result from conflicting goals of firm management and those of the individuals professionals who use the systems daily. For management, the information captured in the CRM system represents a major asset that must be carefully protected. Though the individual professionals may share this view, for them it must be a real-time, flexible tool for their business development efforts.
Also, problems can arise when a system designed for dedicated sales forces is applied to the professions. The management of the sales force of a product company differs from that of a professional firm. In a product company sales people report to sales managers who report to the head of sales. In a professional firm, the most productive sellers are senior partners who don’t necessarily view themselves as reporting to anyone, and certainly not to a sales manager. Staff marketing, business development and IT personnel are often, albeit wrongly, seen as second-class citizens. These factors complicate implementation a CRM system and enforcement of its use.
Here are some of the more common complaints that a perfect system must address:
- Barriers to changing data: A professional must be able to add, delete and change information about a contact rapidly and easily. Systems requiring that all changes flow through a central point to control quality, create an impossible barrier to effective use. The better systems allow professionals to change data at will for contacts assigned to them.
- Inability to blind sensitive information: A professional needs to be able to post sensitive information on the database without fear that it will be seen by other users. When a client provides the professional with a home phone number or other confidential information, the professional needs to be able to store that information on the database where it is accessible to him with confidence that it will not be as accessible to all.
- Learning barriers: If the system isn’t easy to learn, busy professionals won’t bother with it. With a half-hour of instruction, a professional should be able to get basic functionality from the system.
- Clumsy data manipulation: The user should be able to sort by any major field; such as by last name, company, location, area code or zip code; and that sort should bring up just the relevant contacts. It should not result in a list of all contacts listed alphabetically by field, requiring busy professionals to scan through many lines of data to find what they want.
- Difficult data management: Accessing the database; making changes to it; adding notes; scheduling follow-up calls, meetings and reminders; associating related documents such as proposals; and similar activities must be easy to do with a minimum of formal training. Professionals are busy people focused primarily on serving their clients, not on tinkering with a CRM system. Time spent wrestling with the system is time away from clients and selling.
- Adjudicating primary contact responsibilities: Many professionals feel proprietary about their contacts. They resent others in the firm calling or meeting with their contacts without their consent. Sometimes they resist sharing a contact, even though they haven’t done anything to maintain a relationship, themselves. A good system will remind a professional that he has not made contact with a specific client in, say, nine months. It will then remind both the professional and firm management, if he has not made contact with that client for a year. The timing of the reminders should be modifiable, depending on specific circumstances. This allows management to reassign contact responsibility, when the current relationship manager has been inattentive.
Perfection may not be possible. But CRM systems could be better adapted for the needs of professionals than they are.
The Perfect CRM is a series of essays by industry experts on the topic of client relationship management tools. Each expert will draw upon years of experience to outline their vision of the perfect CRM system. This exercise will provide you with new insights into what works, what doesn’t work, and what you should consider when implementing a CRM system.
The experts include:
- Tim Klabunde, Author of the CRM Chapter in the Marketing Handbook for the Design and Construction Professional
- Bernie Siben, Author of A Horse of a Different Color: Marketing in the Public Sector
- Bobby Darnell, Former Director of National Accounts at Reed Construction Data
- Mel Lester, Owner of the Business Edge
- Matt Handal, Contributing Editor of SMPS Marketer
Visit these sites by clicking on the names to read each expert’s take on the perfect CRM.