CRM and Firm Management

Customer Relationship Management Software

Rick writes: “Good interview with HBS professor Susan Fournier: ‘Customer relationship management (CRM) programs have become too much about the technology, not enough about the customer relationship.’” [tins ::: Rick Klau’s weblog]

I agree (as if I know anything about CRM), but the technology, if it works right, is the engine that gets the job done. Just today I learned that a particular lawyer in my firm holds a key piece of knowledge that may enhance our firm’s ability to get an important piece of business. I would never guessed he was “The One“ and neither would he. But if I had been able to search all people who knew a certain person then I would have known.   But, sadly, we don’t have a database like that to search.

I guess that’s the thing about CRM software. If you don’t know that there is something important that you don’t know, then you don’t know. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not the foundation for sound marketing practice. CRM is going to be an integral part of most law firms, and I would like to hear more about KM and CRM from people like Chris, Joy, and Rick. [Ernie the Attorney]

Ernie nails it. The main difference between CRM in a professional services environment (law, accounting, consulting, etc.) and CRM in a product environment is the importance of the relationship to the business transaction. In Ernie’s case, knowing who else in the firm knew a particular contact can be the key to unlocking business. Establishing those relationships is hard on the technology side, but needs to be transparent to the end user.

To be honest, the challenge isn’t so much the technology – with enough resources, you can build the right tools. The harder challenge is getting the lawyers to understand the benefit. Most often, it takes someone having an “aha moment” like Ernie just did (of course, Ernie gets this stuff instinctively and this is probably just one in a long line of aha moments for him) before they can really grasp the importance of what the technology could do for them. This is doubly hard in a law firm environment because the lawyers are pulled in such disparate directions: they’re expected to be the salesmen, the managers, and the service providers. When you show up offering to help improve their sales abilities, they assume that’s the least of their problems.

When this technology will really take off is when the firms start getting dedicated resources assigned to the various lawyer responsibilities: sales, management, client service. Just think: what if every software company required its entire executive team to be able to program in C? Sure, they might be smart – but would that make them more qualified to be good managers? Good sales people? I don’t think so. Yet the model persists in law (and accounting, for that matter). Slowly but surely, we’ll see that evolve to a more corporate model. (I wrote about the transition to a corporate model in the accounting profession in January; I still think that’s where we’ll ultimately end up.)

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