By: Steven Templeton, CPA, CVA, Managing Partner
Accountants are not sales professionals, but they are professionals who (must) sell. Accounting firms are getting serious about business development and are beginning to provide their professionals the tools and training to grow their practice. The key tool to collaborative business development is a well-designed and properly implemented client relationship management (CRM) system.
If you are a managing partner on the verge of making a decision about a CRM system, here are my top 5 considerations:
Choose the right partner. Find an implementation partner who can help you design and implement a CRM solution that fits your firm’s needs. This firm should be experienced in your industry. At its best, CRM is something that helps business processes and creates efficiencies in those processes. If a partner doesn’t understand your business it can be very expensive or virtually impossible to get them up to speed and then configure the system to your specific needs.
Have the right vision. CRM should be looked at as a firm-wide solution, not something just for the partner team, or the marketing personnel. The program needs to become the digital nervous system for your firm where all information is captured and disseminated.
Develop a culture of collaboration. Encourage the benefits of sharing information to team-sell and win more business as a result. CRM will help you develop and enforce the one firm concept and encourage selling and cross-selling. This takes time and patience, so manage your expectations accordingly, but it is not impossible.
Make CRM relevant to practice management. Often times, CRM systems are implemented, only to end up being ignored . Make sure that your CRM tightly integrates with the firm’s other applications to present a unified system to the partners and staff. Critical functions such as workflow management and new account origination should and can be handled from within CRM. This will ensure that people are in the CRM system as part of their day-to-day work.
Integrate it with Outlook©. Virtually everyone keeps Microsoft Outlook© open throughout the work day . The CRM system you choose must integrate with Outlook so the program is easily accessible and correspondence and appointments can be easily tracked and tied to contacts. If your staff is required to log on to another system in order to access CRM, the likelihood that they will use the CRM system, or use it with any consistency, significantly diminishes.
If you have growth ambitions for your CPA firm, do your homework and deploy the right CRM to ensure that the firm thrives in the coming decades. Make it a high priority; you will be glad that you did!
We get a lot of questions about what makes CRM so great. Having worked with a number of CPA firms and hearing their needs and desires around technology, we see the benefits.
We understand, however, that there might be hesitation. That it may feel like a big jump, or too much of an investment, or maybe you are just working to keep pace and don’t have the time to think about yet another transition.
We hear you. But we also know that once firms implement and start using Microsoft Dynamics CRM there is no going back. And they’re happier for it.
“The biggest benefit for using CRM – and it’s been very true for our firm – is the tremendous line of sight in terms of what your firm is doing. It’s an amazingly powerful tool,” said Holly Price, marketing director of Cohen & Company located in Akron, Ohio.
We think it’s a pretty powerful tool, too. We use Microsoft Dynamics CRM to track tax due dates, recruit new hires, develop new business, manage documents, monitor open invoices and communicate with clients and staff.
We’ve learned a lot over the years and we put together a list of five immediate benefits CRM provides. Here goes:
Deeper Client Connection – Who doesn’t want this? Clients expect exceptional service from accounting firms, this we already know. As their trusted advisor you can deepen your most important relationships with a CRM system that reminds you of important dates and deadlines. Keep track of all your client emails and stay on top of individual correspondence as well as firm wide communications with a single click. Not only will you keep up to date with your clients and have your finger on your prospects, you’ll have the opportunity to get to know them better, too.
Better Pipeline Perspective – With the 360 degree view Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides, it allows you to focus on existing customers and chart the opportunity to make a prospect a better possibility. Better capitalize on revenue opportunities and maximize the profitability of your existing clients. How? Because their data is easily accessible and actionable. By assembling a complete customer profile that allows users to see all demographic data, interactions, communications, and purchases, firms are enabled to better gauge the profitability of each customer.
Stronger Collaboration- Cutting edge CPA firms are leaving the siloed approach behind. It’s all about collaboration these days and with a CRM system in place, you’ll be able to share (yes, share) that critical client information with others in your firm or team. Empower your professionals by centralizing your data in a single location – leaving it always up to you what is shared throughout the firm. By allowing your staff to leverage firm resources, you’ll watch your business grow.
Tighter Processes - Do more with less. When money is tight, shrewd firms look for ways to do more with less. And one of the fastest ways to achieve improved efficiency is by streamlining key business processes and improving individual productivity. Not only will your client service be heightened, but you will minimize IT costs through system consolidation.
Easier to Manage – Integration, integration, integration. Yes that’s right – integrate Microsoft Dynamics CRM with Microsoft Outlook, SharePoint, Word and Excel, as well as any other business application. No complicated trainings needed, no disruption, no hassle. Your workflow just got a lot easier.
“What Templeton did is take a look at our business process and customize the CRM program to meet our needs,” said Gary Boomer, CEO, Boomer Consulting, Inc. “They saved us a lot of time.”
For more information please contact Jim Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a question we set out to answer during a panel I moderated at the AICPA Practitioners Symposium and TECH+ Conference in partnership with the Association for Accounting Marketing Summit in Las Vegas, June 2012.
Approximately 70 people filled the room to listen to marketing and business development directors talk about their experience with their customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
The panel included Thomas DeVitto, chief marketing officer from Blum Shapiro in Hartford, Bruce Ditman, chief marketing officer at Marcum LLP in New Haven, Conn., Donald Kreye, business development manager at Abdo, Eick & Meyers LLP in Apple Valley, Minn. and Holly Price, marketing director at Cohen & Company in Cleveland.
This was the first year the AAM Summit and AICPA Tech+ were held together, and after years of little CRM discussion at AAM, this conference offered three packed sessions talking about the power of CRM. My panel was created to offer marketing directors an opportunity to hear the experience of others in their same position.
For those on the panel – who were all in different places in implementation and usage - once they experienced just a bit of life with CRM they couldn’t imagine being without it. Using the tool – no matter what system it was – brought accountability and a belief that if an activity wasn’t documented in CRM it didn’t happen.
The panel also allowed for users to share stories – and struggles – and find the connection in both.
“No matter where you are in the CRM process whether you are just trying to get it started or you’ve had it for years there are common themes that we all struggle with,” Price said, pointing to data integrity and user adoption. “So there’s definitely overarching themes. I thought that was very interesting that no matter what end of the spectrum you are, you are all dealing with the same issues.”
Microsoft Dynamics is the CRM of choice at Price’s firm Cohen & Company, who implemented that system in 2010. Price said her firm primarily uses the system for contact and opportunity management.
“The biggest benefit for using CRM and it’s been true for our firm is the tremendous line of sight you have in terms of what your firm is doing,” she said. She found audience members (especially those in marketing) to be excited by the idea of using CRM.
“Having a program isn’t going to drastically change anything, she said. “But it is an amazingly powerful tool that lets you leverage what your firm is doing or what it could be doing by getting data metrics, a stronger client management program or providing a more robust marketing engine. But having it in and of itself is not the answer. You have to use it.”
Abdo, Eick & Meyers has been using Salesforce since 2009 and the system is very much tied to compensation when new clients are brought in – as it tracks pipeline activity, partner accountability and measures sales activity by segment. Kreye said though his firm provides the tool, it’s not something that is forced on partners or managers.
He had a different twist on the panel.
“There are a lot of firms that are interested in CRM but the majority don’t have a business development type of person, they have a marketing director,” Kreye said adding, those firms with 200 or less staff typically don’t have somebody in-house that have an understanding of how a CRM should work. “It’s very valuable for focusing on larger prospects that have a longer sales cycle.”
Despite the many CRM success stories and benefits, the biggest thing most marketing directors are afraid of – understandably – is failure. Hearing how these firms have embraced CRM by planning for its implementation was inspiring. Firms that are successful at this are able to identify their own distinct business processes as it relates to sales and marketing. From our work with our clients at Templeton Solutions and fielding questions from the audience during the panel it’s clear a lot of firms are still working to create that stable business development culture. This is what CRM can truly help with if the right planning is done upfront and firms have identified key metrics. It’s important to know how workflow and having specific data ties into closing an engagement.
Overall, the biggest takeaway I had from this panel was how involved all of these directors were in green lighting CRM implementation. They all see the value of the system and how it is inherent to the success of the firm. As one panelist said, “it’s a no brainer, it’s not a marketing tool, it’s a business tool.”
It took an accounting firm to develop a solution for … accounting firms.
We know that many accounting firms are juggling multiple software systems to manage their practice.
It’s frustrating, expensive and time-consuming.
According to a recent survey by Harris & Associates (Accounting Today
, 2/15/2010), client retention and cross selling of services are paramount to staying competitive and bringing in new business “well over 90 percent of executives complained that their firm ‘isn’t spending enough time’ cross-selling to existing clients.”
Business development consultants to CPA firms note that most firms are unable to easily produce an internal report that categorizes the firm’s business by industry and discipline. Firms ask specific questions such as, how much business did we do in the healthcare industry last year and how much of it is attributable to audit, tax, or consulting services? How about our pipeline? In what industries and service lines is the firm engaged in selling activities?
Once this information is accumulated, a focused cross-selling effort can be undertaken; however, most firms do not have the system or underlying technology to produce the data without significant time, effort, and pain.
We know that many accounting firms are juggling multiple software systems to manage their practice. It’s frustrating, expensive and time-consuming. Worst of all, the lack of visibility this causes cripples the firm’s ability of to develop a meaningful view of their relationship with each, which is the basis for cross selling and growing a successful practice.
This problem can be solved with an integrated Customer Relationship Management [CRM] technology. Although CRM is the standard throughout financial services sectors, many in our industry have been reluctant to embrace it.
CRM has traditionally been implemented as just another freestanding technology – separate from the practice management functions of most accounting firms. Not surprisingly (and most understandably) executives have been hesitant to invest in what they see as yet another layer of IT complexity at a high cost.
A New Way of Looking at an Old Problem
The solution is simple. Why not have everything you need to manage your firm within one comprehensive, integrated and affordable system? Consider this partial list of benefits:
- Access from Microsoft Outlook © which aids in ease of use and user adoption
- Time and billing
- Tax filing management and due-date tracking
- Resource management and personnel scheduling
- Engagement management with reporting capabilities and forecasting
- WIP and realization reports
- Document management
- Sales “pipeline” and CRM opportunity management system to nurture marketing efforts
- Contact and account management
- Deployed on premise, or in the cloud.
- Automated marketing campaigns with reporting feature
At Templeton, our technology consultants worked closely with our CPAs to create TC Practice Management (TCPM)
. The decision to create a fully integrated CRM program came out of a cross-selling initiative where we realized the need to have CRM and
practice management available in one easy-to-use and intuitive platform.
Everybody in our firm uses TCPM. Our biggest “ah-ha” moment was that our experience using the program allowed us to reap the benefits of being on one automated platform, and as a result, our workflow processes are tighter, and our engagements are more efficient. So yes, you can have it all. This new system solved our own management dilemma and we believe it will solve yours, too. To learn more about the power of TCPM, please contact email@example.com
Tired of working out of that infamous box in your tax partner’s office? Think there must be a better way to stay organized during busy season?
There is – and it all begins with a customer relationship management system.
For Isabella Lunsford, CPA and tax partner at Templeton & Company, using the CRM system within TCPM has changed the way the firm manages its tax engagements forever.
Gone are the days of digging through the bottom of a pile of tax returns to answer a client’s call. Gone are the days of having a staff member confused about their priorities. And gone are the days of not knowing the status of a certain client’s return.
“Where in the past we’ve had to get with our staff members and find out what they were working on, what they had, how much they had to work on, now the system will tell us all this,” Lunsford said. “We are more organized and more accurate in terms of what is here and not here.”
Lunsford said the system serves as a “live to-do list,” which for her, is the best part of being automated.
“You know what’s here, what needs to be worked on and what order it needs to be prioritized, compared to the old method of seeing the box and the returns stacked on the desk not knowing what’s there, what needs to be done and what needs to be done first,” she said.
Once an active engagement is created, everybody on staff goes through a prescribed series of steps that includes an analysis of proper review and approval – but the system has been designed to handle exceptions as well. For instance if a staff member is sick or leaves the firm, the CRM function of TCPM will help remind you to efficiently re-assign that work. It will also address a delay on the client side.
CRM works not only as a scheduling and dispatching system, but it sets alerts that provide automated insight on due dates and workload so upper level management can make a proactive decision before work gets backed up. Timing triggers events that will respond to set values that in turn respond to predicted bottlenecks.
For firms who have multiple offices, using a CRM system provides integration between locations.
“We are able to assign work to other offices and because everything is electronic with a seamless one firm outlook from the cross practice perspective, it was all right there,” Lunsford explained. “They could go through the process and know what was going on without even picking up the phone.”
Lunsford has been using CRM since 2007 and once she learned the system and worked with the firm’s IT staff to make some changes, the rest of the tax team was trained all at once. While it has taken a good year to understand and take advantage of all the powerful functionalities the system offers, the benefits have been substantial.
“It has taken about half the amount of time for searching and follow up,” she said.
So, your firm has made the big decision to invest and implement a customer relationship management system. Good for you. Now, it’s time to make sure the transition goes as smooth as possible.
Communicate and educate. First things first, leadership must communicate this decision to the rest of the firm. This means conduct an educational campaign explaining to the professional staff the reasons for the CRM system, when the rollout will start and what goals are ultimately trying to be accomplished. This process will be easier if management gets buy-in from a cross-section of the firm prior to this educational campaign, where this groups helps and is involved with the system and vendor selection process. Also consider setting up a focus group that meets regularly for continued feedback and development improvements.
Recognize the change. Most firms know that once they implement a CRM their approach to business changes. Siloed practices - where each partner is responsible for their personal book of business - defines the structure of most CPA firms today. When a firm is invested and using a CRM system, that structure shifts, as individuals are able to have access to other people’s information. This is a healthy thing for a firm and in some cases, reluctance to this change can expose those partners (or others) who might not seek the firm’s best interests.
Be accountable. Management must use the CRM system and model its importance for the rest of the firm. This does not have to be done with a big stick or intimidation, but it is important to set a new precedence for the firm that includes using the system as a best practice. Use activity reports to follow up on what people say they are accomplishing. Have conversations with your business development director regarding analytics on prospects and leads. When a client calls asking about a letter sent out weeks ago, anyone within the firm – from the front desk receptionist to a partner – has the ability to go into the system and find out what happened to that letter. As a result, consistent client service can improve. One CRM user summarized the quickest way he got his sales team and partner group using CRM, by establishing the credo, “If it’s not in CRM, it didn’t happen.”
Expect extra work. At first. Most employees look at a new system as if it’s going to be extra work. A CRM implementation is no different. CRM creates efficiencies by allowing you to put a process around what you are already doing. Automating processes should help you be more efficient, at a minimum, and should help you become more effective. And yes, the first big mailing the firm puts out with the system may be more work than usual, but as time goes on and the contact list gets more scrubbed up, more ease will come. Just think: those Christmas cards you send out every year that has your marketing team pulling their hair out? Piece of cake.
Change takes time and education, but don’t be daunted by the process. Involve your firm and communicate your goals and your transition is bound to happen seamlessly.
Customer Relationship Management [CRM] systems tend to get a bad rap among CPA firms. Though progressive firms are starting to wake up to the benefits of investing in such a system to better manage their business development process, for many marketers introducing this type of investment can often be daunting – especially when partners have a hard time seeing past the initial cost.
Using a CRM system does not have to be scary! And it’s time to share this news with your firm’s partners.
First things first – a firm must have a vision that a CRM system is needed to drive the whole organization forward. That it’s not just for use by a handful of marketing people and that ultimately, an investment in the system will bring value to the entire firm. What Templeton & Co. has done, for example, is build out project management components within our CRM product to integrate with the operational system to create more than just a sales and marketing tool. That, we find, makes a big difference in user adoption and value to the firm.
Aside from cost, partners are often fearful of investing a chunk of money and resources to only realize their people aren’t using the system. They want to be assured (and rightfully so) that if they make this investment, their people will use the system to the fullest extent.
To move forward in introducing a CRM system to the partners in your firm, consider the following tips:
1) Create a vision for CRM that goes beyond contact management, marketing campaigns, and sales pipelines to address the firm’s critical business processes.
2) Identify your firm’s pain points. Historically, marketing directors have done a pretty good job of identifying the trouble spots in performing firm wide marketing initiatives without having an integrated solution that allows them to do e-marketing and analytics. Communicate to partners that these tools are needed if the firm wants to grow.
3) Define what your firm’s success criteria for an implementation looks like. Like with any technology purchase, you need to decide what you are trying to accomplish and determine the best way to get there.
4) Educate your top-level leadership. Marketing directors see the value of having a CRM system on everybody’s desktop, but convincing the managing partner is sometimes tough. That’s why it’s important to educate firm leadership on the different elements of the system and how it can help grow and nurture the business. Executive buy-in will be extremely important throughout the whole process.
5) Show a ROI. This may seem obvious, but it is crucial in helping your partners understand the benefits as you see them. Help your partners get past the upfront sticker shock and understand the long-lasting value an investment in this system offers.
6) Get people involved. Yes, it takes managing partner buy-in and some hand holding from the marketing director. But recognize the process will also involve your IT and business development people and your service line leaders and audit/tax group. Implementation will take muscle and it’s not a job for one or two people. Consistently send the message about how important this system is to the firm and make sure your firm leaders’ actions illustrate this.
Check back soon for our next post on how to manage the cultural change implementing a new CRM system can often bring.
Over the last decade, "practice management" has become an industry unto itself. Beyond the hundreds of private consultants and year-round seminars, we've seen a proliferation of task-specific software. As a result, it's little wonder why many accounting firms now find themselves operating with multiple - and not always harmonious - systems. The various applications sometimes work from different platforms. Staff must be trained and retrained. And as expensive new tools are added, firms must continually reinvest in IT expertise.
Does it really need to be so complicated?
Even more frustrating, a cobbled network of practice management software might be adequate for basic internal functions, but it does little to build a firm's business through client development and opportunity management. In today's environment, we know that client retention and cross-selling of services are paramount. Yet in a recent survey by Harris & Associates (Accounting Today, 2/15/2010) "well over 90%" of executives complained that their firm "isn't spending enough time" cross-selling to existing clients.
The proven solution for this strategic imperative is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology. CRM is by now the standard throughout the financial services sectors, not to mention its widespread and sophisticated use by retailers and manufacturers in the consumer marketplace; yet many in our industry have been reluctant to embrace it. Despite that 90 percent number quoted above, our own recent Templeton study found less than 5 percent of accounting firms have given state-of-the-art CRM systems a try.
Why is this? From our experience in the field, one big reason stands out: Despite its undeniable business-building advantages, until now CRM software has been designed largely as a free-standing technology - separate from the practice management functions of most accounting firms. Thus executives have been (understandably) reticent to invest in what they see as yet another costly layer of IT complexity.
But what if CRM included all the necessary tools of Practice Management?
The question arises: Why not a single solution? One completely integrated system that seamlessly combines everything you need in Practice Management with everything you want for CRM.
That question is exactly what we asked ourselves at Templeton. And recently we partnered with Microsoft to create a solution - a single comprehensive system for every aspect of practice management plus customer (client) relationship management.
First of all, we wanted it to be simple: a single log-in system that's intuitive, easy to learn and operates on the same Outlook format we already know. It had to be fully-integrated to handle time and billing... accounting and reporting... tracking and project management... personnel scheduling... a workflow engine... everything.
And something more: We wanted built-in account management capabilities with a range of up-selling, cross-selling and opportunity management CRM features.
Here's a partial summary of our "must have" list for this integrated practice management/CRM system:
Time and billing
Resource management and personnel scheduling
Document management system
Project management, reporting capabilities and forecasting
WIP and realization reports
Tax filing management and due-date tracking
Sales "pipeline" and CRM opportunity management system to nurture marketing efforts
Contact and account management
Above all, this integrated program had to be tailored to the nuanced needs of a busy accounting firm like our own. Is that too much to expect? Not anymore. Our firm now operates with a simple turnkey system that takes practice management not just to another level - but a new dimension. We call it CRM for Professionals.
CRM for Professionals finally solves the old quandary of how build a viable business development strategy within the often fragmented environment of an accounting practice that is structured on individual partnerships and "silos." This new system puts everyone on the same page, and keeps them reading from the same book.
It took an accounting firm to develop a solution for... accounting firms.
It didn't take long for our new system to attract interest from frustrated executives - many of whom now are coping with two or three practice management software tools and no built-in CRM capability whatever. What they immediately perceive are two things: 1) the lower cost and convenience of one unified system; 2) the chance now to create and sustain real "brand loyalty."
In the commercial marketplace, of course, the brand is king. And the linchpin is CRM technology to consistently "remember and reward" loyal customers, while cross-selling additional goods or services. This vital function is not left to individual initiative or index cards - with CRM it is automatic. In our industry the "brand" is you: your name, your people, your expertise, your range of services.
Practice management software alone cannot hope to address this dynamic customer relationship management role, and until now CRM could not do the essential work of a dedicated practice management system for accounting firms. The good news is, now you can have both. And in this case, one plus one provides an exponentially better answer.
We invite inquiries about CRM for Professionals. This new system solved our own management dilemma and chances are it will solve yours too. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author:
Christopher J. Gryskiewicz, CPA, CITP
Chris Gryskiewicz is the Executive Vice President of Templeton & Company, LLP, an accounting firm headquartered in South Florida. He also serves as a senior executive with Templeton Solutions, a technology consulting subsidiary of Templeton & Company. It is in this role that he manages high-level IT projects and leverages his business and accounting background to identify opportunities for successful, thoughtful integrations.
If you don't really know what CRM (Customer Relationship Management) stands for or what it does exactly, don't worry because you're not alone. In fact, take a look at this blog by high technology marketing expert John Ryan, Accountant's CRM Use Just Doesn't Add Up. You'll see that CPAs have been one of the last professional services fields to see the value of customer relationship management tools.
Research shows that many accounting firms try to make due with existing software such as CCH Practice Management or Outlook to manage their customer relationships. While these tools are great for their intended purposes of storing contact information and e-mail respectively, they were never designed to be an effective relationship management solution.
As a professional services provider, you are in the relationship business. That's why Templeton Consulting designed CRM for Professionals, a client relationship management system for CPA firms, just for you. We understand your success depends entirely on how you attract, develop, and retain client relationships.
As a division of Templeton & Company, south Florida's largest CPA firm, our team has decades of accounting and professional services experience. So we not only "get it" - we live and breathe it too.
As a fellow marketer, I am engaged with many moving parts of the firm from overall strategic planning to the day-to-day execution needed to reach those goals. Have you ever needed to start out from square one with outdated or incomplete databases every time you are about to execute a new campaign? Do your Partners and Business Development team have sufficient information prior to meeting with prospects and/or delivering proposals? Please know this: you are not alone!
A few common mistakes that many marketers, partners and business development representatives encounter can be lack of research, lack of communication, and incomplete databases. Below, we have addressed each of these common pitfalls as well as ways we as a CPA firm have confronted each one with people, process, and technology:
1. Research - B2B research often leads to strategic decisions that guide the overall direction of a firm. Decision-making is far more complex, and is highly targeted for the most part. In addition, knowing who you are going after is essential. The role of "researcher" does not necessarily have to just be in preparation for a firm-wide strategy meeting, but can and should be employed prior to meeting with a prospect, their firm, someone you may refer business to in the future.
2. Incomplete database - Access Hoovers, launched this year, was featured at the AAM Summit 2009 Marketing Masters session. This device syncs with CRM records and allow users to update and easily add targeted prospects, allowing them to gain a competitive edge through immediate access to the Hoovers/D&B database.
Here at Templeton, we are fortunate enough to have both CRM and Access Hoovers which are closely intertwined and aligned with one another. I am interested to learn what your thoughts and experience has been with CRM and research methods and tools you use.