Advice on Choosing CRM for Accounting Firms

Recently, the topic of choosing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) product came up in a LinkedIn group I participate in. What resulted was a great stream of discussion. This post highlights that discussion, and offers buying insights from Inc. and a competitive analysis from Dell.

What is a CRM?
According to Wikipedia, a CRM is basically a widely used database tool for “managing a company’s interaction with customers, clients and sales prospects.” It leverages technology to help organize, automate and sync business activities, such as marketing, sales and customer and technical support.

When Do You Need a CRM?
You know you need a CRM when your list of contacts has outgrown your Rolodex. You remember what a Rolodex is right? Another indication is when you begin to forget important information about your clients, or you notice your communication with them has dwindled.

Also, consider a CRM when you are looking to increase sales, as well as relationships with clients, in the end positively affecting the bottom line.

Lastly, if you find yourself personalizing emails manually and/or do not have a clear idea of where your customer or lead is in the pipeline, you may be in need of a CRM.

Consider This
When considering a CRM, create a checklist of features and benefits you’re looking for, as well as a list of questions you need answered before making a decision, such as:

  • How many users will be on the system?
  • What number of records will be imported or entered into the system?
  • What’s the monthly budget for the tool, resources, and support?
  • What type of reports or kind of reporting features is needed?
  • Do you want the software stored locally or in the cloud (an online system)?
  • Is smartphone functionality important?
  • How easy is it to import current information?
  • How scalable is the product and/or service?
  • How easy is it to implement?
  • Will training be offered?

Common CRMs
Before choosing a CRM, download this CRM comparison whitepaper from Dell. It offers a high-level review on 16 of the most common products, key evaluation questions and risk mitigation steps to be considered prior to implementation. Inc. magazine also offered a list of options to consider, questions to ask and thoughts on the topic.

The following products were among those mentioned in the discussion forum. Each has it’s own benefits, pros and cons.

  • Salesforce is one of the most well known CRM systems available today; it may be more than you need for a small firm. There have been many online posts about this tool recently, and it’s increase in market share.
  • Sugar, HighRise and ZOHO are open-source, web-based solutions that are value-priced for small- to mid-sized firms. Each has its own unique features, including social media connections.
  • ContactEase, a CRM that’s been around for 20 years, was designed specifically for use in the professional services arena.
  • InterAction is a LexisNexis relationship-based database most often used by accounting and legal firms.

Obstacles

  • Employee Buy-In: Encouraging leadership and employees to use the system and its features helps ensure a structured sales, marketing and customer service synergy. Aharon Fehler, a marketing executive at Roth & Company LLP, commented, “People rarely like new software or changing their habits, so you’ll need to make sure people are really committed to using it, and at the same time, analyze your existing software and workflows to see how you can get the data in and out of the CRM with minimal interruption for your staff.”
  • Cost: According to the Inc. article, “It could cost as much or as little as $500 to $2,000 per user per year to implement a CRM.” Make sure this fits within your budget and that you’ll get the ROI you expect.
  • Technology: A CRM is not an IT project with a definitive start and end point; rather, it is an ongoing work in progress. Considering a CRM as an IT installation may limit the effectiveness of the tool, as well as diminish the importance of client relationship management. Avoid this type of thinking at all costs.
  • Intuitive Usability: Investing in a system that not only meets the firm’s needs, but is also intuitive and easy to use by staff is critical for the adoption to take place.

Conclusion
When considering a CRM, take many things into account, such as usability, need, scalability and budget.

Create a focus group to help vet the product, its features and fit for your firm. These steps alone could help increase the adoption rate and minimize the adoption curve that many firms experience with a new CRM.

Lastly, ask people what they are using, why and if they would recommend their product. Don’t be shy. And most of all, don’t buy the same one just because your competition has it. Invest in the product that’s right for your firm’s growth.