How to Choose the Best CRM for Professional Services Companies
- Professional service firms have unique requirements that are best satisfied with CRM software built for the services industry.
- The best CRM for professional services firms is designed to accommodate industry specific requirements such as deep customer relationships, customer intelligence, personalized customer experiences, solution selling, strategic account management, structured sales processes, guided sales cycles and integration with professional services automation systems.
- The top 3 professional services CRM software systems, as measured by market share and market growth, are Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle NetSuite.
The Best CRM for Consultants and Service Professionals
Strong client relationships directly correlate to revenue growth and profitability in the services industries.
Growing customer relationships at scale requires Customer Relationship Management – that's both a customer strategy and enabling technology. In this post, I'm going to focus on the technology side, and how to find the best CRM software for professional services firms.
Most consultants have some form of CRM software. But for many it's more of an electronic rolodex than a tool that systemically aids consultant productivity and grows customer relationships. That often occurs with horizontal CRM software; that is CRM software designed to accommodate every industry.
Unfortunately, generic CRM software does not work well for consultants who need capabilities such as a 360-degree project view, strategic sale methodologies, structured sales processes, guided selling, strategic account management, highly specific customer intelligence, integrated Professional Services Automation (PSA), time and billing, project profit analysis, and much more.
But fortunately, there are some CRM systems designed for the services industry. These applications deliver critical capabilities that drive faster time to value, increased process automation and higher user adoption while at the same time reduce the need for expensive software customization, complex system integration and prolonged training.
When searching for the best professional services CRM software many novices evaluate technology features. That's a mistake as CRM software features and functions may or may not deliver business results. A better approach is to lead with the most strategic business objectives and then identify the services technology strategy and CRM capabilities that directly accelerate those goals.
The four most strategic professional services CRM objectives are to acquire more customers, grow customer share, increase customer retention and lower cost to serve.
CRM for Increased Customer Acquisitions
Below are some of the most powerful CRM software capabilities to increase client acquisitions.
Lead Lifecycle Management
Acquiring new customers requires an inflow of leads. Most CRM software includes a marketing cloud that performs digital lead tracking, lead acquisition, lead scoring, nurture campaigns and lead transfer to salespeople when those leads become qualified or sales-ready.
Service buyers pursue a 'considered purchase' that occurs over a lengthy period. Buyers perform significant due diligence before speaking to salespeople. Tracking buyer digital footprints reveals client behaviors, client pain points and the buy signals that demonstrate when a buyer has moved from due diligence to sales-ready.
For leads that are not yet sales-ready, the marketing cloud nurtures those leads with drip campaigns until the leads demonstrate buy signals. Once a lead is qualified pursuant to a lead score, the Marketing cloud may use a lead distribution model such as round robin, but more often directs leads to a designated partner or salesperson based on location, account type, service type or a combination of factors. Lead lifecycle management ensures new leads are automatically scored, distributed at the right time to the right person, and acted upon timely.
Guided Sales Processes
CRM applications can apply automation to reinforce streamlined and repeatable process. And this is an area where the best CRM software for professional services really stands out.
There are a lot of CRM capabilities to consider, but most of them are negligible. Based on my three decades of experience in implementing CRM for services firms, I routinely deploy the following capabilities that collectively achieve significant time savings and contribute to substantially higher sales win rates.
- CRM dashboards optimize time and improve staff productivity. When correctly designed, they prioritize actions based on what’s most important at any point in time.
- Process Guides display visual process diagrams at the top of account and sale opportunity forms. They are very effective in adding context to otherwise static records. Instead of just viewing a client account or sale opportunity record in isolation, the process flow visualization shows the record history (what's been completed up to this point) and the record destination (what steps are next to achieve the desired outcome).
- Content Management Systems (CMS) integrated to CRM software can deliver supporting information in context. As services become more specialized and complex, no salesperson can be knowledgeable on everything, so having on-demand access to supporting collaterals, offerings, case studies, service specifications and fact sheets is helpful.Some CRM systems have their own content management systems while others provide packaged integration to SharePoint or online drives. The best CRM systems for professional services dynamically display contextual links to supporting materials based on the customer type, service type, demonstrated interest, position in the sales cycle or other context. These solutions deliver the right information at the right time to the people who need it.
- Sales Best Practices are born from research. They show which actions deliver results and which don't, which also makes them helpful in advising what not to do. The best CRM for consultants, partners and salespeople dynamically and contextually displays best practices using workflow tools or the previously mentioned Process Guides. The later method aligns the best practices with defined sales steps or processes where they are most relevant.
- Competitive Intelligence capabilities vary greatly among CRM applications. Centrally managed competitive intelligence eliminates the redundancy and inconsistencies of salespeople maintaining this information on their own and provides the entire sales team with the most up to date and accurate information available.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) aids and accelerates sales actions and decision making. AI algorithms can suggest highly relevant and personalized professional service recommendations, offerings or next best actions based on sales cycle dynamics. AI is the CRM tool that shifts data from historical to predictive and from hindsight to foresight.
- Strategic Selling is another area of significant differentiation among CRM systems. Top sellers have shifted from ad hoc or informal selling to strategic selling backed with a sale methodology.Salespeople that apply strategic sale methodologies always achieve higher sales win rates than those with informal sales methods. The best CRM for services salespeople is designed to integrate the sale methodology with CRM software activity and opportunity management records.
- Structured Sales Processes also contribute to increased sales conversions. A structured sales process defines the repeatable methods or techniques to advance sale opportunities through each step of the sales cycle. A simple example is shown below.
The combination of a sale methodology and predictable sales process integrated with CRM automation can grow services revenues by high single digits or low double digits, depending on the chosen sale methodology and sales adoption discipline.
CRM for Increased Customer Share
- A 360 Degree Customer View is the starting point for customer intelligence. Every CRM vendor claims to deliver a 360˚ customer view. But most don't. At least not for professional service firms. What most deliver is a customer view with account firmographics and contact demographics. It's a start, but clients are far better defined by their behaviors than their demographics.Demographics are explicit data while behaviors are implicit data. Explicit data such as company size and industry only indicate how interested the company is in the customer. Implicit data such as online behaviors, digital footprints, sentiment analysis and social graph show how interested the customer is in the company. To achieve a 360 degree customer view in the services industry you need 5 types of customer data - demographic, transactional, behavioral, environmental and social.
- Professional Service Automation software manages service processes such as project planning, financial estimating, staff scheduling, resource management, project management, collaboration, time and expense capture, invoicing, revenue recognition and project-based analytics. It's the core operational software system for services delivery. Just as your CRM software delivers a 360 degree customer view, PSA software delivers the 360 degree project view.
When CRM and PSA software are delivered within a single application, they achieve powerful synergies. The integration of a central project view and customer view provides partners, salespeople and account managers relevant and personalized business intelligence that can be used to improve project execution and identify future projects.
- Strategic Account Management is an area where most CRM systems struggle. Professional services Strategic Account Management is a systemic approach to identify up-sell and cross-sale opportunities for key clients. This client account growth method creates forecasted account plans that identify and map potential future period sale opportunities. This is the single best method for land and expand sales strategies.CRM software manages the data to feed the strategic account plan, make highly relevant and personalized recommendations for up-sell and cross-sale, and methodically increase customer relationships and customer share.
CRM for Increased Customer Retention
Three effective programs embedded within CRM software that we routinely implement with services companies include Net Promoter Score (NPS), customer self-service and customer churn prevention.
- Customer Self-service is achieved using a CRM customer self-service portal for things like client engagement, transaction (quote, sale order, PO, invoices, customer statements) delivery and client inquiries. Self-service accelerates business process cycles and aids digital transformation objectives.The best CRM for services firms offers self-service knowledgebases, chatbots, virtual agents and other tools that when properly implemented can handle up to 80 percent of routine customer service questions or inquiries.
- Customer Churn Prediction and Prevention is a game changer for companies that struggle with customer retention. The ability to improve client retention delivers significant and sustained revenue growth. So, to aid that goal some CRM systems calculate customer health scores and use AI algorithms to identify projects and customers at risk.
Even better, knowing why projects fail or customers leave permits companies to fix causes of churn and prevent that churn before it happens.
The Top 3 CRM Systems for Services Companies
While understanding what to look for when choosing the best CRM software for services companies is important, the most common question I'm asked is, "What is best CRM for professional services?"
The short answer, based on market share and my experience from having implemented CRM systems at consulting, staffing and other services firms for about three decades, is Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Oracle NetSuite. The longer answer and a deeper analysis are available at the top three professional services CRM systems.