The Top 3 Professional Services CRM Software Solutions
- Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle NetSuite are the CRM software market share leaders in the professional services industry.
- These three systems go beyond generic CRM processes to deliver industry specific capabilities such as mobility, deep customer intelligence, guided sales processes, strategic account management, automation for defined multistep sales processes, integration with strategic sale methodologies, and integration with professional services automation systems to name a few.
- Each of the top CRM applications for services companies has different strengths, weaknesses and value propositions, discussed below.
Comparing CRM for Professional Services Companies
The best Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software for services companies aids industry imperatives such as increasing sales conversions, customer share and client retention and lowering cost to serve.
In the prior post I shared the top industry specific capabilities offered by the best professional services CRM software providers. This post will deliver comparison information among the top three CRM systems.
The Best Professional Services CRM Solutions
I've been comparing and implementing CRM solutions at consulting, staffing and services companies for over two decades and the number one question I get is, "What is the best CRM for professional services?"
The easy answer is to say, well, that depends. So, I'm not going to say that. Instead, I will suggest the question can be answered by considering market share, market growth and the industry specific requirements that make CRM for services different than generic CRM software.
Selecting the best professional services CRM system is a long-term decision that should be based on the many criteria that support your staff, customers and company priorities. Consider the following reviews as a starting point.
Salesforce is the market share leader – overall and in the services industry. The company pioneered cloud CRM, social CRM and is a top innovator.
That innovation has delivered advanced capabilities, digital commerce, Einstein AI, a broad platform and a deep AppExchange ecosystem.
Salesforce CRM strengths include:
- Salesforce is an innovator and industry disrupter. Services companies that seek to innovate and disrupt their markets can learn from this publisher and benefit from its applications.
- The user interface was one of the first to be built on consumer technologies and deliver a simple and rewarding user experience. That's especially important to partners, consultants and sales staff and has achieved a big effect in user adoption.
- Salesforce has a suite of workflow automation tools. Workflow Rules are the simplest way to create process automation, however, they can be limited and somewhat inflexible. They do allow Action Plans to sequence steps or string together multiple rules. They are good for creating triggering events that initiate tasks, update fields or send messages. The Process Builder permits more sophisticated processes. And Flow is the most powerful workflow builder although it requires technical skills.
- System integration is important as resource-based companies need CRM integration to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Capital Management (HCM) and Professional Services Automation (PSA) systems. I've used the Mulesoft integration platform to create interfaces with several ERP systems and find it to be a very strong system integration tool.
- The combination of the Lightning platform (Force.com), Apex, other Platform as a Service (PaaS) tools and AppExchange ecosystem provide significant application extensibility.
I've implemented Salesforce for many services companies, and to be fair, the application does not accommodate several industry operational requirements such as account plans, strategic account management, time and billing or most of the PSA capabilities. However, it offers a broad platform, flexible tools, packaged integration with some PSA and ERP systems, and an AppExchange ecosystem that brings together the components needed to satisfy services industry requirements.
Consider this application if you intend to transform your services company. That may include shifting your value proposition with new value-added IP or services, expanding channels or market boundaries, or using data to deliver differentiated customer experiences.
However, acquiring the market share leader often comes with a price premium. If you leverage this system for digital or business transformation your investment will pay dividends. But if your goals are less ambitious, your growth path is more incremental or you do not use the advanced capabilities, you may increase investment and total cost of ownership significantly without much payback.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement
The Microsoft CRM value proposition is in part that the CRM application is an integrated component of a much larger and holistic, enterprise-wide solution. The Microsoft Dynamics stack includes CRM, PSA, ERP, HCM, Supply Chain Management (SCM), eCommerce and analytics. Microsoft is the ERP software market share leader among midmarket companies.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM strengths include the following:
- Native integration with Outlook. And this integration is more than just contacts and email. Microsoft replicates CRM system data within Outlook so that sellers and partners can perform their CRM activities without leaving Outlook. I've implemented Dynamics CRM for a long time, and this is often the most cited benefit by users.
- The Microsoft Customer Engagement software is a cloud native, browser-based application that permits very flexible configuration. Other CRM systems also permit configurations, but once made you may be unable to change. Microsoft Dynamics tools are more agile and show that becoming standardized does not mean becoming inflexible.
- Dynamics includes a fully integrated Professional Services Automaton software suite. That brings real-time visibility into project performance and profitability. It also streamlines and automates the entire bid to bill project execution.
The PSA software integrates customer and project data, delivers a 360-degree project view, captures consultant time and expense, creates invoices, manages contract provisions, calculates project profitability and improves project delivery. The below diagram shows how Microsoft integrates PSA and ERP systems for enterprise-wide transaction processing.
- Dynamics has a powerful guided selling tool to facilitate multistep sales processes. It's a visual process guide that suggests repeatable processes and best practices at each sales stage or step in the sales cycle, and it is effective at increasing sales win rates.
- Microsoft is ahead of most competitors in business process automation capabilities. The application offers multiple workflow types (i.e., synchronous or asynchronous workflows, Dialogues, Actions and Business Process Flows) and the Power Automate platform can make workflow automation even more extensible.
- Microsoft's Power Platform tools are low code/no code visual tools that permit CRM customization by non-programmers and without over-customizing the system. That means a higher fit application with less CRM maintenance and much easier upgrades. The Power Platform also includes Power BI, which has become the top user generated, agile data analytics tool.
- Dynamics Customer Engagement is a global application that delivers localized functionality in 40 regions with 42 languages.
- Microsoft CRM is the lowest cost application among the Big 3.
- CRM market share growth shows Microsoft gunning for the number 2 position. Although Salesforce continues to extend its lead, Microsoft has challenged Oracle and SAP for the runner up spot. Salesforce is the leader, and Microsoft is the primary challenger.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM is well suited for midsize companies or divisions within large companies. Consider Dynamics CRM if you are a Microsoft technology shop, a small or midsize company looking for least cost CRM software, a services firm looking for CRM with integrated PSA software, or seeking a cross-functional and enterprise-wide information system.
Like Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle NetSuite includes CRM as part of a broader ERP platform. Also like Dynamics, NetSuite integrates CRM with an impressive Professional Services Automation application.
Strengths for this application include:
- Netsuite Professional Services Automation, sometimes referred to by its legacy name of OpenAir, manages the bid to bill lifecycle and supports resource management, project management, time and expense tracking, project accounting and invoicing processes.
- Resource Management helps project managers optimize staffing and utilization by minimizing the bench and ensuring that the right resources are working on the right projects.
- Project management provides digital collaboration tools and delivers real-time visibility into project performance and profitability. It's the safeguard to ensure project variances and risks are resolved timely and before they escalate.
- Project Accounting improves traceability of costs to projects, and accurate project financials.
- Time and expense management simplify time and expense capture, ensure compliance, automate approval processing, and verify accurate project accounting distributions.
- Project invoicing is calculated pursuant to contract type (T&B, fixed fee, cost-plus, percentage complete, milestone, etc.) and may include factors such as automated recurring billings, allocations or internal chargebacks. It can also perform complex revenue recognition.
- To be candid, NetSuite CRM is not a market leading CRM solution in any industry. However, the integration of CRM with PSA software creates a powerful value proposition for processional services firms.
- Oracle NetSuite is a cross functional fully integrated business application that includes PSA, ERP, HCM, SCM and analytics. A vendor-managed integration that automates enterprise-wide transaction processes is a big deal to many services companies who want to avoid complex and costly system integration.
Oracle NetSuite is well suited for midmarket companies or decentralized operations that roll up to an Oracle ERP solution. Consider Oracle NetSuite CRM with PSA if you need to gain more governance or control over your resources or projects. Or consider the broader NetSuite solution if you are looking for an enterprise-wide business application to automate cross functional processes, and CRM is a relatively small component in the decision-making process.