The Professional Services Technology Stack

Highlights

  • An enterprise-wide professional services technology portfolio, often called a ProServ tech stack, is an integrated platform of applications that collectively improve the user experience, customer engagement, project execution, information reporting and scale.
  • A strategically designed Professional Services tech stack replaces departmental and piecemeal systems with a holistic software portfolio that improves lead acquisitions, sales conversions, project delivery, customer satisfaction and services profitability. It also maximizes technology investments and future-proofs technology decisions.
  • A Professional Services technology stack can create a competitive advantage as it defines an overarching architecture that blueprints the applications needed to acquire, grow and retain more customers.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

For most services companies, the sales, marketing, and services departments each have their own business applications. They are focused within their department and any integration or support of other departments is secondary at best.

These departmental business systems tend to be isolated, self-centered, lack process automation outside their boundaries, use piecemeal technologies that work only for their interests, harvest much smaller data sets for information reporting and contribute to fragmented customer experiences.

These factors impede customer and revenue growth.

A services company technology stack can remedy these problems. It defines the optimal combination of integrated growth technologies that support end-to-end customer journeys, cross functional process harmonization and company growth objectives.

It identifies the most effective applications that drive the most revenue growth. It's a shared technology foundation that eliminates piecemeal systems, departmental data siloes, fragmented customer experiences, clumsy departmental handoffs, and disjointed analytics.

It's not realistic to acquire every helpful technology at once, so a professional services technology strategy creates a roadmap to be navigated over a multi-year period. That roadmap will plot the specific systems to drive slated company growth objectives and show how technology directly contributes to the most important business outcomes, such as increasing customer acquisitions, customer share and customer retention.

The Services Tech Stack

It's easy to identify the suite of business applications that most contribute to revenue growth. It's not so easy to determine how they do it.

There are five types of business systems that most effectively grow service companies.

Professional Services Tech Stack

See how a professional services tech stack applies technology to improve project outcomes, customer engagement, business results and revenue growth.

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Most service firms have all five types of apps, but their use is limited to highly repetitive transaction processing.

Transaction processing is important but falls short of achieving company growth objectives. Building the right technology stack is less about having the applications and more about applying them for higher value purposes. It's about integrating them so they work together to leverage customer intelligence for improved customer experiences, execute best practices to accelerate revenue growth, and convert data into insights.

Below are some examples of how to advance business applications for business growth.

Marketing Automation Platform (MAP)

MAPs, often called marketing clouds, are most often used for email blasts. That's a missed opportunity. Here's why.

Services 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 buyer behaviors, pain points and the buy signals that demonstrate when a buyer advances from the awareness phase (just browsing) to the consideration phase (ready to talk to salespeople.)

MAPs also harvest digital footprints to score new leads. Leads that are qualified are immediately routed to the right partner or salesperson. Or for leads that are not yet sales-ready, the MAP nurtures them with drip campaigns until the leads demonstrate buy signals and pass a threshold lead score. By only passing sales-ready leads to salespeople, marketing improves the buyer experience, reduces lead leakage and increases salesperson productivity.

A common mistake is not recognizing how two platform solutions can come together to make each more effective and accommodate more objectives.

For example, while the MAP is the primary marketing system it does not live in a vacuum. MAP and CRM systems are symbiotic and mutually contribute to lead acquisitions and conversions.

The MAP must forward sales-ready leads to the CRM system. But most only transfer the leads and their digital footprints. That's because for most MAP software that's all that the packaged integration delivers.

But the default MAP and CRM integration is only the starting point. You can extend the data sharing to support more marketing and sales use cases.

As highlighted in the image below, several additional integrations or data exchanges can be configured to drive improved customer intelligence, campaign effectiveness, offer conversions, contextual customer engagement and several other capabilities that increase lead acquisitions and conversions.

CRM and MAP Integration

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Most CRM software applications are designed for selling inventory and goods in relatively simple and short sales cycles. That doesn't work for services firms that incur unique challenges such as selling to committees where members have varied interests, promoting multiple persona-based value propositions, positioning services combined with intellectual property, and staying engaged over a long sales cycle.

CRM software for service firms is designed to accommodate industry specific requirements such as buyer insights, customer intelligence, solution selling, strategic account management, structured sales processes, guided sales cycles and integration with services automation systems.

Most consultants or service professionals have some form of CRM software. But for many it's more of an electronic rolodex than a tool that systemically aids staff productivity, increases sales conversions, grows customer relationships or steps up to enable growth strategies such as services innovation or industry disruption.

Below are a few examples of how CRM software can be configured to evolve from an opportunity-based transaction processing system (system of record) to a business growth system (system of differentiation.)

  • Strategic Selling delivers big for services sellers. 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 software for services salespeople is designed to integrate the sale methodology with CRM software activity and opportunity management records.
  • Predictable Sales Processes also contribute to increased sales conversions. A structured sales process defines the methods, best practices and techniques to systemically advance sale opportunities through each step of the sales cycle. A simple 6-step sales process example is shown below.
Sales Process Map

Research performed for the Sales Excellence Report found the combination of a sale methodology and disciplined sales process integrated with CRM automation grew service revenues by high single digits or low double digits, depending on the chosen sale methodology and sales adoption discipline.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) within CRM can surface problems or opportunities and notify the right resources in real-time. These alerts may advise leads being neglected, sale opportunities that need attention or forecasted deals at risk. AI can predict which sale opportunities are winnable and which are not. Or AI may recognize that a high value customer is dissatisfied, or a project is at risk. Swift course corrections prevent the loss of short-term and long-term revenue.

Artificial Intelligence can predict customer behaviors and project variances. It can recommend offers, content, services or next best actions, and perform other capabilities just not possible without AI.

In fact, when combined with AI, CRM software shifts from a customer data repository to a predictor of customer behaviors, creator of customer insights and facilitator of customer and company objectives.

Professional Services Automation (PSA)

PSA software is the flagship business system for service firms. It's a purpose-built alternative to a collection of generalized applications and brings industry specific methods and metrics to business processes such as project planning, solutioning, project management, staffing, time collection, invoicing and information reporting.

PSA applications are commonly used by consultants, architects, accountants, engineers, lawyers and pretty much anybody that bills for their time on a contract or project basis.

Service professionals use PSA for three important objectives.

  1. Improve resource management. PSA aligns client or project requirements with the staff that have the needed skills and competencies. Resource optimization, which includes scheduling, onboarding, collaboration and performance management, is proven to increase staff performance and utilization.
  2. Improve project outcomes. PSA systems give project managers more control and visibility with information reporting that flags or forecasts variances in scope, time, cost, quality or outcomes. The technology facilitates a standardized approach to the services delivery lifecycle. It aids consistent and automated processes to manage concurrent projects more effectively and in less time.
  3. Improve financial margins. Better planning, tighter resource management, process automation and real-time visibility to project progress or variances collectively improve resource utilization, reduce non-billable time, adhere to schedule and achieve the delivery of forecasted objectives.

Research findings from the PSA Benchmark Report show that the Best-in-Class (the top 15 percent) service firms design PSA software to achieve the two overarching customer objectives of improving project quality and client satisfaction. That in turn drives the three downstream company objectives of increasing customer acquisitions, customer share, and customer retention.

The PSA application is the system of record for projects. Just as your CRM system delivers a 360-degree customer view, PSA software delivers the 360-degree project view.

360 Degree Project View

Properly designed PSA systems improve project solutioning, facilitate consistent services delivery and bring real-time visibility to project performance and profitability. These capabilities improve staff management, project outcomes, customer satisfaction and financial margins.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

ERP applications are often not considered growth systems but there are many ERP capabilities that can aid growth programs for services companies.

When ERP systems support multiple contract types – such as time & materials, cost plus, percent complete, milestone billing or fixed fee to name a few – they give service leaders increased options to shift cash flow timing, squeeze out more margin or reduce risk.

When ERP systems accept staff time entry from mobile devices and automatically apply business rules or approval processes, they accelerate cash flow. When they also ensure billable time or reimbursable expenses comply with contract terms, they incur fewer invoice errors and credit memos.

When ERP systems support project accounting, they can perform cost or burden allocations to projects, distribute accounting transactions to projects, measure work-in-progress for unbilled time, calculate revenue recognition, and deliver timely project-based analytics and financial statements.

Many times, the boundaries between PSA and ERP systems are unclear. Some PSA systems perform much of the above referenced capabilities. However, that requires accounting data be distributed from ERP to PSA for processing, and then distributions from the PSA system sent back to the ERP.

That can create data siloes and processing redundancy, something not always desired by systems consultants that prefer data reside in only one place to avoid multiple versions of the truth. Just because accounting functions can be done in PSA software, doesn't mean they should be.

Our position is not to position ERP and PSA in competition, but to position them as better together for a more holistic solution.

A few modern ERP systems integrate with PSA software to perform demand-based sensitivity analysis and calculate strategic pricing to increase service margins and top-line revenues.

Human Capital Management (HCM)

HCM applications perform resource management to increase staff utilization, talent management to improve the employee experience and HR management for important tasks such as compensation, benefits and career planning.

HCM software works with PSA to put the people with the right skills on the right projects at the right time.

PSA systems integrate with HCM software to retrieve staff data needed for project planning and scheduling. That data includes things like staff skills, certifications, clearances, location and availability.

Employee availability is the most fluid factor and scheduling may need to consider staff time allocation among multiple projects, time-off requests and active project roll-off dates.

PSA systems in turn provide HCM applications information such as the most in-demand skills and advance notice of when to ramp up recruiting efforts and make hiring decisions.

Professional Services Application Portfolio