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Let’s talk about relationships

Professional services business development and marketing is undoubtedly all about relationships. And that, says Susanne Pugsley, is where the focus of any CRM should rest.

Whilst the exact origins are disputed, the term CRM or customer relationship management was coined in the late 1980s when large databases were first created trying to capture as much information on customers as possible with the aim of understanding what they wanted and how to get them to buy more. It is a tool to make the process a relationship rather than purely a transaction to boost loyalty.

This term has always sat somewhat uneasily with the professional services community. The designation of ‘customer’ has never resonated. Lawyers and accountants feel that they do not have customers. They prefer to say that they have clients, contacts and referrers, but never customers.

When I have spoken to stakeholders and decision-makers at various firms about the value that a CRM will bring to their business there is a common misconception that the C stands for ‘client’.  You cannot, however, just swap the word customer for client and get the same result. 

If relationships are the key to success for a firm to only focus on clients will ignore two-thirds of their most valued relationships. Contacts and referrers make up the rest of the group.  In fact, when talking about CRM in professional services firms I prefer to define it as a CCRRM – contact, client, referrer relationship management. Not all firms focus on clients for key account management. For many, their work is non-annuity work and therefore the relationship with referrers is far more important than the clients themselves.

Why do lawyers and accountants, who are intelligent and highly educated people so often struggle to understand the value of a tool to help them understand their relationships?

Automated relationship unearthing tools, like Introhive, are on the rise to help new and legacy CRM tools work harder to provide real insights into relationships without the usual hard slog of inputting data. This has seen a marked increase in professional services firms seeing the true value and depth and breadth of their relationships across their organisations and leveraging them.

Brand loyalty is a well-understood concept for B2C and B2B marketing, but in professional services brand is sometimes confused with just a logo and corporate colours. As professional services firms, our product is more intangible and unique as it is reliant on its individual’s ability and personality.

The brand, therefore, can vary according to who is providing the service, their skills and approach, but also on the relationships that they build with the clients or referrers. Whilst the brand is an important platform for the professional to stand on, it is their individual relationships that are vital in bringing work over the line.

So, for anyone wanting to get a CRM over the line in a firm or get buy-in for the one you already own that is lacking in engagement – forget the C and focus on the R. Relationships are everything.

Susanne Pugsley has held business development leadership roles across law and accountancy firms. She is the founder of the professional services consultancy firm PSBD. She can be reached by email: spugsley@psbd.co.uk.

Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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