CRM a core marketing necessity for CPA firms looking to grow

January 1, 1970

By Nicole Gantz, Partner & Chief Marketing Officer During the process of consulting on marketing strategy with small-to-medium sized CPA firms, I usually discover they do not yet have a customer-relationship management (CRM) platform. Prospects, leads and referral sources are in the heads of the partners and managers, business cards in desk drawers, contacts in Outlook, and if lucky, in an excel file for use during the dreaded pipeline meeting. When I get asked why a CPA firm would need to invest in a CRM – after all they have gotten this far without one – I challenge them to return to a time of processing a tax return without a computer. In other words, if you want your CPA firm to grow and transform in this age of major technological disruption, implementing a CRM is a core necessity for your marketing professionals. What can your marketing professionals do with a CRM? On a basic level: 1. Mass email to prospects in a timely, targeted and personalize approach. Microsoft limits the amount of mass email you can send in one day so as your firm grows, you will outgrow using Outlook to send prospect emails. Also, CRMs will ensure your firm is in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, keeping you from becoming a spammer. With robust mass email capabilities, your marketing professional will be able to target and personalize emails using the data in the CRM, such as first name, industry, organization name, pain-points, region, role at organization, and any other data you have in your CRM. The key to using this data is that it is clean and accurate. If you are trying to personalize with bad data, this generation of clients will not accept that. They expect you to have accurate data on them and use it appropriate and ethically. 2. Report on the firm’s business development results, helping to increase accountability for growth goals You will be able to create reports to make sure everyone responsible for business development is doing what they are supposed to be doing. It will be there for everyone to see. It also helps make sure your pipeline is full of qualified prospects so you can reach your organic growth goals. 3. Answer your questions about ROI – what you are getting for your marketing overhead investment. Depending on your product, here are some KPIs they may be able to measure:
  • Email open rates (and test which email strategies work best)
  • What links are being clicked on in emails (so you can see what topics your prospects are interested in)
  • How many forms are being completed and if it turned into new business
  • How many marketing touches they engaged in before becoming a client
  • How did they originally become interested in your firm? (e.g. Google search, referral from John Smith, word-of-mouth, attended an event, read a blog, etc.)
  • Event attendance and if that turned into new business
  • How long a prospect was in the pipeline before becoming a client
So where do you start? Here are some basic considerations to take into account when looking at the hundreds of available CRMs on the market: What do you actually want a CRM to do for you today? Are you looking for just a way to send mail/email outside of Outlook? Then you may only need a free or low-cost email marketing program such as Constant Contact or Mail Chimp. If you’re looking to do more data analysis, nurturing prospects, scoring prospects, tracking activity, robust reporting, sharing prospect data with more than yourself, or highly customize your communications, you would want to consider a more full-service CRM. How many contacts and companies have you cumulated? Often, the number of contact and company records you have play a big role in the price of the product, so understanding what you have for contacts is essential to the budgeting process. Start combing through your partners’ and managers’ desks, Outlook contacts, LinkedIn contacts and their heads. Start putting your records into an Excel file with each data point in a separate field to anticipate matching data fields in your CRM. This will make an import a lot easier. Who are going to be your users? The number of users you will have in the system could also impact price. How transparent will you be with who your prospects are? Who has access to view, and who is going to monitor the cleanliness of your data? Most importantly, if your data is not clean or up to date, you will have CRM failure on your hands. As you’re considering your potential users, keep in mind the ease-of-use of the interface and the skillset of your users. What integration capabilities do you need? Do you need your CRM to integrate with tax and/or time and billing software? What about other marketing efforts related to sales, such as customer surveys, telemarketing, social media and Microsoft integrations? Think about your long-term strategy and what you would like to incorporate as you grow and become more sophisticated with your CRM. Are you only populating with prospects or also with clients? Who is going to be in your CRM? Prospects only or also clients? If clients, what database will be the master client record? With the right CRM, you can manage your clients and prospects in one place and reduce the number of platforms and databases you’re managing. What do you want your CRM to do for you in the future? What’s your long-term goal with your CRM? What kind of added functionality would really help you streamline your marketing and sales process even more? Consider social media integration, SEO amplification, blogging, custom landing pages, forms to collect leads, marketing automation/lead nurturing, artificial intelligence and deep analytics efforts (segmentation and targeting), testing marketing strategies, to name a few. These can all play a part in what you may want your investment to look like in the future. On the data management side of the CRM, look for opportunity tracking and reporting such as service potential, dollar potential, recurring/one-time revenue, percentage of winning, lead assignments and responsibility, etc. Additionally, CRMs can be useful for inter-departmental communication and documentation storage, lead management, and tasks/assignments. This helps hold everyone accountable to what they’re supposed to be doing to help grow the firm, give you metrics to track success, and answer that ROI question. Obviously, whatever CRM you choose should be in the cloud and have an app interface; and don’t overlook the tightest data security measures possible. I’ve never heard of a perfect CRM implementation so don’t let that stop you from making this investment into growing your firm and digitizing and streamlining this process. The right CRM will free up your marketers from tedious, inefficient administrative tasks, and redirect them to value-added marketing activities that make a significant impact on your firm’s growth.

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