Embracing the other CRM

A different kind of CRM is emerging for professional services companies – such as law and accounting firms – that do not necessarily deal with customers calling in on 800 numbers with product-support questions.

In this case, CRM stands for client relationship management, whereby companies gather information on interactions with clients and leverage that collected information to maintain strong relationships. The interactions can also be mined for potential sales of additional services.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based Interface Software Inc. has already begun marketing client relationship management with its InterAction product, labelling it “relationship intelligence.”

Also entering the space is Siebel Systems Inc., a big player in the traditional CRM market for customer relationship management. San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel is positioning its Siebel Professional Services Automation as part of this burgeoning client relationship management field.

The Center for Strategic & International Studies, a Washington-based public-policy think thank, uses Interface’s InterAction to keep track of contacts within 17 different program groups.

According to Michael Kearns, director of data management for the organization, “The reason we use [the client relationship management system] is so the right hand always knows what the left hand is doing.”

“Every time you make a phone call, or send a fax, or someone comes to a meeting, it should be captured within InterAction, and therefore is viewable by everyone else,” Kearns explains. The InterAction client relationship management system can automate the sending of 20,000 faxes per week for the think tank, he says.

Interface President and CEO Nate Fineberg describes the company’s client relationship management offering as “a centralized relational database that keeps track of all client interactions that a firm would have. It would provide the benefit of not going in cold [into an interaction with a client], and the benefit of overall intelligence to the firm.”

“The other big aspect of the system is we’re able to tie the relationship of the contact back to the professionals in the firm,” Fineberg says.

For example, users could go into the client relationship management system, note a previous relationship with a client, and use that background as a competitive advantage to win new business, Fineberg says. “That’s what we call relationship intelligence,” he adds.

InterAction enables professionals to enter information themselves or have it captured passively via a link to Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook. Users also can specify whether they want to keep information private or open it up for sharing with the rest of the company, Fineberg says.

But what if a particular user wants to hold onto information that could prove valuable to the rest of the company? “Those are cultural barriers that firms have to deal with,” Fineberg responds.

For the law firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, in Toronto, those “cultural barriers” haven’t been a problem. Lawyers are happy to contribute information to the client relationship management platform, says Sandra Avolese, marketing manager at the firm.

“While our policy on client confidentiality is sound and strong, our lawyers appreciate the benefits of sharing internally, general information on contacts’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and areas of interest,” Avolese explains. “Nobody wants duplication of efforts or the potential for inaccuracies.”

Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt uses InterAction as its central client-contact relationship management tool. The system “links into our lawyers’ personal contact lists; it is used by marketing for mailings of newsletters, seminar invitations, legal updates, and to track activities across the firm,” Avolese says.

Avolese notes that the client relationship management tool “provides us with the assurance that our valuable contact information is held in a central, comprehensive, accurate system, which can be used by everyone in the firm.”

Molly M. Veneziano, a partner with Adams Street Partners, a Chicago-based private equity company, echoes Avolese on the usefulness of client relationship management. The company uses the technology to enhance client service and identify new business opportunities.

“InterAction provides a centralized tool which quickly provides all the information anyone in our firm knows about clients, prospects, and general partners,” Veneziano says. “By having the information all in one place, we are able to efficiently make changes, additions, and deletions to our contacts.”

Siebel considers its client relationship management package a solution for opportunity and account management as well as project and portfolio management, time and expense management, and reporting.

“We really believe that a product to automate a services business really needs to take all the business from contact to cash,” says Eileen Diehl, director of marketing for the Siebel Professional Services Automation package. Siebel’s offering helps a service company maintain data on various contacts with clients, she adds.