Now that summer is coming to a close no better time to get started writing about CRM. Although I think there is value in doing more with a video blog (more on that to come) I have a hot topic I wanted to get out in the open. Over the past 15 years I have spent a significant amount of time with accounting firms and their partners. About five years ago my team started down the path of scoping out an industry solution for professional firms like legal and accounting. Like most who enter into a new arena there was a vast difference between casual knowledge and consulting level knowledge.
As we moved down the path to understand more and more about the needs of these firms it became apparent that there was going to be a fundamental shift in the way that I thought about everything. This means assessing all aspects of analysis, training, and even customization. This also means that I would need to make sure that anyone that would get engaged on a project for an accounting firm would essentially need most, but not all domain expertise. Understandably, the operational side of accounting is a bit unique and partners do not have time to educate every consultant they come into contact with.
So, this got me to thinking… does the solution a company chooses for their CRM need to be industry specific? Or, is it more likely the consultants need to have depth in your particular industry? Like any good consultant I put my experience to work and started down the path of collecting data to reach some conclusions.
Initially, one of the things that I needed to understand and communicate back to you is the the history on how the different technology scenarios have developed. Lets start with the easiest first.
Horizontal CRM – Think of this as your Salesforce and Microsoft platforms that can be utilized by literally any type of business. For the enterprise (integrated with ERP) think SAP and Oracle. The benefits of these platforms is that they are drivers for innovation in the industry. And, if you have specific needs to reach your goals, there can be a significant amount of configuration and/or customization to reach operational efficiency with your strategic goals.
Industry (Vertical CRM) – In this category you have too many solutions to name but think of an application that is advertised as a CRM tool that is specific to your line of business. Many of these applications have evolved over the years and some are now even either migrating to the cloud or rewriting their applications away from the world of on premise technology. The benefit to these types of offerings is that they require much less time to get going and require much less training. The downside is that many CRM providers of industry solutions do not have significant investment dollars to provide the best mobile solutions or an expanded market of 3rd party complimentary solutions.
Platform CRM – Now that CRM has become a foundation of what any business needs to have to be successful many of the software publishers already mentioned have decided to leverage their best of breed solutions and create industry template versions of their CRM technologies. Even many of the implementation partners are now specializing in creating templates of their own for verticals or micro-verticals. Without going into details this provides the best of both worlds because the fast implementation time is available with the flexibility to personalize to your specific firm nuances.
OK, you now have a big picture on what your options are within the marketplace when deciding what might work as a CRM option for your organization. That being said technology doesn’t configure itself and most organizations don’t necessarily want to make heavy internal investments so they rely on consultancies to help them role out a new CRM. Here is my assessment of how you should probably look at professionals that you evaluate to work on a system for you.
Horizontal CRM Consultants – This is the most common scenario as you reach out to a publisher or talk to a trusted adviser that points you in the direction of someone to help you implement a solution. The benefit you get in this scenario is having consultants specialized in CRM with creative abilities to make any particular configuration effective. Unfortunately, many of these consultants need to be educated on your business and the time and money spent to get to the value can be considerable.
Industry Consultants – In many cases there are management consultants that have significant depth in your particular industry. There is little to no education on both the pain points or the operational processes that you live in every day. These consultants are generally not technology experts so the opposite is true when it comes to these consultants getting up to speed on what the horizontal or industry specific CRM tools can provide.
Vertical CRM Consultants – Much like the Vertical CRM built on a best of breed platform your Vertical CRM consultants have both the depth of knowing what is technically possible and how your particular industry works. These types of consultants also have the experience of spending time in many different types of firms like yours and giving you inputs on both technology and process. While these experts may come at a little higher price they can get you to your end goal effectively and quickly.
Taking all of these things into consideration I can only reach one conclusion: If possible, you should have a vertical CRM consultant with a vertical CRM solution built on a best of breed platform. If you find that you need to choose it would be better to stick with a robust platform and have a CRM expert in your industry transform the generic tool into one that works for your business.