The importance of using a CRM system for legal marketing

CRM

My colleagues at Furia Rubel Communications and I are often hired by law firms to conduct communication assessments that provide strategic marketing plans. One thing we often learn during the assessment is that many firms are not using a Contact Relationship Management system, or CRM, (also referred to as Customer Relationship Management and Client Relationship Management) to manage attorney contacts and business relationships.

CRM systems use computer software to track and access information about past, current, and potential clients. A CRM system provides a central database of information about people and companies that are important to the firm, including clients, prospects, referral sources, and other business contacts. The system also tracks information related to those contacts, such as activities, notes, financial information, industries, and relationship attorneys. The system can also help track business development information, such as pitches, requests for proposals, and referrals. Through a CRM system, client interactions can be logged, referenced, and cross-referenced by the firm.

According to Chris Fritsch, CRM success consultant and founder of CLIENTSFirst Consulting, “Reasons to use a CRM system vary by law firm because CRM systems are extremely powerful. Therefore, the key stakeholders need to determine what they want to accomplish and why. They need to understand how they can use a CRM system to improve internal and external communications and client service and, ultimately, to positively affect their bottom line.”

CRM data helps management understand where the firm’s business development, marketing, and public relations time is being spent. Understanding the relationships a firm has with its target audiences, such as current and past clients and referral sources, is only the starting point. A CRM system can provide objective data that helps the firm better manage its relationships and investments.

“Assuming the CRM data is maintained and accurate, law firms can leverage that data for business development and to understand the sales pipeline,” says Jasmine Trillos-Decarie, chief business development officer at Stoel Rives LLP, a Pacific Midwest “Am Law 200” law firm with a focus on energy and natural resources. She adds:

A robust CRM system tells us who the lawyers are talking to, how often they are in communication, and essentially who knows who and how they know them. It allows us to paint a picture and understand the depth of relationships in order to leverage those relationships for better client service and business development. In fact, time entries can also be married to CRM in order to most accurately track attorney-client interactions. Leveraging time entries has generally been found to be an accurate and reliable method to track client interactions.

CRM options for mid-sized to large and mega law firms include, but are not limited to:

  • Cole Valley Software ContactEase
  • LexisNexis InterAction
  • OnePlace (built on the Salesforce platform)
  • Thomson Reuters Business Development Premier
  • Versys IntelliPad

Solo and small firms with smaller budgets can benefit from a number of non-legal-specific platforms that are cloud-based. Alternatively, some law firms use back-office platforms that have a CRM component, which can be used, to some extent, to manage and track information and interactions.

Information gained through a CRM system is vital to marketing because it provides data to validate the continuation of efforts or adjustments to the marketing plan. The information can also be measured and tested against program objectives, and, ultimately, it can be used to calculate your return on investment.

A good CRM system can generate myriad sales status reports, from lead tracking to new business conversion data, that are easily and quickly customized. This allows management to monitor individual attorney’s efforts, ensure that opportunities are not missed, and see that compensation for origination is fairly distributed. A CRM system should follow a new business lead from initial contact to final contract and through all phases of the client relationship.

But at the end of the day, a CRM system is only as good as the data entered. It is up to the law firm leadership to lead by example. Educate all attorneys and staff on the firm’s use of CRM, and put processes in place to manage the firm’s data so investment in a CRM system pays off.